Foursquare is a location-based application for mobile devices that allows users to discover and rate local businesses and then share those discoveries with their social network. Since I wrote about Foursquare last year, the company has really started to take off, landing promotional deals with Bravo, Warner Bros., and HBO.
The latest feather in Foursquare’s cap is a deal with Zagat, which was announced recently and caused quite a stir in the food service industry. According to Zagat, so many Foursquare users were “checking in” from Zagat-rated restaurants that it only made sense for the two companies to start working together.
Foursquare allows users to check in from their favorite restaurants and earn “badges” based upon how often they check in. Clever restaurateurs have started offering special promos to Foursquare members checking in from their establishment, which encourages buzz in the social media sphere. With the new partnership, ratings and reviews will be pulled directly from Zagat and shared with a Foursquare user’s friends, adding a Yelp type feature to the application. In fact, Yelp hasn’t been waiting idly by, and recently they released a mobile device app of their own.
For restaurants, a clear trend is building towards hip young people in urban centers driving buzz about eateries and bars through social networking applications like Foursquare. That trend is going to change how you market your restaurant.
Another interesting side effect of the rise of social networking-based reviews of restaurants and bars is the slow death of the restaurant reviewer in your local paper. Print media is on a long, slow decline in general anyway, but foodie reviews in particular are declining as the process of determining which places are good which are not has been democratized by companies like Zagat, Foursquare, and Yelp. Gone are the days when a single bad review in the paper could make or break the success of a restaurant.
Of course, there’s also a dark side to opening up the review floodgates to the masses. As many restaurateurs have already discovered, a couple malicious reviews on a site like Yelp can have a serious effect on your online reputation. This isn’t helped any by the anonymous nature of the internet, which makes it easy for random people to leave scathing reviews. Effectively spotting and responding to what people are saying about your restaurant online (“online reputation management”) is going to be crucial to keeping internet buzz about your establishment positive.
Adjusting to the new realities of how word-of-mouth gets around about your restaurant isn’t going to come easily. It’s going to require spending a lot of time on sites like Yelp, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s also going to require learning the new language of social media, one which your younger customers already speak fluently. The upshot is that an effective social media marketing program can also generate an enormous amount of business, and some restaurants have started coming up with ingenious ways to harness the power of social media.
In general, restaurants have been slow to adopt this new form of marketing. As we get further into this new decade however, those that embrace social media are the ones that will find a clear advantage over the competition. Like it or not, social media is the medium of the future, and restaurateurs can choose to get on that train today or in five years. Either way, it’s leaving the station, with or without you.