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Foursquare: Next Stop on the Social Media Bandwagon?

Geolocation is one of the hottest topics in the technology industry today, and holds promise for financial institutions. Generally speaking, geolocation uses GPS-capable mobile phones to increase users’ level of information and interactivity at a hyper-local level. It’s easy to envision some potential uses for geolocation in the financial industry. For starters, consumers are already using their GPS phones to find ATMs and branches.

And now there is Foursquare.

Foursquare is a game for GPS mobile phones. It enables iPhone, Blackberry and Android users to log visits they make to their favorite locations, most often places like bars, restaurants, coffee shops, cafes and nightclubs. You can get the general idea of how Foursquare works from this short instructional video:

You can also get a basic idea about Foursquare by simply visiting the company’s homepage and watching the updates scroll along.

If you check in to the same location more than any other user, Foursquare declares you the mayor of that place. What does that mean? Some bars may give their mayors a free drink, but being the mayor at most places isn’t good for much more than bragging rights.

Users can also earn badges from Foursquare, and there are lots of them. You can get the “Airport” badge for checking in to five different airports. There’s the “Pizzaiolo” badge for those who check in to 20+ different pizza venues. There’s the “Zoetrope” badge for those check in to movie theaters 10 times.

Theoretically, any user checking in to a location should be able to see tips, advice or reviews from other Foursquare users about that place. “Tuesdays are the hot nights here!” “Order the Reuben. It’s the best in town.” “This airport has no place to smoke…at all.” Of course, this requires other users actually enter tips and advice, which isn’t the case for essentially every bank and credit union on Foursquare so far.

Financial institutions using Foursquare already

TDECU in Texas is excited about the possibilities for rewarding their members through Foursquare. For the grand opening of its latest branch, TDECU is offering a $250 Visa Gift Card to the Foursquare mayor if they show up at the ribbon-cutting event.

North Shore Bank, one of the more progressive financial institutions on the social web, offered a $5 Subway gift card to anyone who became the mayor of one of the bank’s branch locations.

Steven Kruskamp, E-Commerce Marketing Manager at 1st Mariner Bank, has just started experimenting with Foursquare. “I’ve uploaded all of our branches to Foursquare and am in the process of adding Foursquare links to the Branches page on our website,” said Kruskamp in an interview with The Financial Brand. “I’m working on figuring out a way to reward and encourage mayorships of branches with our customers.”

“The biggest hurdle for me right now is educating the branches themselves,” he added.

The trouble with Foursquare mayors

Building a Foursquare promotion around the mayors of your locations may feel like the easiest and most obvious way to tap this social media platform, but it is probably the worst thing you can do. For starters, it really limits the promotion’s audience. There can be only one mayor at a time and there will likely never be more than 2-3 people who could possibly ever overtake him/her. So if you have five branches, a mayor-based promotion would mean something to only around 15 people. For many mayors, a Foursquare promotion may simply be a reward for something they’d do anyway, e.g., using your branches a lot.

Key Question: Will a Foursquare user visit your branches more often than they usually might because you have a promotion? And is that what you really want?

Citrix | Financial Services IT Solutions

Most financial institutions are trying to push people out of branches — especially for routine interactions — by encouraging use of self-service channels. But a Foursquare promotion encourages exactly the opposite: frequent branch visits. If your financial institution builds a Foursquare promotion around mayors, you will be taking those who are highly wired, leading-edge, early adopter tech junkies and encouraging them to come into branches more often than they should. You’d think those with GPS iPhones using Foursquare would be the first people you can get to go completely branchless, but Foursquare does completely the opposite: it reinforces branch-centered behaviors.

Reality Check: Repeat traffic is the lifeblood of bars, restaurants and retailers, not banks.

Every time a retailer gets someone in one of their locations, they have a better-than-fair chance of making a sale. Every consumer who steps foot on the premises equates to more revenues. This isn’t the case with financial institutions. Home loans aren’t an impulse purchase. Many Foursquare users are only checking in to bank branch locations to conduct routine transactions.

Key Question: For the last 10 years, hasn’t your financial institution’s strategy been to drive people to alternate, self-service channels unless they are coming in for high-value services such as a home loan, auto loan or investments? Does Foursquare change this?

Further observations about Foursquare promos

These aren’t self-sustaining promotions. You can’t just create a Foursquare account and hope for results. Just like with any promotion (online or off), you have to let people know about it. That means good old fashioned marketing muscle, which takes time, energy and money.

The numbers are unimpressive. The Financial Brand has not seen any financial institution with more than 100 check-ins at a single branch location besides BofA. How many of your customers have GPS-capable mobile phones in your market that know about Foursquare and feel like using it every time they go to your branches?

“What are the chances that enough of your members or customers are using Foursquare to warrant any attention?” wonders Tim McAlpine, CEO of challenge marketing firm Currency. For social media marketing, concentrate on doing a few things really well rather than always jumping at the next new thing.”

People are playing a game. Foursquare is first and foremost a game. People compete to see how many badges they can accrue and how many mayorships they can attain. Others simply enjoy the sense of accomplishment when they earn a new badge. But when it comes to Foursquare check ins for your financial institution, don’t confuse users’ motivations. People may check in to your branches, but they are more likely shooting for a new Foursquare badge than they are interested in announcing their love for your brand. When they check in to their favorite bar, they may do so with pride. When they check in to a bank branch, they are probably shooting for an easy mayorship so they can earn something like the “Super Mayor” badge (a mayor at 10 different locations).

Raddon | Strategic Guidance for Accelerated Growth

What else is Foursquare good for?

If the concept of mayors runs opposite to today’s prevalent business strategy, are there other alternatives for a financial Foursquare promotion? Perhaps.

  • How about requiring only three check ins for someone to qualify for a gift or incentive, making it more open and accessible for everyone and not just limited to chronic Foursquare addicts?
  • Why not reward those who aren’t yet your customers when they check in to one of your locations for the first time?
  • Credit unions could reward members who visit shared branch locations. If you’re targeting Gen Y, you could have them check in to events you hold.
  • How about a Foursquare-based scavenger hunt where clues send participants to locations they actually enjoy visiting.
  • You could offer incentives to people who check in at your financial institution’s favorite charity, food bank, animal shelter, etc.

Whatever you do, send your customers/members anywhere where they’d rather be than your branches.


We’ve seen this narrative play out in one social media space after another. First it was MySpace, then Second Life. There have been a few financial institutions who have found success with YouTube and Twitter, but not most. For most banks and credit unions, the only social media platform that has both potential and staying power right now is Facebook.

“Your customers or members have barely heard of Twitter and it just turned four years old,” notes McAlpine.

“We as ADD-riddled marketers — myself included — are drawn to the next shiny thing,” McAlpine adds. “Location-based services like Foursquare, Gowalla and Brightkite may be all the rage in tech circles, but don’t get distracted by the hype.”

Bottom Line: Lots of hype does not equate to lots of opportunity. There may be a lot of chatter about Foursquare among thought leaders, innovators and other progressives in the financial industry right now, but that doesn’t mean you should drop what you’re doing and start toying around with Foursquare today. There’s no harm in experimenting with a Foursquare account for yourself, and/or setting up profiles for your organization’s branch locations. But there’s no pressing or immediate need to go any further with it.

All content © 2017 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. Kasey Skala says:

    You touch on some key points and while Foursquare may not appear to be a good fit for financial institutions, you need to think strategically.

    Yes, promos for Mayors may not be a good fit, but that’s not all Foursquare offers.

    A few creative examples:

    Pepsi is using Foursquare to notify users when they are near a restaurant –

    Jimmy Choo using Fourquare for treasure hunt promo –

    Think outside the box. The biggest hurdle for Foursquare isn’t adoption by users. The biggest hurdle is businesses finding a way to utilize and monetize the service. Think beyond the Mayor.

  2. Kasey Skala says:

    James Robert – They have addressed that issue, and either it’s live or in the works, but there will be a “cheater cop” per se, where you can’t log-in if you aren’t within a certain radius of the location.

  3. I mentioned scavenger hunts in the article.

  4. What about a promotion to simply just check in as this creates brand awareness for the FI and increases the number of potential winners and participants.

    An easy and low investment way of doing this would be to add some simple signage to the front line, ATMs, drive through lanes along the lines of “Check into Foursqaure for your chance to win ABC. We will draw one winner every day”.

    Just some quick food for thought.

  5. Tying any sort of promotion to foursquare check-ins or mayorships has a ginormous built-in problem– you don’t need to be anywhere near the location to check into it. You could be in London and check in at the Antarctic. (see also tongue-in-cheek Foursquare COPS parody from my friends over at Hubspot)

  6. All good points.

    I would only add the importance of making sure your CU info is up to date on Foursquare. I noticed for a few CUs here in Madison (haven’t tested this Nationally) that their Foursquare page(s) come up fairly high in search engine results. Same thing applies to Yelp.

  7. @CM – like Yelp… i read the reviews on foursqaure when checking in if there are any. just another thing to think about.

    @MP – love the video… that’s freekin’ amazing 🙂

  8. @Morriss – just an FYI, foursquare developers have implemented “cheat code” that is helping to eliminate the cheaters. (

    Jeff, I agree that mayorship only promos is not worth the effort. But as other commenters have suggested, as well as the end of your post, you need to think of the other ways the service can be used to add value.

    As for not wanting traffic in your branches, this is only the case because most banks have yet to figure out a way to trigger branch visitors in wanting to learn more about the plethora of other services available from their institution. This is part due to the mindset of most consumers when entering a branch – “just here to drop off a check” – and part because most financial marketing looks like this – “free checking”. If you move away from product marketing and more towards education-based marketing (also known as content marketing), you’ll want more traffic because it means greater exposure to your helpful resources and more opportunities to start dialogs.

    The ultimate goal of marketing, in my opinion, is to have as many conversations as you possibly can with your customers and prospects. If you can achieve this in person, it’s much better then online.

    Also, the comment about the majority of your customer base not knowing about Twitter is slightly off. A recent poll showed that 87% of the US population are now aware of the service. The statement may have been better positioned by saying the majority of your customer base are barely using Twitter. I think it’s something like 7% of the population are on Twitter in the US. (

    But keep in mind that people who use Twitter are often well connected outside of the online world. Their recommendations can often go a long way. I’m reading the book The Referral Engine by John Jantsch and the best companies out there are taking advantage of social media because they understand the power behind this kind of referral activity.

  9. From our perspective, North Shore Bank sees Foursquare not only as a tool to encourage people to stop into our branches, but as a way to help us increase brand awareness and position the bank within a growing local online community. Listening and connecting with people within our communities is a big part of who we are as an institution, as it has been since our inception. Foursquare is simply one more communication avenue we’re exploring.

    We don’t see Mayorship specials as the end-all/be-all of Foursquare promotions. However, the promotion we ran earlier has already paid for itself, just from the positive reception and potential new business opportunities.

    So far the tools that have been released by Foursquare have allowed us to monitor the check-in activity at our 40+ offices. Going forward we would like to craft additional promotions, including offers like restaurants are able to do now. Another intriguing feature is the ability to post tips and to-dos on our venue pages as a way to drive traffic and introduce the bank’s convenient services, like nearby ATMs, to people on-the-go.

    You offer many good points and ideas here, some of which we are exploring. Fourquare and other location-based social networks offer us a chance to bring online conversations face-to-face, where personal relationships remain a critical part of doing business.

  10. Great article Jeffry, but I think more than 4sq is needed to encourage branch adoption. I think it could work in middle America, but I think the horse has bolted elsewhere.

    What I’d like to see is something analogous to Augmented Reality on the payments side initially, where bank card usage could get you badges, etc. Sort of a combination of NY Subway, FourSquare and Mint, but backed by your bank. We have to tap in behaviors, and sorry to say but branches are just not part of the behavior set of most customers these days.

    In respect to credit unions – their strength is in community. Perhaps if they can adapt that to virtual communities they’ll really have something!


  11. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with Foursquare. There’s not even anything wrong with encouraging the occasional branch visit with Foursquare. It’s frequent branch traffic that’s bad. Branches cost a truckload. That’s one of the reasons branches are trending towards smaller offices focused on high-value services.

  12. Thanks to all that have commented, especially North Shore Bank.

    The point of the article wasn’t to ridicule an idea or embarrass anyone. It was to put mayor promotions into perspective. The financial industry is full of lemmings — monkey see, monkey do (to mix metaphors). From my desk here as editor of The Financial Brand, I was starting to see one mayor promo after another. This article needed to be written before the idea went full-blown viral, so that other financial institutions might feel compelled to muster some creativity before they just simply press the xerox button.

  13. Mark Arnold says:

    Interesting read about Foursquare. It raises a bigger question: when it comes to social media how do you know if a particular tool/application is going to be a trend or a fad? What key indicators do you look for in making that distinction?

  14. What if you were to leave a tip at businesses that are within say a 1 mile radius of your ATM. Draw a circle around your ATM that represents 1 mile or 1/2 mile, then “check in” to every business within that circle on Foursqaure and leave a TIP mentioning “The nearest XZA Credit Union ATM islocated in the _____ building.

    Then when someone checks in to a place within a 1/2 mile of the ATM the TIP will pop up about the ATM’s location. Great service for those who forgot their money or need more money. If nothing else it’s a great way to position your brand in front if your customer and come across as relevant and helpful.

    Scott Townsend
    Marketing Director
    United Linen & Uniform Services

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