Foursquare Adds ‘Updates’ Function for Local Merchants

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Foursquare has rolled out a new tool this afternoon called Local Updates, which allows businesses to publish content (for free) — specials, photos, and text updates — to nearby users who have checked-in in the past. The updates will appear within users’ friends tabs — think “sponsored stories” — as well as in businesses’ listings under the explore tab.

It’s a big step in what has been a busy summer for the check-in pioneer as it looks towards monetization, and the mobilization of its over 1 million merchants. In early June, Foursquare revamped its mobile app to de-emphasize the check-in in favor of a more discovery-focused user experience, and later in the month it launched the Spotify-like “Connected Apps” platform to help bring the massive community of developers that build onto its API within the walls of its own application.

The new feature is one of the largest additions to the company’s merchant-facing product in terms engagement since the company launched its specials platform in March of 2011 and fits neatly into the Foursquare’s shift toward discovery. As the local web continues to become increasingly about discovery, timely content and meta-data like photos will play an important role in the decision-making process of the local consumer.

Foursquare already has on-boarded a handful of national brands, including Outback Steakhouse, H&M, and Wolfgang Puck, as well as a few New York area local businesses, but the looming question for the startup (as well as much of the hyperlocal space) is whether it can gain traction with merchants. Content creation is time-consuming, and, now more than ever, the number of companies asking local merchants to contribute to their platforms is immense.

Foursquare flirted with the idea of a merchant API last year, which would allow other merchant dashboards to hook into its platform, but company’s strategy moving forward — particularly for scaling content creation — remains unclear. This may be an ecosystem problem, but as Facebook knows with mobile, the ones on the top are hit the hardest.

Steven Jacobs is Street Fight’s deputy editor.