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Can Location-Based Social Networking Be Used for Recruitment and Retention?

Employees engaging with location-based site on mobile phone As you and I both know, it’s not always easy to juggle time and resources to learn about the newest thing in the social space. But while you may have not even dipped your toe into Twitter, Facebook, or any other social networking site, it’s still beneficial for your business to be aware of the newest tools and observe how others (including your competitors) are using them.

The buzz around location-based social networking

For this post, I’ll be focusing on location-based social networking sites; namely, FoursquareGowalla and Loopt (BrightKite, Google Latitude, and many other services are also in the space), as a lot of attention is being given to these types of sites. Brian Solis describes location-based social networking as “a universe where physical and online activity merge to improve experiences and relationships between people and also between people and businesses, services, and locales.” Simply by using these sites, businesses are already building relationships with potential candidates and strengthening relationships with employees — and there’s a lot of potential for the future.

Keep in mind, although we’re talking about location-based sites, you may be able to use the ideas in this post for that next “big thing” in the social media world; it’s all about getting creative and thinking about how you can use the new tools you discover in the social space for recruitment, engagement and retention. Before you know it, your business may be ready (or have a sudden need) to participate in something new, and by learning about  social networking sites as they emerge, you’ll be one step ahead when you do.

Location-based social networking: What is it?

Although the sites I mentioned above all work a bit differently, location-based social networking sites, or “lo-so networks,”  allow users to “check in” at venues through mobile devices, to let people in their network know where they are at any given moment — or find out where their friends are staking claim.

Essentially, it’s social networking meets gaming — users interact and compete for prestige through badges, points, items or other awards (both virtual and real-life awards). Right now, these sites are primarily for businesses like bars, restaurants, retail stores, and tourist destinations (TV networks, magazines, and foodie guide Zagat also make up the list of top brands on Foursquare) — but that’s likely going to be changing soon, as evidenced by Foursquare’s message to us at CareerBuilder when we tried to claim our business on Foursquare: “While we’re working the kinks out of our system, we’re trying to limit foursquare specials to places where people meet, socialize and linger. Think: cafes, bars, restaurants, coffee shops, museums, theaters, etc. But stay tuned! We’ll be expanding the system soon, and you’ll be one of the first to know when we’re ready for all types of business!”

How can businesses use these sites for recruitment?

Right now, the capabilities for granular recruitment through location-based services aren’t robust — but future possibilities are vast. And in the meantime, it’s smart to get familiar with these sites, gain a presence — and get creative. Every medium you use to promote your brand and expose others to your business equals another touch point between you and the users you want to reach.

1. Loyalty programs

If you’re like me, you get to a store counter, frantically fish for that “Buy 10 coffees and get one free!” paper card in your wallet, and, after a fruitless search, dejectedly get a new paper card and start the whole process over again — no free coffee obtained. Good news: Many businesses have been using location-based services to test these types of loyalty programs — but instead of a little paper card, you get your stamp by checking into their place of business.

For instance, users on Foursquare can accumulate points for checking in and become Mayor of a certain location — and many businesses are now awarding the Mayor of their location (a title that changes hands all the time) with specials or certain privileges for their patronage. Similarly, users on Loopt Star is Loopt’s mobile rewards game where users compete to become “Boss,” and are awarded with special offers and free music for checking in at venues.

Other businesses are giving significant discounts to a user’s order when they check in for the very first time — a great way to welcome new users and say “Thanks for your business.” Still, most businesses on Foursquare aren’t offering specials (only around 3 percent are) — so the potential for your business to get in the space and make yourself stand out is huge.

2. Contests and Scavenger Hunts

Contests are a great way to promote user engagement. Some companies are doing raffles, in which every user who checks in gets entered to win a prize. Other businesses are creating scavenger hunts for users — like SPIN magazine and SXSW’s recent team up for a musical hunt.

Something similar could be done as a team-building event for employees — not only are scavenger hunts a fun event, but employees can participate in a little friendly competition and get to know co-workers they may not come into contact with on a daily basis. Games like this allow employees to come together as teams or interact with customers in a new fashion. They also have a lot of potential for increasing employee engagement and recognizing employee achievements  (and, ahem, recognition is one of the top things employees said they wanted in CareerBuilder’s Mid-Year Job Forecast).

Geotoko is a site that just launched for mobile-based contests and sweepstakes that supports multiple location-based services. So, if you’re a business running a contest, you can maximize your reach by opening it up to Gowalla obsessives and Foursquare devotees all at once.

Another advantage of contests? Competition promotes teamwork among co-workers, and are a great supplement to other things you’re doing to onboard new employees and help them get to know the veteran employees.

3.Listening, observing and communicating

Foursquare recently introduced analytics tools — which allow businesses to monitor activity and adjust specials or engagement accordingly (like the P.C.C. Natural Markets, who used the tools to find out a lot of their Foursquare visitors were coming in for a specific type of organic donut).  Foursquare is also  currently testing Staff pages, which will allow employees to interact directly with customers.These pages have major potential for businesses to promote their  company culture, let their employees’ personalities shine, and put a personal spin on their “business” face.

Many companies are getting creative and finding ways to communicate with their users to increase traffic to their business and enrich their relationships with users and the user experience itself. Rev. Dave Davis, executive pastor of Glen Ellyn, Ill.’s Parkview Community Church, says if a person checks into the church on Foursquare, they are greeted by a message welcoming them to the church. He adds that by reaching out to the younger generation in particular, speaking their language, and trying to reach them at their spot, they are more likely to visit your spot. (And he seems to be on to something — according to recent Forrester research, nearly 70 percent of location-based service users are 19-35 years old, and 70 percent have college degrees or higher.)

Imagine what businesses could do if they were able to identify candidates specifically and reach out to them? Even at this point, though you don’t necessarily know which users, if any, are interested in a job with your company, location-based sites are a great way to start building relationships and listening to what users want. For instance, when people check into your venue, they can give feedback or leave a “tip” about it for others to see when they check in. This is a great way for you to find out what people do and don’t like about your brand and make adjustments quickly when needed. Taking this even further, some businesses see who’s checking into their business on a location-based service and then follow up with a personal message on Twitter — taking one touch point and expanding that relationship to another medium.

Quick Tip: Aside from finding a user’s Twitter handle on his or her Foursquare profile, you can search for your business name and Foursquare check-ins on Twitter to find out who’s checking into your business on Twitter by going to and typing in “at Company Name”  4sq.

4. Search engines and Foursquare

Foursquare is now reportedly in talks with major search engines, which could change the game for businesses and recruitment, as businesses would be able to gain presence on search engines through more people “checking in” and causing their business to trend in search. What implications could this have? If a business attracts more Foursquare users and conversation around that business increases, more search engine users will see that business’s name — and the buzz around it — online while searching. This would help businesses build a stronger employment brand, expose it to a larger audience of candidates (some of whom may not have been aware of the business — or even of Foursquare — before), and get more people applying to jobs there. The addition to search engines would eliminate the need for people to be part of Foursquare to see a business’s activity on the site — meaning larger reach. At the same time, giving a site like Foursquare exposure on search engine results would increase their user base: A win-win.

How much of an impact would this move have? That remains to be seen — and as I see it, significant potential lies in the staff experience of a business being displayed in search results. How much information about the business would be given in results? Would users see comments made via “tips”? Would businesses have an option to show “staff” check-ins with commentary in results? Would there be filtering options? If so, candidates could see which businesses had the most positive staff comments and experiences, as well as how active the employee community was for that business. What speaks better to a strong employment brand than happy and engaged employees?


5. Employee Orientation/Onboarding

In “4 ways Foursquare can improve your workplace,” Sharlyn Lauby talks about the potential of using Foursquare for employee orientation, as Harvard and other schools are already testing out. College and universities are using Foursquare to orient new employees and get them acclimated to surrounding hot spots — so why shouldn’t workplaces try it too to help employees learn their way around the office or surrounding area? Workplaces with big campuses could orient new employees to the campus and surrounding area with an orientation “game”; employees could receive points for visiting  places like the gym, cafeteria, and library, and check off various venues to complete their orientation.

Any type of business could get new employees acclimated by leaving “tips” on Foursquare or other location-based sites for hot spots to eat or grab a coffee near work, getting employees familiar with the area (and helping local merchants in the process). This could also enhance the candidate experience; those who use location-based social networking sites may not only see you as active on these sites and learn a bit about your company, but could also see you leaving tips or recommendations of other places to visit in the area. This could in turn help to make your business’s location more attractive to potential candidates (it could be that one factor that makes someone want to commute a bit farther to work for you).

6. Event Marketing

Event marketers are using location-based sites to to drive participation in their events and create lasting word-of-mouth buzz about their business; Cynthia Rowley launched a new bridesmaid collection with the help of Foursquare and gave attendees at the launch unveiling a gift when they checked in. The restaurant AJ Bombers created huge buzz and the restaurant’s biggest sales days ever by creating an “I’m on a boat!” badge and having users check into a “boat” location for a restaurant event he threw. Difficult? No, it just took a couple of days of planning,  a bit of creative thinking and a willingness to experiment.

Chris Bruzzo of Starbucks says in a recent New York Times article that the company hopes to use Foursquare for things like invitations to special events, photo sharing (which some location-based sites currently support), and online reputation scores.

What kinds of events could you use location-based services to promote? One possibility may be to encourage users to check-in at your booth at a job fair, for instance. This could also be a way to quickly see who visited you, and even follow up with a short thank-you message or targeted communication.

Guidelines to keep in mind

  • Make sure your business is listed on each network by making an initial “check in” to your business, even if you’re not yet able to “claim” your venue (this way, others can still find and check into your venue).
  • Different sites have different options for customization — customize and brand yourself as much as you can depending on that site’s capabilities. For instance, you can create a banner ad on Loopt — giving you significant potential to brand your business, get your message across to Loopt users, and even insert unique messages like job opportunities or upcoming events. And on Foursquare, you can create to-do lists of places for users to explore in your area.
  • Make sure employees understand your social media guidelines, are aware of your social media efforts, and know how to use the tools and successfully interact with users.
  • Determine your goals with this, just like any emerging social media tool. Do you have the resources and the time? What is  your purpose?
  • As Jonathan Carroll of Gowalla advises, don’t leave fake reviews or tips, don’t put up poorly designed ads, and don’t forget to monitor activity. “Chances are if someone has a gripe or praise with their check-in, it’s a real-time thing: The patron is probably still there… so the business has a chance to make the experience even better.” Good point.
  • Get leaders involved so they understand the platform and can appreciate the application from a communication as well as a “bottom line” perspective.
  • These services may be virtual, but many say the key to success is providing users with real-world value. Think about what kind of value you can bring to customers, potential candidates, and your employees.

Other advantages to participating in location-based social networking sites

  • Increase your brand exposure and raise awareness of  your business (Note: Many user check-ins are also posted on Facebook and Twitter, not just the location-based service itself, so you’re automatically gaining exposure to your users’ entire networks.)
  • Show potential candidates you’re savvy and interested in engaging with them.
  • Give potential candidates the opportunity to notice and learn about your company.
  • Connect with local candidates; users are using these sites to check in at venues in the area where they live.
  • One more touch point to reach both potential candidates and your own employees.
  • Vast potential to increase loyalty by customers/users and recognize that loyalty with incentives.
  • Communicating with consumers at point of entry, service, or sale can be very valuable.
  • See for yourself what your customers and potential candidates are doing.
  • Strengthen your brand. We know that people now are much more likely to research products and services on their own, learn from their own observations, and listen to the feedback and opinions of peers rather than experts. Location-based sites are a great example of this in action.
  • Empower your employees while enriching user experience. As Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology for the Brooklyn Museum, says, they used Foursquare to create a multi-faceted experience for museum goers. One of the prongs of their three-faceted campaign involved asking their staff for their opinion on the best stuff in the neighborhood, and then leaving “tips” at these venues for Foursquare users to find. It’s a great way to engage your employees, who enjoy having some input into the experience — and the users they come into contact with may include customers, potential candidates, and even other employees. Get them involved as much as possible.

What critics are saying

Ad Age points out recently released Forrester research on location-based startups that says these applications are still too small for major marketers, as only 4 percent of U.S. online adults have ever used location-based mobile apps like Foursquare, Gowalla and Loopt. In addition, 84 percent of respondents to the survey say they are not familiar with these apps at all.

However, sites like Foursquare are adding around 100,000 users every week, and some say now is the time to make those early adapters your brand ambassadors. One commenter even argues that “early adoption by marketers will increase the quality of venue content and number of available offers, driving mainstream consumer adoption.”

As Yan-David Erlich points out in a recent Mashable post, “Ultimately, the location-based social networks that will thrive in the long-term are the ones that design their user experiences around users’ real motivations. The checkin, as a stand-alone act, is fundamentally empty. It begs to be put into context.” What that context plays out to be, exactly, remains to be seen. And a lot of what happens will likely be a result of businesses like yours experimenting in the space — and making your voice heard.

The bottom line

While many people claim to be “social media evangelists, experts, or (insert superior-sounding word here),” the truth is, there’s a lot about social media that we’re all still kind of figuring out. As Sean Corcoran of Forrester Research states in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “The reality is the space is still very much a Wild West.”

It’s smart to experiment with these sites now while the user base is still relatively small (compared to sites like Twitter and Facebook), and see what sticks, knowing that the returns at this point may not be huge.

It’s important to remember that these tools often serve to complement what we’re already doing. Depending on your particular business, you may just be considering now to get involved in any kind of social media, or you may be on the cutting edge of new applications. Either way, the beauty is that you can find what fits for you, and make the most of it. Reach out to new (virtual) faces. One of those virtual faces just may become your next star employee.

Is your business getting involved with these emerging sites — and if so, how?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.

Great article - really like the idea of using check-in sites for onboarding and monitoring to resolve customer service issues in real time.


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