Pinpointing New Opportunities Through Location-Based Services

Do you know where your friends are right now?  Your family?  What about your colleagues? Thanks to location-based social networking sites such as Foursquare, Facebook Places, Gowalla and Yelp, it’s becoming as easy as reading a status update to know where your contacts are, what they’re doing and how they feel about it.  Location-based applications have a unique and growing following, and more and more consumers are signing up and checking in.

Beyond the utility of connecting with friends and colleagues, location-based services represent an opportunity for communicators. While there are concerns about personal privacy and data security, there is no doubt that consumers are adopting location-based applications at a rate that can’t be ignored. Foursquare had 1 million users in its first year and touts an impressive 8 million users today.  By comparison, it took Twitter about two years to reach 1 million followers. Given this rate of adoption, organizations, particularly those that engage directly with consumers, have the opportunity to use these applications to create short-term buzz around a new product or long-term relationships that have shared benefits with users.

But where to start? As with any communication effort, it’s a good idea to think, look and listen before you leap.  In order to build an effective promotion using location-based applications, communicators must employ the same techniques used in any program to engage key audiences: Be strategic in your approach, coordinated in your communication and integrated in your implementation.  Here are some tips:

Strategize – Know your target audiences, understand what they want and where they’re going to find it. Research location-based sites to ensure there are enough of the right users to make a client campaign worthwhile.  If they’re not already there, chances are a single campaign won’t be enough to get them and keep them there.  Ask lots of questions – what are your goals?  What are the goals of your users?  Will they require an incentive in order to engage? In some cases, the target audience might not be engaging with location-based social media, and another approach will be more effective.

Communicate – Make sure internal stakeholders are on board. Whether a campaign is locally based or nationwide, be sure to communicate the purpose behind the effort and the end goals so that everyone, from the retail rep to corporate management, is aware of the campaign and is fully supporting it. If one person isn’t, it will eventually become clear to the users who will become confused by conflicting messages.

Integrate – Make sure that communication extends beyond the location-based application and continues across the other channels already in use.  As with more traditional communication, publicizing a campaign on one platform can limit success. Instead, carry the messages across Twitter, Facebook, email, and other “old school” channels such as window clings and in-store displays. Get the word out as much as you can and integrate your messages into every media platform.

So, what’s your take on using location-based social networking sites in public relations? Tell us what you think below!


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