Where’s Social Location Marketing Headed?

Where’s social location marketing headed? This blog post offers up some insights. Right now, it’s less important for a marketer to know which social location app will lead, and more important to design a social location strategy that compliments the objectives of your loyalty program.

What is Social Location Marketing?

Social Location Marketing is when a business uses location-sharing apps as a marketing channel. With the steady rise of U.S. smartphone use, more hotel guests are downloading geo-social apps so they can share their location, connect directly with brands, and search for real time rewards.

Check Ins Create a Powerful Brand Impression

When socially minded consumers share their location they are in effect creating a powerful impression for a brand. Their message announces, “Look where I am right now” and suggests that those in their network should be there too.

By using a social location app to announce their presence, they are recommending your property to their trusted network. And, when they leave tips on your page, they’re contributing to user-generated content for your hotel.

Depending on a person’s scope of social influence, often classified as Klout, a consumer can cast potentially thousands of brand impressions in a single message. By connecting their foursquare account with their Twitter or Facebook accounts, consumers turn an online message into an advertising campaign with exponential results for the brand.

The Social Location Apps Landscape

Let’s take a look at some leading social location apps:

Facebook Buys Gowalla

Facebook is right now sorting through their social location strategy as they roll out their new profile called Timeline. Timeline lets users tell their life story through photos, friendships and personal milestones. In 2011 Facebook launched and then killed off their location-based feature called Places. Then they quickly acquired the social location start up Gowalla (foursquare’s former chief competitor). The Gowalla app, now phasing out, featured “Trips” that allowed users to group “Spots” into specific categories such as City of Boston, or into categories like, The Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. What Mark Zuckerberg has in mind with regards to integrating Gowalla into Timeline is unknown. Many predict it’s just another example of how Facebook likes to gobble up top tier engineer and developer talent to redeploy on Facebook projects.

Foursquare the Pioneer

According to Forrester Research, foursquare has grown from 2 million users to about 15 million. This app allows hotels to offer incentives like discounts, giveaways and special offers for checking into their property. Foursquare seeks to entertain users by awarding them badges. For example, the “Adventurer” badge is awarded when you‘ve checked into 10 different venues. Foursquare spotlights the mayor of a venue too. The foursquare mayor is the person that has checked into your hotel the most times. It’s fun watching users compete for the title of mayor at places like Fenway Park and Boston Public Library. And, it’s folly to see that the mayor for Boston’s City Hall Plaza is not Thomas Menino.

Yelp & Their Established Audience

Yelp is a serious contender in this space because they benefit from an established community of enthusiastic yelpers who are kings of content creation and already mobile minded. Yelp’s check-in offers program gives hoteliers the chance to use their dashboard to create, post and track analytics around redeemed offers.

And So Many More Apps….

There are many ultra niche social location apps out there; from RedRover that helps parents make play dates on the fly, to Glancee that connects users with interesting people within 100 yards!

Top 3 Benefits of Social Location Marketing

  1. Increased Brand Visibility
  2. Increased Guest Patronage and Loyalty
  3. Viral Word of Mouth Marketing

What’s In It For The Hotel Guest?

When a guest checks into your hotel, restaurant, or spa using a social location app, it’s their way of telling you they want to engage with your brand. Your job as a hotel marketer is to ensure you monitor your brand and have a program in place that will make this effort memorable for the guest. Craft a special reward and design an experience for them that is special and differentiated from what their guest experience would have been otherwise.

Examples of Social Location Offers, Incentives & Rewards

3 Foursquare Examples:

[1] Starwood Hotels

Starwood Hotels knows that their brand fans love earning loyalty points, and decided to become an early mover in social location marketing.

From May-July 2011, the company asked members of the Starwood Preferred Guest [SPG] program to “Let the world know you’ve arrived” and invited them to link their hotel loyalty account with their foursquare account. I caught up with Michael Pereira, Marketing Manager at the Sheraton Boston Hotel who filled me in on the features of Starwood’s foursquare program:

  • During the period of the promotion, SPG members earned 250 starpoints by checking in on foursquare with a confirmed reservation.
  • Every day during the promotion a free resort night award was hidden at a property in the portfolio of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, and was unlocked by one lucky check in.
  • All foursquare check-ins served as an entry into SPG’s grand prize giveaway, which was a five-night resort getaway plus airfare.

Starwood’s ongoing foursquare efforts include that the SPG member with the greatest number of foursquare check-ins across all Starwood Hotels will be declared the SPG Mayor and receive status and special perks. The mayor will be interviewed, featured on their landing page http://www.foursquare.com/spginsider, and invited to contribute travel and SPG tips.

Mr. Pereira summed it up this way,

“Starwood’s foursquare program was met with a lot of praise for being the first program of its kind. It works well for our brand because our guests love their points!”


[2] Wynn Las Vegas Casino & Resort

The Wynn Las Vegas realizes hotel guests are the best content creators and make offers like “check in on foursquare and we’ll give you a free glass of champagne.”

Wynn’s foursquare page has more than 38,000 total checks-ins, 279 photos posted by foursquarers, and more than 100 tips where hotel guests get right to the point:

Super luxury hotel. I like Wynn ; ) Alex Z.”

Vegas is all about recognizing the VIP, and isn’t it nice that the Wynn Las Vegas can monitor their foursquare account and know who the current mayor is at all times? Right now the mayor is Bob G. who has checked in 53 times in the last 60 days.

[3] American Express

This is a new program where users who connect their foursquare account to their American Express card will enjoy coupon-less savings within the foursquare app. The tag line of the program is Sync, Explore and Save, and big brands like Whole Foods and Sports Authority have jumped on board.

10 Yelp Check-in OffersWhere's Social Location Marketing Headed?

  1. Marriott Courtyard Boston: A Free Courtyard Market Item
  2. Embassy Suites Boston: One Free Night of Internet Access
  3. Hyatt Harborside Boston: 35% off Hyatt Daily Rate
  4. Best Western Longwood Medical: 1 Night Free Parking
  5. Hilton Garden Inn Times Square NYC: 10% off best available rate
  6. On The Avenue NYC: 50% off Sightseeing Package
  7. Westin San Francisco Market St: $100 for Upgrade to Executive Suite
  8. St. Regis San Francisco: 40% off your 2nd Night, Thurs-Sat.
  9. Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel, Chicago: 20% off best rate
  10. Swissotel Chicago: $119 for Room Night

Top Reasons for Not Checking In

Mashable reports that those opting out of the check-in craze do so for two reasons:

(1) No Smartphone

Not owning a smartphone means you can’t check in. But smartphone usage is on the rise. Nielsen reports that more than 44% of Americans now own smartphones, up from 18% two years ago. And, Forrester Research reports that approximately 114 million smartphone users employ check-in services and that number is predicted to grow to 159 million by 2015. It’s fair to assume that more consumers will have the ability to participate in social location marketing programs in the future.

(2) Privacy Concerns

Some argue that social location marketing will never take off because of concerns about user privacy. Yet others point out that privacy is largely a generational matter and will become less relevant as the demographic of hotel guests’ matures. But one wonders, how many consumers will compromise their privacy for a glass of merlot? And, are badges compelling to most folks?

Social Location Marketing Boiled Down

Social Location Marketing is Still Niche

Social location marketing has not neared its tipping point; participation remains quite small with only 6% of online adults open to using geo-location apps. Moreover, not enough businesses have engaged in this technology to create compelling offers that incent Smartphone users to check-in.

But Social Location Marketing Will Not Be Niche Forever

Newsweek Magazine’s Newsbeat summarized in the 2.12.12 issue the growth of social media. In the last three years, Twitter grew from 2 million tweets to 250 million tweets per day; Facebook grew from 100 million users to 800 million users; and Tumblr’s blogs grew from 1 million to 42 million. Will social location technology emerge as the next big thing and follow a similar path?

Will Hotel Marketers Be Early Movers?

Hotel marketers who experiment with social location marketing programs now will be experts when this technology moves from niche to mass use. The business challenge is designing a compelling offer that compliments the goals of your hotel rewards program. If done successfully, like Starwood and Wynn, you too can benefit from connecting with guests in real time, differentiating your brand from the competition, and reinforcing loyalty when you make guests’ stay extra special.

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