Foursquare Explore is a social search engine for the real world, and it can be optimized.
Foursquare has made its previously mobile-only Explore recommendation engine available for the web. The feature provides personalized recommendations based on a user's check-in history, the histories of their friends, their current location, and other preferences. Not only does the Explore feature considerably increase Foursquare's value proposition for users by facilitating the discovery of new places, it significantly changes the value equation for brands as well. Indeed, Foursquare Explore is the first SoLoMo search engine.
I wrote about this potential in November of 2010 in a post entitled "Why the Hell Would I Do That? Four Reasons to Check-in."
"The promise of intelligent recommendations is the feature that gets me most excited. Based on the data I volunteer through checking-in everywhere I go, whether it's a public or private check-in, location-based services can use their aggregate data to accurately recommend other places I'll like."
Foursquare Explore is powered by algorithms that intelligently recommend places to consumers based on a broad range of criteria. These recommendations ultimately drive foot traffic (and sales) just as Google Search drives web traffic. As such, brands need to optimize their locations for search, discovery, and engagement in this new medium.
With the introduction of Foursquare Explore, as well as its counterpart with Facebook Recommendations for Place Pages, it's crucial that brands optimize their locations on these platforms. This goes well beyond simply claiming or registering them.
Optimizing a brand's locations is an ongoing process, much like that of search engine optimization (SEO). In fact, there are many parallels. Following are the three primary areas of optimization:
1. Venue Registration & Optimization: This is a multi-step process, whereby a brand's locations (venues) are claimed and registered on Facebook and Foursquare. By taking ownership of these venues, the brand unlocks valuable data about its customers and how they're engaging. The first objective, however, is to optimize the venues for search and discovery. Much of this has to do with accurate venue metadata such as the geocodes (lat/long), street addresses, and descriptions. In SEO terms, these are akin to having proper tagging structure and keywords. It is relatively straightforward, but with hundreds or thousands of locations, it's easier said than done. Above all, the geocode must be pin-point accurate for each location. As we've found, proper venue optimization alone can increase location-based engagement (LBE), including check-ins, by 100%.
2. Engagement Campaigns: LBE has tremendous value. Each engagement represents a customer sharing their brand experience from a smartphone at the point of sale. Each is distributed through one or more social feeds, and each provides insightful data about that customer. With the introduction of Foursquare Explore and Facebook Recommendations, these engagements serve yet another objective: increasing the likelihood of a referral or recommendation. In SEO terms, LBE is like fresh, original content and inbound links from highly ranked sites. It is the currency of the SoLoMo economy. The more engagement a brand earns, the higher it will rank and the more incremental foot traffic it will drive.
3. Competitive Intelligence: Competitive benchmarking is now possible at the local level on a one-to-one basis. Through the MomentFeed platform, one can track and measure individual competitor locations relative to their own. In turn, these data can be analyzed at the regional and global levels. This provides valuable insight about how competitors are performing within the LBE platforms, from which other metrics such as sales and foot traffic can be inferred. With the introduction of Foursquare Explore and Facebook Recommendations, these data also signal the likelihood of one location being recommended over another. The reality is that multi-location brands don't compete at the national level. They compete at the local level and should be measured and optimized accordingly.
Rob Reed is Founder and CEO of MomentFeed, the first location-based marketing platform for the enterprise. MomentFeed brings together Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter as a holistic solution for increasing customer engagement at the point of sale. Reed recently authored The SoLoMo Manifesto - Or, just about everything marketers need to know about the convergence of social, local, and mobile. It is now available as a free download.