Tag Foursquare

User-Generated Content Is Fuel for Recommendation Engines

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr.By now, most business leaders have heard that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family play a large role in the decision making process for many consumers.

With this in mind, many of these same business leaders have also accepted that social media should be leveraged, and have thus established a presence on the most-used social networking sites. Many have even gone the extra mile and actually engage with their customers on these sites.

But, what is often most important is what customers do and say online.

The beautiful product photos, positive reviews, and check-ins that customers post spread awareness about the businesses, products, and services that they use and hopefully like.

What they also do is leave a permanent record of a positive (or negative) interaction that a customer had with a brand.

As you know, if it is posted on the Internet, it can possibly live on forever.

What we don’t often think about is that these posts can lead to future sales by helping recommendations engines provide more targeted and accurate suggestions to future customers.

What is a recommendation engine?

In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.

If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com. The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

Social Networking Sites Offer Suggestions

Several social networking sites understand that the data that they collect can be very useful and have harnessed it to offer recommendations to users directly within the site.

Foursquare is a great example.

In his book, “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin describes how Foursquare is using its data to offer better suggestions to its users.

In the book, Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, states, “From the very first check-in, we get smarter at what we recommend. If you check in to a series of places, we will make a better guess at what you are looking for. If you love small coffee shops and you go to a city and type in ‘coffee shop,’ guess what we are going to recommend? A small, independent coffee shop. If you are a guy that loves a big coffee house and you go to a different city or country and type in ‘coffee,’ we are going to give you recommendations based on your history. If we were friends on Foursquare and I was in downtown Boston and I saw Chuck had been to a cheeseburger place five times, that is a great signal for me to go to the same place for lunch because I know Chuck and he knows good cheeseburger places and I like Chuck.”

The book goes on to explain other ways that Foursquare is using its app and the data it collects to give its users targeted and relevant suggestions based on their location, past check in history, and the check in history of the people who they are connected to.

If you want another example, check out Yelp.

As you are probably aware, Yelp is an online review site that allows users to review businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location. This data can be used directly within the site to find a specific type of business based on its location and the reviews that it gets from Yelp’s users.

Yelp has an algorithm that that helps surface the most trusted reviews from the most reliable sources.

It is also noteworthy that Yelp reviews often show up in the results that users get when they search for information on Google.

Every Post on a Social Networking Site Could Potentially Be a Source of Data

The examples that I gave demonstrated how social media can be used to help users find businesses based on data collected within the social networking site itself.

However, everything that users post on social networking sites can be used by a third party to help consumers make purchase decisions. (As mentioned, Yelp reviews show up in Google SERPs.)

To illustrate this further, think about all the photos of the delicious meals that users post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Knowing that people often post photos of their food, the app MyFab5 encourages users to use these Instagram photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.

The concept is rather simple (i.e., use food photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.) The app then uses an algorithm to surface the best places to get a specific type of food based on users rankings. For example, according to MyFab5, here is a list of the best places for burgers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While this data again leads back to a brick-and-mortar location, it shows that anything that users post is fair game.

Given the vast amount of data out there, there will be other businesses that will harness other types of user-generated content to help make recommendations to other consumers based on hashtags, keywords, geotags, or other data that are included in posts on social networking sites.

Therefore, it is important that businesses find ways to ensure that these recommendation engines find more positive posts than negative ones.

Final Thoughts

As I have pointed out, the product photos, reviews, check-ins, and other posts on social networking sites not only work to influence the people who are connected to the users who create the content, but they also can have a larger impact on future sales when they are used to fuel recommendation engines.

So what can businesses do to help encourage customers to create user-generated content that displays the brand in a positive light?

The answer to that question depends on the situation.

However, the most important thing is to provide great products and services to customers.

Providing excellent customer service is also key.

In the end, businesses not only want customers to use their products and services, but they want the experience that they have with the brand to be positive. So positive that customers can’t help but share the love of the brand online.

Because what is posted online can live on forever and we can’t predict how other businesses will use that data in the future.

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr and chadjthiele on Instagram.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Facial Recognition Technology and Privacy: Is a Deal Really Worth It?

When you mention facial recognition technology, many people cringe and think of an invasion of privacy that will lead to the government tracking their every move and taking away their civil liberties.

On the other hand, when facial recognition technology is mentioned to other people, they get excited about all the possible cool things that can be done, from improved security systems to marketing opportunities.

Where you stand on this issue is probably going to determine how you feel about a new high-tech loyalty program that is being tested by redpepper, an advertising agency with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.

But, before we get into that further, I want to refresh your memory about another use of facial recognition technology that I talked about in a post last month.

In the post, I mentioned digital signage that is using facial recognition technology that helps identify basic demographics (gender, approximate age, body type, etc.) of the consumers who are looking at the digital sign and then uses that information to deliver relevant ads to them.

Personally, I think that this use of facial recognition technology is harmless because it is only identifying the characteristics of the person, not who the person is. In other words, the consumer’s face is not being matched to a large database to identify their exact identity.

It’s a good thing that I didn’t argue that such a database doesn’t even exist, because only a few days later, I learned that there is a database that I didn’t even think about—Facebook.

Here’s where redpepper enters the story.

Facedeals

As an article on the Los Angeles Times website reports, “A new app is being tested in Nashville, Tenn., that can check in people on Facebook and send them offers using facial-recognition cameras.”

“Called Facedeals, the new service uses cameras installed at businesses’ front doors to read people’s faces as they enter,” the article continues. “If the people who come in are users of the app, they will be checked in, and based on their “like” history, they would receive a customized offer.”

Keep in mind, the idea of getting a deal based on checking in is not new. Businesses around the country are doing the same thing using Foursquare and other location-based social networking sites. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post about Concentrics Restaurants in Atlanta, Georgia. With the help of PlacePunch, Concentrics Restaurants was doing a really great job of offering deals to loyal customers who checked in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

It appears that the main difference is that Facedeals uses facial recognition technology to check a consumer in every time they enter an establishment that participates in the program. In addition, Facedeals also customizes the deal offered based on the participants “likes” on Facebook.

You can find additional information about Facedeals on the redpepper website.

Privacy Issues

If you search YouTube, you will find that there are people who are letting their opinions be known, both for and against Facedeals.

As you would expect, the normal privacy issues are being brought to the forefront.

Personally, I’m not against using facial recognition technology in this manner. The main reason for my stance is that it is opt in.

However, other people could argue that Facedeals could still track you based on your Facebook profile information even if you don’t opt in and just not tell you. But, let’s face it, the government might already be doing this.

The only problem that I have with Facedeals is that by automatically checking you in on Facebook, all the people who you are connected to on Facebook would know where you are every time you enter a participating establishment. (Without the facial recognition component, you get to choose when to check in and where to share the information.) This could be fixed by having a setting that allows the user to decide not share the check-ins on their Facebook page.

Conclusion

In the future, more technologies are going to be introduced that will push the envelope and challenge both our imagination and how we define our expectations of privacy.

Everyone is aware that facial recognition technologies exist.

However, some people are going to fight to limit its use.

Businesses that plan to use facial recognition technology need to be aware that they serve customers who embrace this type of technology and those who are vehemently against it. Therefore, they need to decide whether or not using a service similar to Facedeals is worth the effort.

Ultimately, though, it is the consumer who gets to decide. If enough people who are against this type of technology voice their opinion to the business owner, the business owner will be forced to listen. On the other hand, if a majority of customers embrace the technology, then its use will become a more common occurrence in businesses all over the world.

Therefore, it is going to be interesting to see how the people of Nashville welcome Facedeals.

My question to you is: If you were given the opportunity to participate in this type of service, would you choose to opt in?

Photo credit: david drexler on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Smartphones Are Changing the Way We Shop

One of the biggest challenges that retailers face once they get consumers into their stores is finding ways to get customers to see the products that they have for sale.

For this reason, many store owners go to great lengths to make sure that the design and layout of their store is optimized for the way that consumers shop and that the merchandise is properly displayed.

However, even with the use of endcaps and optimized sightlines, the fact that humans need to look ahead when they walk through a store makes it difficult for some products to get noticed.

In his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping—Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond,” (affiliate link) Paco Underhill mentioned a study that he did to see how much of what is on display at supermarkets is actually seen by customers–the so-called capture rate.

According to Underhill, “About one fifth of all shoppers actually see the average product on a supermarket shelf.”

Smartphones Can Help Consumers Find Products

Mobile phones have given consumers the ability to research and purchase products from their mobile phones.

Smart retailers have taken note and are making an effort to make sure that their store is front and center when these consumers use their mobile phones to search for product information.

But, the power of mobile phones doesn’t need to end there.

Many retailers are partnering with apps like shopkick not only to get consumers into their stores, but also to interact with specific products.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future some major retailer partners with a tech startup to use the sound technology similar to what shopkick uses for walk-in rewards to notify consumers about product specials or discounts as they walk down the grocery store aisle. This would help solve some of the issues that I talked about earlier. (However, I would hope that this technology would be opt-in and used very sparingly, as it could get annoying really fast.)

Other technologies that retailers could use to let consumers know about specific products or services include geofencing, near field communications (NFC), RFID, QR codes, augmented reality, and location-based apps similar to Foursquare.

Furthermore, as Ivy Chang pointed out in a blog post last year, retailers can bring their stores to the consumer by using technology to create remote store-fronts at subway stations (or any other location for that matter) that allow people to scan QR codes with their smartphones and have the products delivered right to their homes.

Final Thoughts

Technology is constantly changing the way that we live our lives.

Smartphones are one example of this, as they are giving retailers additional ways to connect their customers to the products and services that they have for sale.

While store design and merchandising are always going to be important factors in increasing sales, smartphones are going to play an increasing role in helping make consumers aware of discounts or specials and connecting them with additional product information that will help them make purchase decisions.

With this in mind, retailers and the brands that make the products and services that they sell need to be forward thinking and find ways to use smartphones to connect with customers before the competition does.

Photo credit: jeremydeades on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Beyond the Check-In: The Sweet Sound of Location-Based Marketing

The number of people who own smartphones in the United States continues to rise. According to comScore, for the three-month period ending in December of 2012, 97.9 million people in the United States owned smartphones, up 12% from the preceding three month period.

Therefore, as I mentioned last week in a guest blog post on the Strategy E-ssentials blog, it is becoming necessary that businesses develop strategies to help consumers find information about their products and services when consumers reach for their mobile devices. Although it is not the only tool in a business’s mobile marketing toolbox, location-based marketing is going to become more important for businesses of all sizes in the very near future.

The Future of Location-Based Marketing

In my post on the Strategy E-ssentials blog, I talked about a few of the cool things that are going on in Location-Based Marketing. This not only includes using location-based social networking sites in a brand’s marketing efforts, but it also includes giving consumers additional information with location-informed ad content and using geofencing to send targeted messages to consumers when they enter or exit a certain predetermined geographic area.

Sound-Triggered Smartphone Ads

If you have read my blog for the last few weeks, you know a little bit about what brands have been doing with Shazam and IntoNow to help facilitate interaction with consumers while they are watching television.

The concept of using sound to trigger advertising messages or deliver additional content to a consumer’s smartphone is not limited to the time when they are near a television, a computer or even a radio.

As I mentioned in a blog post last summer, stores that have partnered with the shopping app, Shopkick, use a device that sends data via sound waves that are above the range of human hearing to a smartphone with the Shopkick app running—thus enabling Shopkick users to activate the reward of the day.

New York digital agency Densebrain is also doing some cool things with their new program called Sonic Notify.

As an AdWeek article posted last December points out, “Repurposing the bus-tracking technology, Densebrain devised small beacons—designed to be hidden from view—that can be attached to shelves, and which emit inaudible, high-frequency sounds that trigger smartphone messages. The audio code can also be overlaid onto an existing audio track. As long as consumers have downloaded an app integrated with the technology, the smartphone will respond to the sound without user activation.”

This technology can be used to alert consumers to special offers when they are in brick and mortar retail stores or restaurants, or it can be used to provide interactive content during television programs. And, it could also be used during live concerts and sporting events.

In fact, it is being used in the Made Fashion Week app that debuted this month during New York Fashion Week. Using the Sonic Notify technology, the app displays information about each look as models walk down the runway.

Final Thoughts

Location-based marketing is becoming more important for businesses of all sizes.

It’s important to note that location-based marketing doesn’t only include check-in apps, but other technologies like location-informed ad content, geofencing and sound-triggered smartphone apps, as well. And, these are just some of the current technologies out there.

I can’t wait to see what they think of next.

Photo credit: CHRISTOPHER MACSURAK on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Are You Ready for Some Football? (The Second Screen Edition)

Historically, the Super Bowl has been one of the most viewed telecasts of the year.

According to The Nielsen Company, five of the six most watched prime-time telecasts of all time in the U.S. were Super Bowls.

In fact, the last four Super Bowls played (2008 to 2011) are on this list. And, there is no reason to believe that this year will be any different.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that advertisers are willing to spend huge amounts of money to air their 30-second spots during the game. (According to CNNMoney, the average cost to air a 30-second spot during this year’s Super Bowl is whopping $3.5 million a pop.)

Extending the Story Online

As I mentioned in a blog post in October of last year, brands need to understand the importance of utilizing the tools that are available to consumers on their smartphones, tablet computers and laptops to extend the story online and keep the conversation and connection going, long after the television commercial is over. (Gary Vaynerchuk likens this to the game of Ping-Pong.)

This year, it looks like many brands are going to take advantage of this opportunity during the Super Bowl.

For some brands, this could be as simple as requesting that viewers visit their website, Facebook page or their page on any other social networking site out there.

Other brands have taken it one step further by partnering with companies that own certain smartphone apps to help facilitate the interaction.

Hopefully, this will enhance the experience that viewers have during the Super Bowl.

Required Game Day Gear

In order to participate in the experience that the advertisers intend to provide, viewers are going to have to be aware of what they need to do and have the right tools at their fingertips.

For brands that ask viewers to visit their website, Facebook page or their page on any other social networking site out there, a laptop or desktop computer is the only thing that will be required. In fact, a pencil and a piece of paper or a strong memory could suffice if viewers want to wait until after the game is over to go online. (Here is where SEO and paid search could play a big role in helping the brand continue the conversation online.)

However, several brands will be taking advantage of the fact that many people will have access to a smartphone or tablet computer during the game and have partnered with companies that own certain apps to help drive viewers directly to a specific landing page or possibly provide them with an in-app experience.

Shazam and IntoNow are two of the apps that viewers might want to download to their smartphones or tablet computers before the Super Bowl begins. Other apps that could possibly come in handy during the Super Bowl include Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and GetGlue.

There are also apps available that will allow people to watch the game on their smartphone and others that are dedicated to letting people watch and rate the commercials before, during and after the game.

Final Thoughts

The Super Bowl is one of the most watched telecasts in the U.S. each year.

For many people, especially those who are fans of teams that aren’t participating in the game, the commercials might be more important than the game itself.

This year, several brands will take advantage of the fact that many people will have their smartphone, tablet computer or laptop in front of them during the game. These brands will be asking viewers to continue the conversation online or within smartphone or tablet computer apps.

In this post, I’ve linked to a few articles and blog posts that provide people with additional information that might be helpful to them before, during and after the game.

I also plan to tweet links to some additional articles and blog posts this weekend. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at: @sunbeltbadger.

Also, if you hear of something that is worth mentioning, please send me a tweet or let me know in the comments section below.

Photo credit: rmlack22 on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Is There a Daily Deal Site for the Rest of Us?

With the rapid advances in technology, savvy marketers are finding additional ways to advertise their products and services.

To help fill the need for additional marketing vehicles, smart tech startups are stepping up and creating interesting sites that are redefining the way consumers interact with businesses.

Some of these tech startups are helping connect businesses to their potential customers by creating daily deals sites.

The Geography of the Daily Deal

Many daily deals sites start off by offering their services in select major metropolitan areas and then expand to other major markets after they have created some buzz about the site.

The way that many daily deal sites are set up involves having a sales force on the ground in the markets that they serve who make sure that there is a new deal each day. The behind the scenes efforts to find local business that are willing to offer a deal to consumers would appear to make it cost prohibitive to expand beyond major metropolitan areas.

This makes it difficult for people in small and medium sized cities to participate in a major part of the tech revolution. And, people living in rural communities… forget about it.

The Daily Deal and the Small Business

The concept of connecting consumers to small businesses in major cities is a great idea.

However, the short-term exposure that small businesses get may not be worth the costs involved in offering this type of deal to consumers.

In fact, some people have questioned whether or not consumers who use daily deal sites will become repeat customers who are willing to pay full price in the future.

It has also been documented that some daily deal offers have been very detrimental to the small businesses that offered them.

National Daily Deals

With the increasing number of people who are purchasing smartphones all over the country, the time might be right for a startup to offer a national daily deal site to consumers.

What I am envisioning is a site that partners with major brands that have a presence all over the country. This could include restaurants, department stores and even individual products and services that are available at multiple retailers.

By eliminating the need for a local sales staff in each city it would allow the site to offer daily deals to smaller cities and even rural markets.

And, because the site would be working with major brands that are already offering similar deals via other advertising mediums, it would decrease the chance that the offers would have major negative impacts on their clients’ bottom lines.

The Current Sites

I am aware that Foursquare and Shopkick are offering deals on a national level. And, I am a huge fan of both sites.

However, there are people out there who are reluctant to use location-based social networking sites similar to Foursquare. And, others might not be interested in a site with the gaming component that Shopkick introduces to the shopping experience, so they wouldn’t even think to use the app to find out if there are any deals currently being offered by a participating merchant.

In doing some research for this blog post, I was able to find additional deals sites with some potential, including The Dealmap and Eversave.com. However, while it does appear that both of these sites partner with some national brands, again it looks like they are limiting their offerings to select major cities.

The Valpak app comes the closest to what I am envisioning. However, their selection of deals is still rather limited, at least in the market where I am currently located. (Note: You can get additional deals at their website.)

Coupons.com is also worth looking into, but they don’t have an app.

Finally, many individual brands also have smartphone apps. However, I would speculate that the people who know about and currently use their apps tend to be current customers. To put it another way, having to use a different app for each store takes the recommendation component out of the equation.

Final Thoughts

As more people purchase smartphones, there is going to be an increased opportunity to reach more diverse subsets of the population.

However, people in some of the smaller markets currently aren’t able to participate in part of the technology revolution that is taking place in large metropolitan areas.

Daily deal sites are just one example of this.

While there might be some local websites that serve some of the smaller markets, to my knowledge, a large daily deal site hasn’t been created that has a goal of offering a daily deal to the everyone in the United States.

So, why hasn’t one of the current daily deal sites out there started offering a national daily deal, in addition to their more localized deals? With the name recognition that Groupon and LivingSocial already have coupled with the infrastructure that they already have in place, it shouldn’t be that hard for them to do.

And, for those of you with an entrepreneurial spirit, mixed with the right tech knowledge and business acumen, this might be a good idea for a new startup. Feel free to take the idea and make it your own… I would just like to see a daily deal site that could be used by the whole country.

If there is a site out there already doing this, please let me know about it in the comments section below.

Photo credit: TechCocktail on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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What Apps Are Currently on Your Smartphone?

As I mentioned in a post earlier this month, comScore reported that for the three-month average period ending in October 2011, 90 million people in the United States owned smartphones. As would be expected, this number continues to increase.

In fact, according to Flurry Analytics, 6.8 million Android and iOS devices were activated on Christmas Day. This is a 353% increase over the average number of activations per day that were observed in the first 20 days of December, 2011.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that the number of smartphone app downloads was 125% higher on Christmas Day, when compared to the baseline measurement.

Suggested Smartphone Apps

With all the new smartphone owners out there, it makes sense to suggest some smartphone apps that people might be interested in.

It should be noted that I currently own an Android phone, so most of my suggestion will be based on apps that are available for that operating system. However, most of these apps are also available on other mobile operating systems, as well.

If you are currently using any of the social networking sites out there that have apps available (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+, Myspace, YouTube, etc.) then it makes sense to download those apps to your phone. There are some other apps that can be used to access these social networks, as well. In fact, there are many apps currently available that allow you to access your Twitter account.

Google Maps is also a very useful app. The Android version of the app eliminates the need for a separate GPS navigation system. It also now includes indoor maps. I haven’t tried this feature… but it sounds really cool.

The CNN app is great for keeping up with the latest news. When the app is installed on your phone, you can choose to have it notify you about breaking news. I also recently installed the CNNMoney app. It is similar, but it focuses on business news.

CNET TV and G4 both have great apps that provide users with the kind of information that satisfies the tech nerd in all of us.

Evernote is included on a lot of favorite app lists, including mine. Among other things, you can use the app to take notes in meetings or write down ideas that you want to remember when you are on the go. As an added bonus, you can also access Evernote from your PC. I use this app a lot for taking notes about topics that I want to blog about in the future.

Foursquare is one of my favorite location-based social networking sites. The app is very easy to use, and businesses sometimes reward you for checking in to their venue. I have written several blog posts about Foursquare in the past. It should also be noted that there are other apps out there that serve a similar purpose, like SCVNGR and Google Latitude. However, I currently tend to use Foursquare the most.

If you are looking for a cool photo sharing app, I’d suggest giving picplz a try. However, I have also heard a lot of good things about Instagram. It was recently announced that Instagram is working on an Android version of the app. Until the Android version of Instagram is available, picplz is a very good alternative. In fact, there are people out there who say that they prefer picplz to Instagram.

GetGlue is a great app that allows you to let others know what you are currently doing (i.e., reading a book, listening to music, watching a television show or movie, playing a video game or just thinking about a topic.) The current version of the app is a little clunky, but I still enjoy using it. And, hopefully, future versions of the app will fix some of the problems that I am currently having with it.

I am also a fan of the Yelp app. It gives you access to user-generated reviews of the local bars, restaurants and stores in your area. Yelp is a great resource for people who have recently relocated to a new city or are visiting a city that they have never been to before. It also has a check-in component similar to Foursquare. And, if you get a chance, check out Yelp’s Monocle. Yelp’s Monocle is an augmented reality feature that among other things allows you to see reviews of the businesses that are nearby.

Urbanspoon is another app that can help you find nearby bars and restaurants. The unique thing about this app is that if you can’t decide where you want eat, you can use the Urbanspoon slot machine to get additional suggestions. It’s a very cool app.

Many of the daily-deal sites, such as Groupon and LivingSocial, also have apps. As I mentioned in a post that I wrote this past summer, I think that Scoutmob is the daily-deal site that offers the best value to businesses and consumers. As is the case with most of the daily-deal sites, Scoutmob can only be used in certain markets.

Shopkick is another fun app that allows you to earn kicks by visiting participating brick-and-mortar stores and scanning certain items with your smartphone. The kicks can then be redeemed for merchandise at participating retail stores or donated to certain charities.

I also need to mention the Google Reader and Listen apps. I use these apps a lot for reading blog posts and listening to podcasts, respectively.

And, if you sell things on eBay, you definitely will want to download the eBay app. It has many useful features that help facilitate the buying and selling process.

Finally, there are a few apps that I haven’t used that much, but I want to mention because I think that they could potentially be very useful to some people. These apps include Google Googles, RedLaser, Zaarly and WHERE.

Final Thoughts

Many people received smartphones over the holidays.

That means that many people are now learning about the different ways that smartphones can make life a little easier by simplifying some of our everyday tasks.

However, in order to take full advantage of their smartphones, people need to know what apps to download.

The list that I just provided is a good place to start.

However, with over 500,000 apps in the both the Apple App Store and Google’s Android Market, it’s just the beginning.

For additional suggestions, you might want to check out the lists that are provided by other bloggers. In fact, Nate Riggs just published a list today. Jeff Hilimire also frequently blogs about apps that you might never have heard about before.

Other popular websites also frequently list some of the best apps that are currently available.

However, the only way you can truly know whether or not an app is valuable to you is to actually try it yourself. So, I’d suggest heading over to the Apple App Store or Google’s Android Market and give some of the many apps out there a try.

And, if you have any other apps that you would like to suggest, I’d love to hear about them.

Photo credit: mcclanahoochie on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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1911 Main Street’s Top 10 Social Networking Sites for Business 2011

Photo credit: Montage Communications on Flickr.This is the time of the year for holiday parties, college football bowl games, Santa Claus, and looking back at the year that was.

It is also the time of year for “best of” lists… and lots of them.

So, in keeping with the tradition, I submit to you my list of the top 10 social networking sites for business 2011.

Note: There are many smartphone apps that could be considered social networking sites that I haven’t included on this list. I plan to write a post in the near future dedicated to smartphone apps, so if some of your favorite apps didn’t make this list, check back in the next few weeks.

The Top 10 List

1. Facebook

A “best of” social networking site list would not be credible if it didn’t start off with Facebook. The site was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with the help of some of his roommates and fellow students, including Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes. Facebook was initially limited to Harvard students. However, it eventually opened up to the general public and now boasts more than 800 million active users worldwide. With numbers like that, it isn’t hard to see why this site is number one on my “best of” social networking site list.

On its site, Facebook has several resources to help businesses connect with current and potential customers.

2. Twitter

Founded in 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, Twitter enables users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, also known as “tweets”, in real-time. Twitter’s “About” page mentions that, “Businesses use Twitter to quickly share information with people interested in their products and services, gather real-time market intelligence and feedback, and build relationships with customers, partners and influential people. From brand lift, to CRM, to direct sales, Twitter offers businesses a chance to reach an engaged audience.”

For more information about using Twitter for business, check out the “Twitter for Business” page.

3. LinkedIn

LinkedIn was founded in 2002 and launched the following year. It is one of the premier social networking sites for business professionals. According to its website, as of November of 2011, LinkedIn had more than 135 million members in over 200 countries. LinkedIn mentions that all of the 2011 Fortune 500 companies have executives who are members of LinkedIn. Futhermore, LinkedIn’s hiring solutions are used by 75 of the Fortune 100 companies.

Check out the LinkedIn “About Us” page for additional information.

4. Google+

Launched in June of this year, Google+ has grown rather quickly. (A recent Mashable article stated that it has an estimated 40 million users.) With the recent launch of Google+ Brand pages, Google+ should definitely be on your radar.

For more information about Pages for Google+, visit the Google.com website.

5. Myspace

Launched in 2003, this once dominant social networking site has experienced a massive exodus in recent years. However, according to comScore, Myspace still had over 28.4 million unique visitors in October of 2011. This is a sizable number. Furthermore, Myspace was recently purchased by Specific Media and Justin Timberlake. They plan to relaunch the site in 2012. Will this be enough to revive Myspace? I don’t know. However, it might be a good place to buy ads in the short-term, as people will most likely revisit the site to see what changes are made.

6. Tumblr

As I mentioned in a recent blog post, businesses, particularly those that are targeting consumers age 18 to 34, should keep an eye on Tumblr. According to a recent Nielsen study, titled “State of the Media: The Social Media Report Q3 2011,” Tumblr nearly tripled its audience in the last year. In fact, it has become the 8th largest site in the U.S. Social Networks and Blogs category.

For more information, check out my blog post about Tumblr.

7. Foursquare

Around 15 million people worldwide are using Foursquare. Therefore, it’s not surprising that over 500,000 businesses are using the Merchant Platform. While other sites have tried to compete, Foursquare is currently the most successful location-based social networking site. Will it ever gain widespread acceptance? Probably not. However, there are a lot of cool things that can be done with location-based social networking sites. Furthermore, as a recent Adweek article points out, the early adopters of location-based social networking sites tend to be influential and young. The article also mentions that these early adopters are more likely to share product information, promotional coupons or discount codes than average online U.S. adults. This is definitely something that businesses should think about.

8. YouTube

The YouTube website states that more than 3 billion videos are viewed per day on the site. It also states that 98 of AdAge’s Top 100 advertisers have run campaigns on YouTube and the Google Display Network. Furthermore, the number of advertisers using display ads on YouTube increased 10 fold in the last year. If your business is already creating engaging video content, you might want to consider sharing it on YouTube. You might also want to consider video podcasting as a way to get the word out about your business. But remember, don’t just talk about your business. Instead, focus on a topic that is related to your business and deliver content that your customers and potential customers will be interested in.

9. Yelp

According comScore, Yelp had 31.3 million unique visitors in October of 2011. This alone should give businesses a reason to make sure that they have a presence on the site. Good reviews will help drive Yelp users to your business. And, keep in mind, Yelp reviews can also show up in Google Search Engine Results Pages. Therefore, it pays to monitor what people are saying about your business on Yelp and other user-generated review sites and respond to your customers concerns.

This summer, I wrote a blog post about how user-generated online reviews can influence sales. You might want to check it out.

10. Flickr

According to Wikipedia, Flickr was created by Ludicorp in 2004 and acquired by Yahoo! in 2005. Flickr is a site that allows users to post photos and videos. The Yahoo! website states that Flickr has 20 million unique U.S. visitors (nearly 80 million worldwide) that spend an average of 2.7 minutes per visit on the site. Therefore, it might be a good idea for your business to upload visually appealing photographs and videos that highlight its products and services. As an added bonus, many people use Flickr to find great content to share on other social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. Flickr is also a great source to find photos for blog posts.

Note: You might want to give the content that you post on Flickr a Creative Commons license to encourage sharing.

Final Thoughts

This is my list of the Top 10 social networking sites for 2011.

Are there any social networking sites that I should have included? And, if so, what sites would you take off the list?

Photo credit: Montage Communications on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Beyond the Check-In: A Loyalty Program That Is Worth Checking Into

Photo credit: A Year of Yesterdays on Tumblr.If you have been reading my blog posts for the last few months, you know that I am a fan of social media, and location-based social networking sites, in particular.

In a previous post, titled “In the Spotlight: An Introduction to Foursquare for Business,” I wrote about some of the ways that businesses can use Foursquare to market their products and services.

In that post, I pointed out that businesses can offer Foursquare specials (e.g., mobile coupons, prizes or discounts) in an effort to get customers to visit their physical locations more often.

PlacePunch

In today’s fast-paced world, innovative startups often find a way to take a good thing and make it even better.

In the realm of location-based marketing, PlacePunch is one of those innovative startups.

PlacePunch is an Atlanta-based company that was formed in the summer of 2010 with the help of Shotput Ventures, a technology startup accelerator located in Atlanta.

According to placepunch.com, “PlacePunch is a location-based marketing platform that enables businesses to drive more customers to their venues, build customer loyalty and gain new insights into their customer base. PlacePunch includes tools to run loyalty and marketing programs that integrate with Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and other location-based social networks.”

An article on techcrunch.com, titled “PlacePunch Launches Location-Based Marketing Platform For Foursquare, Twitter And Facebook,” that was written by Leena Rao, gives further insights into how companies can utilize PlacePunch’s services.

According to Rao, businesses can create custom loyalty programs that offer rewards and coupons to customers just for checking in on various location-based social networking sites. PlacePunch provides the infrastructure to run these programs. Businesses can also run personalized messaging programs through Twitter that allow them to communicate with their customers who check in at specified venues. For example, you could set up a recurring tweet to welcome your customers when they check in at your venue.

“PlacePunch also provides a dashboard of reports and analytics to help businesses learn more about their customers and venues, including demographics, time of check-ins, and more,” Rao explains. “And the bootstrapped startup has signed on InterContinental Hotels Group as a client.”

However, it was the way that another one of their clients used their services that really caught my attention.

Check In to a Concentrics Restaurant and Get Rewarded

According to its Facebook page, Concentrics Restaurants, founded in 2002, has “some of the industry’s most unique and electrifying restaurants.”

Their Facebook page describes their restaurants like this: “Each with its own mesmerizing design and unparalleled approach to food, these dining sensations are setting creative trends in both the hospitality and wine industries across the country.”

When it comes to loyalty programs, they are definitely doing some innovative and creative things, including utilizing PlacePunch’s location-based marketing expertise to reward customers who check in on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp. (Note: I am not sure what effect, if any, the recent changes that Facebook has made regarding check-ins will have on this program. If you have an answer, please feel free to let me know in the comments section below.)

A blog post on placepunch.com, titled “Concentrics Restaurants Debuts Loyalty Program Powered by PlacePunch,” written in October of 2010, states that, “Using PlacePunch, Concentrics will be able to reward customers for checking into its restaurants with Foursquare or Facebook Places. For every 5th check-in via Facebook Places or Foursquare, Concentrics customers will receive the choice of any beer, wine or dessert, under $9. For the 50th and 100th check-ins, Concentrics customers will receive 50% off their check. (Max discount of $25.)”

When customers sign up for this loyalty program, PlacePunch keeps track of how many times they check in to participating venues on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp. When customers qualify for rewards, they receive an email inviting them to redeem their reward at a participating Concentrics restaurant. In order to redeem the reward, customers must use their mobile device to show the email to their bartender or server.

To find out more information about Concentrics Restaurants, visit their website: concentricsrestaurants.com. (Note: You might want to check out some of the other offers that are currently available, including their “Circle Concentrics” loyalty program.)

Conclusion

Location-based social networking sites give businesses another opportunity to reach their customers wherever they are.

This includes giving businesses a very cool, technology-enabled way to offer deals that reward loyalty and encourage customers to visit their physical locations more often.

Innovative startups, like PlacePunch, have found ways to take a good thing and make it even better.

Several different businesses, including Concentrics Restaurants, have utilized PlacePunch’s expertise to help them with their location-based marketing efforts.

When customers sign up for the Concentrics Restaurants loyalty program and check in at any of the seven participating Concentrics restaurants via Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp, their check-ins are tracked by PlacePunch. After the 5th check-in, customers receive an email that invites them to redeem their reward (i.e., any beer, wine or dessert, under $9) by using their mobile device to show the email to their bartender or server.

If you own a restaurant, you might want to take a page from their playbook and offer a similar type of loyalty program.

Although I don’t have access to any of the actual data that could be used to measure the ROI of this loyalty program, I can tell you from personal experience that when I lived in Atlanta, I visited each of the seven participating Concentrics restaurants as a result of the rewards that they offer when customers check in at any of these restaurants on Foursquare, Facebook, Gowalla or Yelp.

I have also recommended all seven of the participating Concentrics restaurants to friends and family who have visited Atlanta in the last few months. And, I am willing to speculate that others have probably done the same thing.

In my opinion, the PlacePunch-powered loyalty program offered by Concentrics Restaurants is definitely one that you should check into.

For additional information about this loyalty program, click here.

Photo credit: A Year of Yesterdays on Tumblr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Beyond the Check-In: Three Cool Uses of Location-Based Social Networking Sites for Marketing Purposes

Photo credit: wovox on Flickr.Location-based social networking sites have not gained mainstream acceptance.

However, the number of people using location-based social networking sites is still growing. As mentioned in a previous post, titled “In the Spotlight: An Introduction to Foursquare for Business,” Foursquare recently passed the 10 million user mark.

As I also mentioned in that post, there are several reasons why brands might want to incorporate location-based social networking sites into their marketing mix.

In fact, many brands are already taking the lead and doing some very cool things with this technology.

Here are a few examples of some of the most imaginative ways that brands have used location-based social networking sites in their marketing efforts.

The KLM Surprise Program

I first read about the KLM Surprise program in a blog post on txt4ever.wordpress.com, titled “Ten brands that are using the Foursquare check-in.” (This post lists some other interesting uses of location-based social networking sites for marketing purposes. Therefore, you might want to check it out for additional ideas.)

The KLM Surprise program rewards passengers of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines who share their flight plans via Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines monitors these social media sites and selects passengers to give small gifts to. Each gift is selected based on the passenger’s tastes (inferred from what they post on Facebook and Twitter.)

Passengers never know when or where they will be rewarded. But when they are, it usually brings a smile to their face.

For more information about the KLM Surprise program, visit surprise.klm.com or check out this YouTube video, titled “KLM Surprise.”

The GranataPet Brand Dog-Food Billboard

Earlier this year, Mashable posted an article, titled “German Billboard Dispenses Dog Food When You Check In on Foursquare [VIDEO].”

The name of the article says it all.

As the video in the post explains, the GranataPet billboard is designed to increase awareness of GranataPet brand dog food.

When dog owners walk past the billboard while walking their dogs, they can check in on Foursquare, and the billboard dispenses fresh GranataPet dog food for their dogs. This not only introduces the product to dog owners, but by including the social media element, the dog owners are able to share their Foursquare check-ins on Facebook and Twitter.

For additional information, check out the Mashable article or watch this video on YouTube, titled “GranataPet Snack Check.”

“THE FRANCHISE on Showtime” Foursquare Vending Experience

Lest you think that our friends in Europe get to have all the fun, check out this article on marketwire.com, titled “MLB Fan Cave Debuts Foursquare Digital Vending Experience.”

As reported in the article, “The legendary MLB Fan Cave on the corner of Broadway and East 4th Street in Manhattan has premiered a never-been-done-before digital out-of-home (OOH) storefront.”

What this is, is a customized Foursquare-linked smartphone vending experience that dispenses official MLB baseballs upon user command.

When Foursquare users in New York City who encounter the Foursquare vending experience check in to “THE FRANCHISE on Showtime” via Foursquare, the intelligent storefront releases an official MLB baseball.

According to the article, a few lucky participants received autographed baseballs. (Note: The baseball is free; the check-in is the only payment required.)

The purpose of the innovative experience is to promote the “THE FRANCHISE: A SEASON WITH THE SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS,” a new docu-series that premiered on July 13 on Showtime.

Conclusion

These are just three examples of the some of the cool things that can be done with location-based social networking sites.

Of the three examples that I listed in this post, the KLM Surprise program is the most labor intensive (the other two are automated solutions.) However, it would also be the easiest to replicate, if another brand wanted to invest the time and effort.

It’s a great way to for a brand to show its appreciation to its customers. And, as the video points out, it’s also a great way to get the brand’s customers talking about the brand on social networking sites.

The other two examples that I gave really peak my interest.

They are examples of some of the really cool things that can be done with location-based social networking sites.

In the future, it might be commonplace to see a vending machine in a public area (e.g., a grocery store, mall, amusement park, etc.) that gives out samples of a product, just for checking in on Foursquare or any other location-based social networking site.

And, I think this is only the beginning.

As more brands start using these technologies in innovative ways, more people might recognize the value of location-based social networking sites, which could hopefully lead to mainstream adoption of this technology.

This will inspire brands to push the envelope even further.

I can’t wait to see what they will think of next.

Photo credit: wovox on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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