Foursquare Predictions for SXSW and Beyond

In just a few short weeks, it’ll be South by Southwest (SXSW) time. Two years ago, Foursquare (among other location-based services) was launched at the annual Austin event, and they already have big plans as can be seen from their official Twitter profile:


Foursquare continues to be on a roll, though, not waiting for SXSW to announce amazing new brand partnerships or features. As they close in on 7 million users, they recently announced a new badge unlock thanks to a partnership with Mario Batali. For those who say Foursquare doesn’t drive foot traffic, you only get this badge if you check into his restaurants during dinner time.

They’re promising big things at SXSW, and if I can put on my prognosticator hat on for a second, I’d like to make some guesses to what they could be planning not just for the Austin event, but for 2011 as a whole.
1. They’re building a recommendation engine.
Currently, when you open the Places tab in your Foursquare app, you’ll see a list of places you’ve been to a lot (for me, it’s the office, my apartment, the PATH train in Hoboken, etc.) or you’ll see places that are trending (usually in NY, it’s Penn Station or Grand Central). What you won’t see are places that Foursquare thinks you might like. That all is likely to change.

What makes me think so? For the last several months, Foursquare has been releasing a new “core” badge – in other words, not tied to a branded partnership – every week that is centered around a particular hobby. There’s the badge for checking into yoga places, bowling places (I think I’m one check-in away on that one), and bookstores, for instance.

It’s likely they’re adding these badges to better make assumptions about their users — what they like, how they take care of themselves healthwise, etc.

Based on that, what if Foursquare looked my own profile and saw I had the Gym Rat badge (earned for going to the gym 10 times in 30 days) and shop at Garden of Eden at least 3 times a week? They wouldn’t recommend a fast food place, right? But they would recommend some place where I could eat healthy or organic. That would be pretty powerful stuff in terms of driving foot traffic to new places.

2. They’re going to let brands build their own badges.
A few months ago, Foursquare unveiled a new online tool for businesses and brands where you can suggest new badges. Up until now, it was difficult for brands and corporations to get quick feedback from Foursquare on how to do a badge, what it would cost, when it could be up and running, etc.

This doesn’t completely automate the process, but it’s a step in that direction.

While I doubt Foursquare will ever let badges go to users without their approval, I can envision a scenario where brands design the badge, the rules to earning it and the unlock text (what users see when they earn it) and submit to Foursquare for approval. Pending their approval – and the check clearing – it then goes out to users much more quickly than during the original process.
3. Promoted venues will become more commonplace.
Last month, Foursquare unveiled a brand new type of partnership with the NFL when they promoted the Super Bowl with a promoted venue listing — you could check into it (even though it’s an event, not a place) and earn a badge by shouting your loyalty to either the Packers or the Steelers.

One of the reasons Foursquare initially took off was because of the deals either bars or even retailers offered to people who checked into their locations — 10% off here for everyone, free muffin for the Mayor (person who checks in the most), etc. But you had to be near those venues, or you know, actually checking into them to see those “specials.”
But a promoted venue is a way to draw attention to venues you’re not nearby. If I’m planning drinks with friends that night, and I notice via a promoted venue that only three stops away is a bar with free appetizers, I’m probably going to reroute the crew to that location. The NFL-Super Bowl campaign was pretty successful, so I imagine we’ll see other brands and retailers trying it out later this year.

Alan Danzis is a Senior Social Media Specialist in the Ketchum Social Media Group. The easiest place to find him is on Twitter at @adanzis where he posts his favorite Foursquare check-ins, as well as links to news and fun stories about video games, sci-fi and other nerdy things.