Foursquare case study: Are “swarm parties” in your company’s future?

I’ve been a skeptic about Foursquare but this guest post from small business-owner Helen Wilkinson (above) describes a new perspective on a monetization activity with benefits for all. Enjoy!

At precisely 7.52 pm on August 12, 2010, a hearty cheer rose up from our small tea shop on the south coast of England.

“It’s a swarm, it’s a swarm!” people shouted, merrily clinking glasses of champagne.

Not just a swarm … but the first successful ‘swarm party’ ever in the UK, as the Press Association reported the next day (adding enthusiastically that the Foursquare event significantly boosted sales during the hour people checked in at our little shop, Metrodeco).

“So what?” you might ask. “How can one day’s good profits make a solid foundation for business growth? And who cares whether it was the first UK swarm party? We’ve been holding them in the States for months.”

Well, I think the answers to those questions should interest businesses everywhere.

First, the fact that Foursquare swarm parties are now happening here in the UK – and there are suddenly many more planned across the country – has a global significance that should not be underestimated. When we tentative Brits embrace a social technology and it spreads beyond the early adopters, history shows it is probably well on its way to becoming a multinational phenomenon and is here to stay. This is exactly how it went with YouTube, Facebook and Twitter: first success in the US, then in the UK, then years of world domination.

Watch during the next few months as Foursquare ratchets up millions of users in Australia, Estonia, Iran, South Korea and many other nations. I’ll eat one of my teapots if I’m wrong.

Second, I think you will find that businesses benefit from swarm parties way beyond the money that they make on that day.

At Metrodeco, we’re certainly not measuring success by looking at the bottom line for this single month. Yes, we doubled sales on the day of the swarm and in the run up added maybe 15 new repeat customers as a direct consequence — a result not to be sniffed at when you’re a small business.

But the real Holy Grail of any business’s digital strategy is to influence the influencers so they become brand evangelists. And this is because all the research shows that customers who come to you because of word of mouth are likely to be more loyal than those who are there because of traditional marketing programs.

We think we achieved this conversion.

How? This is key: Social media influencers in any area love meeting each other face-to-face, hence the success of ‘tweet-ups’. But what a Swarm Party now adds to this mix is the opportunity for people to collaborate in a joint endeavour, to achieve something together, to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and say “We are a community and we work better as a whole than as individuals”.

If half of the 50+ people at your party feel this sense of success through co-operation, you’re going to have to do something pretty bad to lose their good will. And that will probably mean months, if not years, of good word-of-mouth marketing. This, of course, leads to closer relationships with your customers, a bigger and better reputation, greater buzz and, eventually, more money!

What do you think? Is swarming in your future?

Helen Wilkinson is the co-proprietor of Metrodeco, a tea room in Brighton, UK.

{grow} Community Note: Coincidentally, yesterday Knoxville publicist Zane Hagy staged a similar event at a local pizza restaurant.  To attract a Foursquare swarm, they offered free cheese pizzas all day. Well, 2,603 free pies later, they had their swarm, and had also doubled their average sales for the day. You can read about it HERE.

Snooping on Facebook: Not just for stalkers any more

I have one of the world’s best points of brand differentiation — I’m the only business blogger you know old enough to have a daughter-blogger! Lauren is entering her senior year as a journalism major and has been having some intriguing social media experiences. When she told me the following story I was frankly a little weirded-out.   Let’s see what you think about using Facebook as an investigation tool after reading my daughter’s guest post …

Since my last post on {grow}, I’m a year older, I’ve aced all my classes, started my own blog and developed a fondness for coconut ice cream.  Hope you have all been doing well.

But my hiatus is beside the point. Today I am here to tell you a story of intrigue and revelation … a story that might forever change the way you think about Facebook.

This summer I’m spending my time as a development intern for a private, non-profit foundation. One day I was asked to research a professional sports player — who was associated with my foundation — as a potential target for donations. Through public information, a little resourcefulness and my best pal Facebook, you may be amazed at what I found …

The hunt begins

To protect the innocent, we’ll call the professional sports player Dijon Shmoogley.  Fundraising is a sophisticated process and my large nonprofit foundation subscribes to many lists, archives and search engines to determine who might have a “potential to give” (i.e.: who’s got property, boats, salary, stock,  etc.) After exhausting my search through these traditional databases, I reached a dead-end. I found no indication of Dijon’s financial status.

Turning to the Internet, I learned that:

  • His brother’s name was Reginald, and he also had played sports in college.
  • His mother and father, Sarah and Frank Shmoogley live in Minneapolis.
  • Dijon was newly-married to a girl name Jenny Smith from Minneapolis, MN
  • His Facebook page is private.

Although I could not pin-down Dijon’s financial status, once I found that he was recently married I immediately began to look for his wife’s assets (isn’t that a vow … “I promise to share my boat, stock portfolio, antique china…”?) as an indication of his economic status.

Facebook takes over


Turning to my best pal …


  1. I searched Facebook for “Jenny Smith”… Ha!  2,000 entries.
  2. I searched Facebook for Reginald, Dijon’s brother. Found him. His Facebook isn’t set to completely private so I can view his friends (Thinking that he would be friends with his sister-in-law). He isn’t friends with any “Jenny Smith” but he is friends with his mom, Sarah Shmoogley who, in her Facebook picture, is next to a blushing bride … I just found a picture of Jenny Smith!
  3. I returned to the search for “Jenny Smith” and quickly find a matching picture of my bride. I opened her profile and it confirmed that her hometown and current city is Minneapolis.

I then went to the online site for the Hennepin County Assessor’s Office (Minneapolis) to search for properties owned by Jenny Smith. (THIS IS COMPLETELY PUBLIC! Go see for yourself!)

There are about 20 Jenny Smiths in Hennepin County who own property, but 16 are registered with spouses who aren’t Dijon Shmoogley. I search the remaining four properties on Google maps and rule out at least three of them for various intuitive reasons. Finally I get down to one rational possibility. But it is a shared homeownership with another woman — Amelia Bedelia.

Hmmm… If the two women are close enough to buy a house together, wouldn’t they be Facebook friends too? I go back to Jenny Smith’s Facebook page and sure enough there’s Amelia Bedelia. I have now confirmed Dijon’s home and am on my way to discovering a significant portion of his net worth.

Game.  Set.  Match.

Even with a name as common as Smith and Facebook’s security settings, I was able to confirm Dijon’s home ownership, value of the home, and other valuable information about the assets of the couple. Social media status updates also can provide other important clues — discussions of vacations at the lake house, promotions, investments and purchases. With this information, I tailored an appropriate fundraising approach and suggested giving level for the Schmoogley Family.

Another fundraising friend of mine grabbed a list of over a thousand new potential donors because a competing charity posted the names of their 1,500 largest donors on a Facebook event page.

I admit this is all a little weird but it’s real and it’s time to wake up. Facebook is not just about social networking. It’s also about social investigating.

Are you feeling a little nervous about this?

Lauren Schaefer is the world’s greatest daughter and will be looking for a job in about six months. I can vouch for her.

Why so much research about Twitter is flat-out wrong

Every week it seems there is some fresh research establishing that Twitter is irrelevant to businesses and/or brands. Bloggers gnaw endlessly on reports dismissing the marketing possibilities of micro-blogging, calling for the death of Twitter.

I’d like to suggest these debates are largely meaningless because so many of these reports are hopelessly flawed.  I’ll demonstrate this point by asking you a simple question:

If you took a survey asking you to name the brands you follow on Twitter, would you name me?

I’m guessing that you wouldn’t, because you relate to me as a person and possibly even a friend, and yet I am certainly also a personification of my company and its “brand” on Twitter.  I would be overlooked in any research report looking for how people relate to “brands” on Twitter, wouldn’t I?  And lots of other companies would be missed, too.

For example,  Amy Howell is the personification of Howell Marketing of Memphis, but I am following Amy because I like AmyMegan Parker is paid to be a voice of GE on Twitter.  I love her irreverent spins on corporate news and sometimes don’t even connect that in fact, I am following one of the largest companies in the world.  Everyone knows how fun and effective Chris Brogan is on Twitter yet make no mistake that he is the personification of his growing new media fiefdom. When you follow Chris, do you even think about him as a B2B company?

Here’s the deal. If research focuses on the benefits of Twitter for “business-to-business” or “business-to-consumer” it’s doomed because this channel is ultimately about P2P — person to person.  In fact I would suggest that with few exceptions, ONLY “personal” brands thrive on this platform.  I can’t imagine following a bottle of beer or a restaurant chain on Twitter yet I would eagerly follow real marketing professionals from those companies who can enlighten, teach, and entertain me.

And that’s why so many of these research reports are missing the point.  They’re asking the WRONG QUESTION.  In fact I think it would be very difficult to measure the complete business value of Twitter across the social web quantitatively — many of the successes are “stories” of connection or qualitative data points.  But I’m sure companies will keep trying to reduce Twitter to a list of survey questions because it’s easy to do, it’s a hot topic, and it’s a way to get their name at the top of the wave for a moment. And so many of these reports are being rushed to a data-hungry blogosphere without regard for statistical validity!

So, how many of the individuals I follow on Twitter represent brands or companies?  Just about every one of them!   And THAT’S the point!

Does this make sense to you?

Can’t find work? Maybe you’re part of the “Unserviced Workforce”

I would like to introduce Stuart Mease of Virginia Tech University to all of you. Stuart is a member of the {grow} community and flat-out one of the brightest guys I know. He made a name for himself with creative applications of social media to economic development and I’m pleased to present this timely guest post today:

This recent headline in The Wall Street Journal caught my eye: “Some firms struggle to hire despite unemployment.”

So let’s dispel this unemployment myth right now. There are jobs out there and plenty of them … unless you’re part of the Unserviced Workforce.

That may be an unfamiliar term to you.  There are three distinct job seekers in today’s labor market – white collar professional workers, blue collar skilled workers, and the Unserviced Workforce.

Unemployed white collar professional workers are being serviced by private third-party groups (headhunters). Their skill sets may be in high demand and companies are paying a premium for their services. Professions such as health care, engineering, information technology, and accounting are all in high demand regardless of region.

The blue collar skilled workers are being serviced by public third-party agencies (community colleges, workforce investment boards, employment commissions, staffing agencies, etc.). Typically their skill sets are also in high demand because companies try train a constant pool of candidates for these jobs. Professions such as manufacturing, trades, technicians are all in high demand.

The Unserviced Workforce is caught in the middle. Neither the public nor private sector is helping this group find jobs.  This segment is characterized by younger people with potential or upside; has some  higher education; good (but not billable) skill sets, and are looking for a “professional” job paying a salary between $25k-$50k, depending on the region. This is the critical mass of knowledge workers who are underemployed, over-educated, or who are leaving smaller regions for larger metropolitan areas in search of better employment opportunities.

Here are seven possible outcomes for the Unserviced Workforce:

1) Acquire new skills and move up

This will require continuing education and a commitment to the acquisition of demanded skills.

2) Humble yourself and move down

This will require accepting a lower standard of living and the realization that there is a surplus of people with the same skills sets in the market.

3) Start a business

This will require taking risk by starting small while still looking for a job, going to school, or working a platform job, and identifying government programs to assist you.

4) Move laterally between jobs in the Unserviced Workforce

These people will most likely not make an investment in continuing education or start a business. They may think they are better than blue collar jobs. Typically younger, these workers will bounce from job to job and never “get ahead.”

5) Remain unemployed

These people are still not humbled or motivated to get out of the unserviced workforce because they are waiting for the economy to turnaround and/or family/spouse supported.

6) Leave the region

These people believe “it’s not me” but the place I live that’s the problem. They are typically unattached or younger and are more capable of leaving or are forced to leave due to the severity of the regional economy.

7) Retire

These people are focused on years of work experience rather than result-based metrics. They are frustrated by perceived age discrimination in the recruiting process. They will re-enter workforce at a later time, perhaps working only part-time. Their decision depends on their nest egg and lifestyle.

If you are a job seeker and are reading this post, I challenge you to get out of the Unserviced Workforce by seeking Outcomes #1, #2 or #3. Inaction will leave you in Outcomes #4 and #5 and poor attitudes results in Outcomes #6 and #7.

There are jobs out there.  No public or private-sector program is going to create a job market equilibrium. It’s solely up to YOU — the job seeker — to stay out of the Unserviced Workforce.

Stuart Mease’s mission is “connecting people” to create mutually beneficial relationships. He is currently serving as the Director of Undergraduate Career Services in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech. You can follow him on Twitter @stuartmease.

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