Location, Location, Location!

The following excerpt, from the article Location-Based Services Can Put Businesses on the Map, was written by MP Mueller for The New York Times. Check out how other small businesses are using these applications to generate traffic and how your store can do the same!

Although Starkville, Miss., is home to Mississippi State University and the fighting Bulldogs, it’s not a large city with a dense urban epicenter — the typical playground for those who use location-based marketing services such as Gowalla and Foursquare.

But one small-business owner there, Shane Reed of Strange Brew Coffee House, says sales of The Albino Squirrel Latte — a signature coffee drink with white chocolate and hazelnut syrup — and other drinks have increased 34 percent this September over the previous September, which he attributes to his use of Gowalla, a location-based check in service, and other social media sites.

When customers check in with Gowalla at the coffee house, they are greeted with a 10-percent-discount off of any drink. They show the counter crew the discount on their smartphones and proceed to sip happily.

Mr. Reed is an enthusiastic user of social media, but he says that in terms of generating walk-in traffic, the location-based services trump Facebook and Twitter. “You can have a great Twitter account and Facebook page,” Mr. Reed said, “but if people don’t know where you are located and can’t find you, it’s really not doing you much good.”

On average, he said, he gets four or five check-ins a day, but that number can jump to as many as 30 or 40 a day when Mississippi State’s Bulldogs are playing. And it doesn’t cost Mr. Reed anything, save the value of the discount.

There can be other advantages as well. When the users of location-based services see friends checking in on Gowalla, Foursquare or Yelp and making a comment about the business they are visiting, it can have an impact. The location services reward the businesses with the most check-ins by ranking them higher in their search results.

Someone who types “hair salon” into a location-based app on a smartphone, for instance, will get a list of the most popular places to get coiffed in the vicinity and the salon with the most check-ins will be at the top of the list with its logo, a link to its Web site and a map to take customers right to the door.

If you rely on local and foot traffic and you haven’t already claimed your page on these services, sign up. Once you’ve claimed your listing, cross-promote by adding links to your location-based pages to your Web and social media pages. Gowalla’s chief executive, Josh Williams, says small businesses can benefit from editing their listings.

“Fans have contributed their impressions of a business on Gowalla,” he said, “so small businesses need to go to Gowalla and make sure your business information is represented correctly and add topical, timely info, like the type of coffee that’s roasting right now. The second thing is to encourage your fans or customers to come by and check in — if your business is a hot spot, it will rise to the top of the list of businesses in your area, and that’s a great way to stand out.”

Foursquare’s manager for business development, Jake Furst, said the service offered a number of user-friendly apps to help merchants get the word out. “You can put a Foursquare Specials message in at 3 p.m., during a slow time,” he said, “and it will show up on a user’s phone within minutes. We’ve got a product called the Swarm Special.  Merchants set up promo criteria for groups, like if we get 24 Foursquare users here at a set time, everyone at the bar gets a free drink.”

All the services offer businesses free window clings and stickers to encourage check-ins to get specials and find friends. They also provide merchants with check-in data, giving businesses valuable insights about their customers.

Foursquare’s merchant dashboard summarizes total daily check-ins, recent and most frequent visitors, visitors’ gender and most popular time of day for check-ins. You can also see how many of your customers who check in are broadcasting their whereabouts on Twitter and Facebook.

To determine which promotions will drive the most traffic, try scanning your Facebook and Twitter pages and those of your competitors to see what product or service people are talking about. Determine what you can afford to promote with discounts or freebies and target those for promoting. And when you sign up for these platforms, really commit to supporting them. Be sure you make time to work them, frequently pushing out updates and engaging with your audience.

How has your store used location-based services? Tell us a bit about how you use these applications on our Facebook or Twitter page for the chance to be featured on Foreword Online!

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