Case Study: Creativity Counts When Putting Together Foursquare Specials

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Tracy McMahon may be a relatively new business owner, but she’s used Foursquare for as long as it’s been available in her area. The proprietor of  CoCo’s Sunset Grille on Tybee Island, Ga., McMahon has come up with some interesting Foursquare deals to attract new customers and engage existing fans.

How did you start using Foursquare to promote the restaurant?
I just bought this restaurant in March, so it’s a pretty new endeavor, but I’ve been in the restaurant business for about 20 years. Recently, I’d been paying a lot of attention to how different restaurants were using technology, and kind of watching, reading, and researching everything. I liked Foursquare from the start and I was waiting patiently for it to get to Savannah. I lived in Atlanta for 13 years, but we’re behind here in Savannah. When we got the restaurant, I thought it was a fun thing because it’s so interactive and that’s what I like about all social media. I’m not an advertising guru; that’s probably one of the things that’s a little beyond me.

With the Foursquare in particular, I was having a little trouble claiming the venue at first. I wanted to do something big for Foursquare Day, but I had only been in the restaurant business for a couple of weeks and we were having trouble getting the name changed over [on Foursquare]. When I was finally able to claim it myself, the first thing we did was a free smoothie with every check-in. Right now the mayor gets a drink special—it’s our CoCoRita, which is our margarita. We’re playing with that some as we’re getting people more involved. The big thing I’m doing right now is Sunday afternoon bingo at the bar. If the Braves score a run, you get to put a bottle cap on a square—different things like that—and the center square is a Foursquare check-in. I know not everybody has a smartphone, but the majority of people who come in do. We introduce a lot of people to Foursquare, tell them what it is, and then go from there.

Different business owners have different goals with Foursquare whether it’s bringing new people in or just engaging the customers they already have. What are your goals?
I think it’s both of those. I want to see the regulars talking more and doing some shout outs and different things. That’s how I use it when I go into any restaurant. I rarely will do anything negative. If I like the restaurant and I like the service, I’ll do a shout out. I’m trying to encourage our customers to do the same thing. Then that will attract new customers. There’s a whole group of people out there that are looking for stuff like that. When people see that people are on Foursquare playing bingo, they feel like this would be a fun place. Then I can reward people. Whether it’s a free Koozie or a drink special. I’m trying to figure out how to get the swarm badge together one day. You know, I’m trying to come up with different things.

The merchant dashboard has a lot of information about customer demographics. Do you find that useful?
I want to use it more; I’m not using it enough. That’s one of the things I am looking forward to spending more time on. I think Foursquare—like plenty of other sites—is doing a lot to continue to grow their whole business and give us the incentive as business owners to utilize it more. But they really have a lot of technical difficulties. My intention would be with Foursquare to utilize [the demographic information] a lot more.

Do you think there has ever been a time when social media has hurt your business?
I don’t. There are always reviews. I’ve tried to really encourage people to talk to me if there’s any [problems] at all. If it’s a good experience I want them to throw it out there. If they don’t have a good experience, my wish would be that they would come to me directly. For the most part, we’re getting good reviews and a lot of positive feedback. As it comes with any social media, I could see where it might be [a problem]. We talk about that in our meetings all the time. A review will be up on the Internet before the server reaches the table. We have to realize that’s the kind of world we live in now. But that’s not a bad thing. Every single customer should be treated as if they’re the single most important person in the world and they’re about to put a review on the World Wide Web.

Do you have any tips for business owners who are getting started with Foursquare and other hyperlocal marketing tools?
I would say to find one or two avenues that they are comfortable with and go with learning those. It [can be] extremely overwhelming, and it’s hard to keep up with everything. For example, Foursquare is one of the things I have put the majority of my energy into. We have a Facebook page and we’ve got a Twitter. I do some with Twitter, but not as much as I’d like. Foursquare is just something that was always interesting to me. I wish I had a lot more time to do it; it’s super important. That would be my advice. Don’t try to do 100 different things. Just find something that works for you and that you enjoy.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.