>> Friday, June 4, 2010
Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Jim Dayton, Doug Levy, and Stephanie Noble in a panel discussion at the "Social Media for Pharma" conference in Princeton, NJ, and one question that we were asked to answer has been rattling around in my brain since then: can pharmaceutical and healthcare brands participate within foursquare?
Foursquare—a social network where people "check-in" to physical locations, earn points based on their activity, and "unlock badges" based on the type and frequency of their check-in—is surging in popularity, with nearly 1.5 million users. While it may have a fraction of the users of larger networks like facebook (400 million+ users) or twitter (100 million+ users), foursquare has shown that people are willing to engage when you add geo-location to social networks. That Twitter has added and Facebook is adding location-based services only emphasizes the trend.
Naturally, marketers and brands see this growth and want to capitalize on the opportunity. But it heightens an issue that many still struggle with—how can I, as a brand, participate and engage within social environments?
We know that banner ads are not particularly effective within social networks, even with more sophisticated targeting and relevance capabilities, because of the nature of the environment (to use an often-used analogy, if social networks are like a cocktail party, imagine someone wearing a sandwich board, jumping up and down, trying to get your attention, while you were chatting with a friend at a cocktail party....is this going to be interesting or relevant to you?). Engagement is possible when brands are able to provide something of value to people, whether it's customer service, helpful tips, cost savings, or a Whopper.
Which brings us back to foursquare and whether or not healthcare brands could ever play in this space.
As I mentioned during the panel discussion, like most digital examples within our industry, we can look to other verticals like packaged goods and "pure" consumer brands for inspiration and guidance. Starbucks is probably the most obvious example of a brand that has seamlessly integrated themselves into the foursquare experience, both with their Barista badge (which I have proudly unlocked) and the special it offers to the mayor of each store ($1 off a new however-you-want-it Frappuccino), but many other examples exist on both a national and local level:
- Pinkberry offers points towards exclusive events, and 10% off your order in NY and TX
- The state of Pennsylvania has partnered with foursquare to create new badges and "inspire people to take road trips, traverse the state, and uncover the best eateries, shopping spots and historical venues."1
- Here in NY, Tasti-D-Lite offers points and rewards towards your "TastiRewards" loyalty program, plus discounts at certain locations
Will we ever see an "I have Erectile Disorder" badge for 3 refills of your Viagra at the same pharmacy? Um, probably not. Using foursquare's leaderboard to add a little healthy competition to making better lifestyle choices like exercising and making better food choices? Why not. OTC brands offering coupons for the mayor of the local CVS or Walgreens? Probably.
The bottom line is that brands, regardless of the category, can play here if they respect the environment that they're in (unique places for social interaction, not advertising), get creative with their approach, and bring value to the people they are trying to reach.