New social media properties seem to be focusing more and more on specific purposes instead of broad overarching suites. More like Twitter and less like Facebook. A new entrant that you’re likely to hear about (if you haven’t already) is Foursquare, a social media property built around the idea of exploring your city.

In this article I’ll describe Foursquare as it is today and give some thoughts on how you might use it in your real estate marketing. Keep in mind that Foursquare, like CoTweet, is in beta and will likely change quite a bit in the coming months. Here’s your chance to play with a new tool early.

Editor’s note: Meet Gahlord Dewald at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. He will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, in the Palace Hotel’s Ralston Room. Click here to send him a message.

New social media properties seem to be focusing more and more on specific purposes instead of broad overarching suites. More like Twitter and less like Facebook. A new entrant that you’re likely to hear about (if you haven’t already) is Foursquare, a social media property built around the idea of exploring your city.

In this article I’ll describe Foursquare as it is today and give some thoughts on how you might use it in your real estate marketing. Keep in mind that Foursquare, like CoTweet (see column), is in beta and will likely change quite a bit in the coming months. Here’s your chance to play with a new tool early.

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is built around describing things to do in specific real-world places. Once you have an account you are given 12 slots to enter tips for things to do in your city. You might think of it as the sort of short tips you’d give to someone new to town: "@Penny Cluse on weekends, put your name in for a table then plan to shop @Church Street Marketplace for 45 minutes" for example. These tips are pretty much the entirety of your profile.

Which is a good thing because it saves us from having to read or write boring profiles and instead share the cool things we know about our city. In "geekspeak," the "social object," or building block of content on Foursquare, is cool things to do in your city.

What keeps it moving forward?

Once you have a few tips and to-do items in your profile, the next level of using Foursquare is to "check in." You can use the Web site or a mobile-device app to let the system know where you are and what you’re up to.

Foursquare gives you little badges based on your check-ins. These badges can serve as a sort of summary or status about your use of Foursquare for people looking at your profile. If you frequent a specific location enough times you might get declared the "mayor" of that spot. Again, without a long profile description, your presence on the system is focused on what you actually do with it.

The lobster trap

Someone described social media sites as lobster traps with your friends as bait. You can issue friend requests on Foursquare or you can use their tools to add friends. Currently, Foursquare will know which of your Twitter friends are using Foursquare, import Facebook friends, and import Gmail contacts.

You can also choose to have certain notifications broadcast via your Twitter account. So, for example, if you become "mayor" of your local coffee shop you can let the Twittersphere know it.

The rules

Just like the awesome playground game of the same name, Foursquare has a few built-in constraints. First off, you can’t check in during working hours. This means that you won’t be "Foursquaring" when you should be working. Bosses everywhere can now rejoice. …CONTINUED

Also, there isn’t any built in messaging system, so your only communication with your friends via Foursquare will be about where you are and what you’re up to. The big bummer is that the list of supported cities is limited (though hopefully they will scale up soon).

Current Foursquare culture

The current focus of activity on Foursquare seems to tend towards the going-out-and-partying end of the spectrum. (I expect to see more than one "Crunked Badges" after Real Estate Connect in San Francisco next week.)

If you like to go out and party a lot, you’ll be right at home using Foursquare. If you’re more of a long-walks-on-the-beach type then you’ll be a more unique and differentiated user of the system.

OK, OK, how does this fit into a social business strategy for real estate?

We’ve got the basics of Foursquare covered:

  • minimal profile focused on tips you have for enjoying your city;
  • activity-based updates focused on what you’re doing to enjoy your city;
  • "lobster trap" your friends from Gmail, Twitter and Facebook.

Let’s try to mesh Foursquare into a social business strategy. We’ll look at passive use via profile marketing, and more active use:

Profile-marketing

Since Foursquare is very task-focused and has a minimal profile, its value for straight-ahead profile-marketing or search-engine optimization is minimal. Your profile can include a link to your Twitter account and your Facebook profile.

So while you won’t be able to extend the reach for your main Web site (there’s no link for your own Web site on Foursquare), you can help to amplify the reach of your other social business initiatives on Twitter and Facebook.

Profile-marketing takeaways:

  • If you don’t have active Twitter or Facebook social business strategies in place, Foursquare might not be a high-value time investment for profile-marketing;
  • Use of Foursquare will have minimal-to-no impact on your SEO efforts;
  • Foursquare will allow you to demonstrate knowledge of your city via 12 tips;
  • You can let others know more about you by displaying things you’d like to do in your city.

Active use for social business

Foursquare’s interactions are focused on actually going out into the real world and doing real-world things. The system is a great way to take advantage of some of the ideas on melding your online and offline marketing that Ines Hegedus-Garcia talked about at Bloggers Connect in New York City back in January. …CONTINUED

While you can’t provide a link to your Web site, you do have the opportunity to learn more about people who like the same places you do. Your direct result from using the system should be meeting people, not getting lead forms filled out.

The narrow focus of the system — things you like to do in your city — helps keep the system authentic. It’s about what you are doing.

Active use for social business takeaways:

  • Use Foursquare to learn more about your city (increase your local expertise);
  • Learn more about what people value about the places you frequent;
  • Meet people in the real world who also value the places you do.

Playing Foursquare

I want to reiterate that this tool is in beta and will likely change a great deal in the coming months. Status and activity on Foursquare are closely related to local knowledge, moreso than on other social media properties (where status is related to number of "friends" or other metrics).

Real estate professionals can gain from using this tool if they use it to augment their in-person social networking, existing online social business strategies, share their local expertise, or all of the above.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors. He will speak during a Bloggers Connect workshop at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7.

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