If You Haven't Checked into Foursquare, Now's the Time . . .

Foursquare, the mobile application that lets you check in to real locations to unlock virtual badges and real-world incentives and discounts, hit four million users recently.
What’s important to note is Foursquare went from three million users to four million in 50 days according to GigaOm. It took them about a year to hit the first million. Foursquare, like Twitter and Facebook before it, is seeing “a network effect — the more people sign up, the faster it grows,” says GigaOm.

The numbers get even better. According to Mashable, “Foursquare is now adding close to 20,000 users per day, up significantly from the estimated 15,500 per day rate near the time the startup hit three million members.”
Count among their newest members astronaut Douglas Wheelock, who unlocked the NASA Explorer badge a few weeks ago when he checked in from the space station. That’s right: IN SPACE.

What could some of the reasons be for the colossal membership growth?

  • Even bigger branded partnerships. Not just NASA, but Conan O’Brien and his blimp. They also launched a new Trophy Case where users can see all the badges they’ve earned, whether they’re Foursquare-created or partner-related, such as the ones developed by Bravo or The History Channel. More importantly, they’ve made it easier for PR and marketing professionals to submit ideas for badges by filling out this form.

  • Updated versions of the app for iPhone and Android, and, finally, a Symbian release.

  • Facebook Places is still getting off the ground, meaning Foursquare remains in the lead. Facebook Places is now offering discounts (even to charity, if you want) but consumers still don’t understand how it works, as evidenced when people commented “I’m here” on the Gap’s Facebook page when they were trying to check in for a free pair of jeans.

  • And finally, I’m sure this isn’t just a fact here at Ketchum, but it’s rare these days that Foursquare doesn’t get brought up in a brainstorm, PowerPoint deck or during conversation I have with colleagues in the office at least once every other day.

One downside of growth, however, is that the site has been having some trouble maintaining uptime with its servers lately — something Twitter used to suffer from a lot. It’s also becoming harder to get a branded badge turned around, as the wait time can now stretch into months — hopefully that new form will help things.
For brands to leverage the platform, we now have to go beyond shelling out budget for a badge since so many brands are already doing it, and instead look for ways to . . .

  • Incentivize not just the mayors, but anybody who checks in to a retail store, pop-up store, kiosk location, etc.

  • Reward multiple check-ins over the course of weeks or even months, to make sure we’re really hitting our hardcore fans instead of wannabe deal seekers.

  • Make people check into places other than a company’s own retail store. For instance, to earn RadioShack’s Holiday Hero badge, you have to check into gyms and public transportation locations in addition to checking into a RadioShack.

  • Go beyond free T-shirts at an event like CES (the Consumer Electronics Show). If you’re going to give something away, make it rare and unique (and hopefully expensive).

  • Don’t be afraid to go the celebrity route — look how it worked out for Pee-Wee Herman and his Broadway show.