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February 22, 2011

Checking out Location Check-in Services: Why They’re Good for Business

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More and more my Twitter and Facebook feeds are inundated with people telling me where they’re at – they checked into Starbucks at 7 a.m., they became “mayor” of Suzie’s House of Super Slushies (if only that were real) at 4 p.m. … and the list goes on.

And while I personally think it’s kinda creepy that anyone can know your exact location at any given time, I definitely see the attraction for both users and businesses.

The question is: Are you missing out as a patron and business by not participating in services like Foursquare, Facebook Places and other location services? The answer is: Yes.

As a business:

  1. You’re missing out on creating brand loyalty.
  2. You’re missing out on a social medium to engage with customers.
  3. You’re missing out on free advertising.

As a customer:

  1. You’re missing out on special offers and tips from the places you already go to.
  2. You’re missing out on discovering new places.
  3. You’re missing out on a more personalized customer experience.

First, a little overview of location services and how businesses can use them to their advantage.

Location services are comprised of key players like Brightkite, Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt, to name a few. Even Yelp has ventured into location check-in.

And an announcement earlier this month showed Google jumped into the check-in game as well with its Latitude service that works with Google Maps to automatically update your location. No doubt this will somehow tie into Google Places/Hotpot in the future to offer deals to its users.

Photography: Storefronts ~1920

Location services 101: Users “check in” to their location through their mobile phones. Businesses can offer incentives for checking in, in the form of special offers. Users can also be rewarded with special gifts by the businesses for being loyal customers.

Users also use location services as a social experience to share information about the business and connect with people online and offline.

Location services are great for both brick-and-mortar businesses or global brands without their own stores. Many of these services offer detailed explanations of how your business can get started on their websites.

Some examples include Foursquare’s guide on why and how to use Foursquare for business; Facebook also gives an in-depth look at Facebook Deals for businesses.

The best thing about it is: it’s free. And why wouldn’t you want to advertise your business for free?

Advantages of Location Services for Businesses

Mom and Pop shops may not ever be multinational, billion-dollar ventures, but they’ve always had something over the big corporations: customer loyalty. Why? Because they know their customers by name, know what they like, and give them a personalized experience. Location services help companies of all sizes bring back that personal touch by rewarding the people who make your business successful.

Vintage storefront

With the state of search headed towards local, personalization and social (not to mention mobile search), these location services are a great way to get in on the trending way people use the Web, because location services marry those three factors for mobile Web users.

When your business is part of a location check-in service, you’re able to reach out to your local customers in new ways.

Local meaning, they could literally be on your block and passing by when they notice your deal on their phone through their location service.

Users of location services can also find out recommendations for businesses close to them based on their location.

Location services also bring a new level of social to the experience, because it’s not just about engaging with people online, like other social media tools.

With locations check-in services, users can find and meet people in their network face-to-face at the place of your business. This offers an added way to connect with people that users may not have been able to otherwise.

Plus, location services can offer users inside information on the places they go to from other users, like reviews and little-known secrets and tips from the people who frequent the places the most (think of all the people that could benefit from knowing the off-the-menu “Animal Style” magic at In-N-Out).

What all this boils down to is that location services make the customer experience personal again. In this day and age, most people have become accustomed to impersonal, less-social interactions at the places they visit. And usually, customer service falls strictly on the shoulders of the people checking you out.

But with mobile check-in, your business has an additional layer of engagement with your customers. You’re now creating an extra experience for your clients and letting them know you appreciate their business. This, is what creates brand loyalty.

If you’re interested in learning more on this topic, I’ll be liveblogging the keynote speaker at SMX West San Jose on March 8, Tristan Walker of Foursquare, who will be talking location services for businesses. Stay tuned!

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