Can Foursquare be the saving grace for a banks fading branch traffic?

foursquare-banksIf you follow social media news then you’re most likely aware of Foursquare, the latest location-based service that rewards you for frequent visits to near by retail shops, restaurants, churches, night clubs and most recently, banks. Like Twitter, I was a little hesitant about Foursquare when I first started “checking-in”.  I didn’t quite understand the badges or why I would want to take my phone out every time I was at a bar or restaurant to check in.  Then my colleague shared an article from TechCrunch that discussed the way Foursquare is rewarding users directly through retailers that are on the site and I’ve been intrigued ever since.

An introduction to Foursquare

To have your business show up within Foursquare, users can enter your location in manually if it’s not already listed (take a minute to enter your location).  There is no charge for having your business on the site.  To “check-in” at your location, users simply open the application through their smart phone and all locations within a certain radius pop up.  When you check in you can add personal messages such as “hanging with friends and having cocktails on this beautiful spring day”.  Most users connect their activity to their Twitter and Facebook accounts.  You can also add tips to the location you’re at so that other users can see your advice when they check in at the location – “Try the house martini with blue cheese stuffed olives.  It’s to die for”.

So, what’s all the hype about?

For some, they just like the idea of letting people know how cool they are for going to lots of different places throughout their city.  If they’re really active, they’ll get the “adventurer” badge.  There are tons of badges that you can win but the most sought after reward of all is being tagged as a “mayor”.  You receive this reward by being the top visitor to a certain location on a consistent basis.  If you stop going for more then a few days, someone can claim your mayor position.  Up until I read the article sent from my colleague, I still didn’t have any clue why this type of service would catch on to a larger audience beyond the self-indulgent.

As I see it now, the true nature of Foursquare is the ability for retailers to connect with their customers on a more personal level.  By tapping into this online social world, Foursquare can be the ultimate “word of mouth” tool in an online marketers bag of tricks.  And with the addition of offering mayors and other badge winners with coupons and discounts (i.e. a free beer at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA if you show them that you’re the current mayor) then the possibilities are endless for creating loyal customers.

How North Shore Bank is making use of Foursquare

I recently spoke to Tim Gluth and Kate Knox, marketing managers for North Shore Bank, who mentioned that unlike other retailers, banks are not currently able to offer coupons or discounts directly through Foursquare.  The company is only exploring relationships with retailers at this time that are your typical social hangouts (bars, coffee shops, nightclubs) and banks, unfortunately, didn’t make this cut.

North-Shore-Foursquare-CertifiateThis didn’t stop North Shore Bank, headquartered in Brookfield, WI from rewarding those who checked in to Foursquare at one of their branches.  In a recent Twitter message, they rewarded someone who became a mayor at a branch with a gift card to Subway.  After receiving the individuals mailing address, they shipped out the card along with a certificate (see picture on the right).  They’ve been using Foursquare in this capacity for a little over a month.  The promotion of Foursquare is currently limited to their online activities (Twitter, Facebook).  “It has been difficult to manage and track the activity,” said Tim Gluth.  “This is one feature we feel Foursquare has yet to develop.”  And while they currently can’t determine if the people checking in are existing customers or just people stopping by their ATMs, they see every opportunity to connect with people who frequent their locations as a huge advantage.

They mentioned one success story from this campaign, “Someone that we reached out to through Twitter who had checked-in at a branch replied back that they were interested in speaking with a loan officer and was wondering who they should speak to”, explained Kate.  It’s this level of connection that makes it worth exploring tools like Foursquare, even if it’s fairly limited to a small group of consumers at this point in time.

Another Way to Build Relationships With Help from Foursquare

After you establish contact, whether it’s by sending them gift cards or certificates, you determine first if they’re an existing customer and if so, note their Foursquare account information in your CRM system (if you have one).  Depending on whether they are an existing customer or not, include in the mailed certificate some messages about where they can get helpful financial information on topics – not products – that may be top of mind.  Knowing that this individual is online savvy, steer them to an online site where this helpful information can be found – preferably under your banks brand.  Make sure you don’t push any specific products.  As we’ve said many times on this blog, people today are not interested in being sold.  Within this site, embed links to contacts at your institution so that when this individual is ready to start talking, they have an easy way of finding the right professional who can help.

With the industry up in arms about the future of branches, Foursquare brings a very compelling rewards program opportunity that could help banks make the case for in-branch activity. What are your throughts about the service?  Do you think Foursquare could play a role in steering more traffic back to branches?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

We plan on following up with North Shore Bank (6 months or so) to see if they’ve continued on with their Foursquare activities.  Make sure to keep track of our posts.  You can easily do so through our RSS feed or by simply signing up to receive email notifications in the right hand side bar of this blog.