Now that colleges and universities have passed Social Media 101 – what’s next?
But, like any smart business, institutions of higher education are on the lookout for the next best marketing tool. Some are turning to Foursquare, the self-described “social city guide” that allows users to “check in” at various locations using the mobile application, discovering where their friends are and acquiring information and discounts for the venues.
Founded in 2009, Foursquare has grown to nearly 30 million users, many of them teenagers and young adults who are seeking a social network that is not dominated by older siblings and, especially, their parents. A recent YPulse research study showed that 18 percent of teens prefer to “check in” on Foursquare rather than Facebook. Among young adults with smart phones, 23 percent between the ages of 18 and 29 use geosocial services such as Foursquare, up 5 percent from 2011, according to Pew Research.
This is a trend that colleges and universities should watch, as it is exactly the demographic they are striving to reach.
Foursquare sounds like a game – for good reason. It is designed to be fun. After checking in, users obtain “tips” about the location and earn rewards, such as coupons and Foursquare badges. The person who checks into a location the most over two months becomes the mayor of the venue, becoming eligible for additional perks and prizes. By sharing their locations, users learn where their friends are hanging out without sending multiple texts or checking Facebook statuses.
It seems a natural application for the generation that grew up playing video games and using smart phones. Yet college administrators may wonder, “What does it have to do with marketing our institution?” It’s a valid question to which many institutions are finding an answer.
After opening a Foursquare account, a college claims management of every venue on campus, even adding spots that don’t exist on the Foursquare website. When students and visitors to campus check in at a location, tips created by the school, such as “President Bill Clinton delivered the commencement address here,” “Free tickets for the football games” or “There is a two-for-one special on pizza today” appear on the application.
Support Recruitment – Interesting tips, photos and facts are highlighted about a building or area to provide a mobile interactive approach to a campus tour. Prizes and discounts, such as coupons for the school store, are offered to prospective students who check in the most.
Bolster Event Attendance – Tips publicize an upcoming performance to generate a pre-event buzz. By monitoring check-ins, colleges determine what is popular with students, providing valuable data for scheduling future functions. Freebies, such as tee shirts for the first 100 attendees at an event, are promoted.
Enhance Student Life – “Insider tips” are offered for locating quiet study spots or the best place to grab a late-night burger. Free meals are awarded to those who check in the most at dining halls. Students who receive the most badges are entered into drawings to win a desirable prize, such as a new iPad. Campus-wide competitions, such as scavenger hunts with clues offered at various check-in spots, are created. Schools also expand their area to off-campus businesses, which offer discounts to students, making the service more desirable.
Foster School Spirit – Students who check in at school sporting events are alerted to discounts at the campus bookstore for spirit gear. The “mayor” of an athletic venue is offered courtside seating as a reward for regular attendance. Incentives to attend are publicized on days leading up to games.
Promote Campus Initiatives – Colleges that promote sustainability, for example, use Foursquare to direct students and visitors to recycling bins and locations for donations. Rewards are offered for tips that help conservation efforts. Admissions, Athletics, Dining Services and Student Activities, as well as Public Relations, engage in the marketing of specific programs and projects.
Opening a Foursquare account is only the first step to using the social network. Colleges and universities need to market it to students and other members of the campus community. That means promoting it on Facebook, Twitter and the website’s student and Admissions pages and blogs. Posters and flyers at venues should remind students to check in. Information about joining the school’s social media networks can be included in recruitment materials and campus tours. Introductions to Foursquare can be part of new student orientation and welcome week activities each semester.
Colleges that effectively incorporate Foursquare into their social media game plan may find it to be a winning strategy.