Social media a boon to business


POSTED: Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boosting business from gloom to boom could be a few clicks away.

“;You fish where the fish are, and right now the fish are swimming in social media,”; said Dan Zelikman, digital marketing director at StarrTech Interactive, part of Honolulu-based Anthology Marketing Group. Some “;350 million people are on Facebook, and Twitter is growing at a rapid pace, and if you're ignoring that, you're turning your back on sales,”; he said.

Social media should “;absolutely not”; replace advertising in traditional media outlets, Zelikman said.

Foursquare is a childhood game played with a ball in this big place known as “;outside,”; but in social media circles it is a business-loving phenom in global use that a handful of Hawaii businesses have adopted.

New York-based Foursquare is “;trying to build things that make the world more fun to explore,”; said Dennis Crowley, co-founder and chief executive officer.

It works with iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm and other devices along with a number of Web sites such as Foodspotting.com to streamline postings.

Foursquare is free but “;it is very highly curated.”; Businesses are accepted or rejected for what they offer.





        Hawaii eateries and watering holes on Foursquare.com. Pages on Foursquare list a business name, address, phone number and @name on Twitter.com and also show avatars of Foursquare users who've checked in.

        » Cabanas Pool Bar

        » Coconut Willy's at Beachwalk

        » Doraku Sushi

        » Nashville Waikiki

        » Outrigger Catamaran

        » The Shack Waikiki

        » Tiki's Grill & Bar

        » Blue Water Shrimp & Fish Market

        Source: Foursquare.com

“;We turn down 30 percent,”; Crowley said.

Foursquare wants users to “;get a free game of bowling, not 10 percent off rental of bowling shoes,”; he said.

What's in it for the business?

Oh, just the exponential, wildfirelike spread of word-of-mouth recommendations—for the cost of preparing a freebie, or a little margin on a sale.

When the mobile-device-wielding Foursquare user checks in or adds a tip about that business, it can be viewed not only by other Foursquare users who check in, but also by Twitter followers and Facebook friends. Some users have hundreds, thousands or hundreds of thousands.

Avid social media user Ed Morita, also known as NctrnlBst, switched to Foursquare from BrightKite. Each posts your location for others via the site itself and others, like Twitter.

“;BrightKite is more ... community-based, so you can interact,”; he said. On Foursquare “;the benefit is that you can definitely find people ... a lot easier.”;

Were Morita to check in at Ala Moana Center using Foursquare, he could see which of his Foursquare friends are also there. “;So I would ping you and say, 'Hey, we're at the same mall.'”; The connection gives users an opportunity to meet IRL (in real life).

As with video games, or collecting cereal box tops to mail in for a decoder ring, users earn points by checking in to a spot or providing a tip about it. Points unlock badges and move one closer to a Foursquare mayorship.

A user gets a mayorship by checking in the most, and businesses like Tiki's Grill & Bar may reward them.

“;If you're on Foursquare and you check in, they give you a discount on drinks or appetizers,”; Morita said. “;If you're the mayor, you'll get a free drink or appetizer.”;

As in real life, a mayor can be unseated. “;As I understand it, the mayorship of Tiki's is hotly contested,”; laughed Morita, who was among Hawaii's early Foursquare users and is “;the mayor of almost 40 places.”;

The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa sees potential in Foursquare, given Hawaii's sprawling hospitality industry, said Laura Van Sciver, marketing communications manager. An April campaign will offer rotating food and beverage discounts at Elegant Dive, Ciao Mein and the Colony.

Often, word of mouth is “;the best marketing”; in hospitality, she said.

“;Some of us have been trying it out for some time,”; Van Sciver said. “;David Lewin, the general manager of our property, and I are always joking about who is ahead in Foursquare.”;

There is a dark side to announcing one's location to the world, which Morita learned the hard way.

People used BrightKite posts to stalk him, so Morita changed his habits and later switched to Foursquare.

“;It doesn't know who you are unless you check in,”; Crowley said, adding that only friends can track you.

When a user checks in, they have the option of blocking it from view. They will still get rewards without a friend or stalker interrupting a date, for instance. About 8.5 percent of check-ins for a recent week were off the grid, Crowley said.

Social media allows people to craft the experience they want, for professional or personal use, or a blend.

Turning off social media and “;spending more time outside and playing with your kids is great,”; Zelikman said, but added that businesses should not ignore it. Staying “;top-of-mind is critical, because the opposite is so scary,”; he said. “;If you're out of mind, you're truly out of sight.”;