There’s a new movement afoot in the urban centers of this country. It started sometime last year and is still in its infancy, but given enough time, it could become the next MySpace, Facebook, or Twitter of the social media revolution.
It’s called “hyperlocal” social media. One of the pioneers of the movement, Everyblock, provides all kinds of information about every single block in a city, from restaurant reviews to police reports to foreclosure information. A more recent, and for restaurateurs a much more intriguing, option came online earlier this year. Foursquare describes itself as 50% friend finder, 30% city guide, and 20% nightlife game.
It works like this: as you patronize your favorite local haunts, you “check-in” with Foursquare, which allows you to see if friends are nearby and post tips/information about the venue you’re currently in. The more you check-in, the more “badges,” or awards, you get. For instance, you can become the mayor of certain bar or club if you check-in the most times from that location in 60 days.
Tech-savvy restaurants and bars caught wind of the mayor and other Foursquare badges and started advertising to this ready-made customer base, offering free drinks and other comps to the Foursquare mayors of their establishment. Most people had no idea what the heck a mayor was, but those that did quickly spread the word to their friends, and it turned out to be a hot way for restaurants and bars to market themselves effectively to their hippest customers.
In general the hyperlocal movement is beneficial to the food service industry because it provides a real time medium through which restaurants can advertise to their customers. For now, Foursquare and the inevitable copycats that are forthcoming will be largely limited to big urban centers like New York, Chicago, and L.A., but it’s not that farfetched to imagine a hyperlocal medium of one kind or another servicing communities of all sizes.
For those of you who are located in ultra-competitive large urban centers, you can’t afford to ignore this new phenomenon. If you haven’t already, start advertising to your Foursquare customers. Offer some sort of discount to regular customers. Some have gotten creative with the scheme, like putting the word out through the web application that anyone who barks like a dog on Thursdays gets a free drink. Others ask to view their customer’s iPhone to verify they have actually checked-in at their restaurant.
No matter what your scheme, Foursquare can become an important vehicle for driving buzz and traffic to your front door. For the rest of us, located outside the super hip downtown scene of the big city, we can only shake our heads at the pace of technology and wonder when these trends are coming to our neck of the woods.