Today Starbucks and Foursquare announced that he mayor's of the local Starbucks will get a discount on any Frappucino. Starbucks had previously worked with Foursquare to create a "Barista" badge for people who checked into multiple Starbucks stores.
All of this is interesting, but really it's just coupons. When a Mayor checks into their local Starbucks they'll be offered $1 off a Frappucino. It's just like any other loyalty program that rewards frequent users.
This isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's quite good. When people ask me about "social media" they're often looking for new and different ideas. In reality, social media is really about having new and updated channels for established (and effective) concepts. Every marketer knows that it's easier to upsell a current customer than it is to create new customers, so if you can turn a standard cup of coffee into a $4 coffee shake, it's a better way to go. Offering a coupon does just that, whether it's something you print out from the website or something you get on your smartphone via Foursquare.
What Foursquare offers is an easy way to know when the most loyal customers are in the store and upsell them automatically. There-in lies the difference.You no longer have to print thousands of coupons and stick them in the local paper just to get a small return. You can target those customers you want to reach.
Will this work for everyone? I'm not sure. Smaller brands have offered location-based coupons through Foursquare, so if you check in near a store a coupon pops up to drive you in. You usually see these in bigger cities, like New York, where Foursquare has more traffic. I doubt anyone is going to drive 20 minutes for a coupon, but a person may walk a block out of their way on a hot day to pick up some frozen yogurt.
But in thinking about my favorite coffee bar in Newton, the owner Nik knows most of his best customers (as do his employees). Plus, he has stamped cards that people keep by the register to get a $2 off a drink with each 10 they purchase. Does he need to work with Foursquare for a loyalty program? Maybe not, though, he could use Foursquare as part of his social media campaign and to drive new traffic.
I could see him running a guerrilla campaign, so anyone who checks into the Starbucks around the corner gets a coupon for a $1 off of a coffee to drive them into Taste (and to know what good coffee tastes like), but would Foursquare sell such a thing? I imagine it would annoy a big advertiser.
So when you look at social media campaigns don't throw out good, established concepts just because they are old. Think about how you can use them in new forms.