Location, Location, Location

By: Mark Fitzgerald & Debra Gersh Hernandez

Newspapers that are early experimenters with geolocation Web and mobile services Foursquare and Gowalla are excited about the potential for increasing reader engagement, driving traffic to their online sites, finding new sources of advertising revenue — even jazzing up their reporting.
 
Both services combine social media with GPS, allowing users to “check in” to restaurants, shops and other businesses, earning recognition and, often, discounts. They can access reviews, tip friends to deals or their own locations and even, with Foursquare, return so frequently to a place they can be declared its “Mayor.”
 
“This is just the beginning. We believe in this idea,” Austin American-Statesman Social Media Director Robert Quigley enthuses about the Texas paper’s partnership with Gowalla.
 
Here’s what these early adopters are doing with geolocation. 
 
Margaritaville in Austin

 
Since Gowalla is based in Austin, it was a natural pick for the American-Statesman. The Cox newspaper launched with a series of trips, using a built-in feature of Gowalla. Users collect virtual “stamps” that mark where they’ve been on a pre-defined trip. Complete the trip and they’ve earned a virtual pin. This being the city with the unofficial motto “Keep Austin Weird,” they include a Weird Austin trip designed by humor columnist John Kelso. Also popular is the Austin Margarita Tour, featuring reviews from the newspaper.
 
“Gowalla is not only a marketing effort, but it’s also spreading our content out into the city,” says the paper’s social media director, Robert Quigley. “Right now, people generally have to come to the Statesman with Twitter and Facebook. This gets us into the location game.” The newspaper pushes hard through house ads, blog posts and its Website to get people to “friend” the paper on Gowalla. Barely two months after its launch, some 1,300 people had friended the Statesman, second only, Quigley says, to USA Today.
 
Come fly with me
 
USA Today is aiming its geolocation efforts squarely at one of its core customers: the business traveler. The Nation’s Newspaper already had an extensive series of blogs, communities and apps for road warriors. Its Gowalla partnership provides more ways to access travel information, and gain their specially designed pins. When a traveler checks in at any of about 50 of the most-traveled airports, he gets a pin to follow USA Today for travel news in three areas: “Today in the Sky” for news about airports and airlines; “USA Today Airport Guide” for information about parking, places to eat and shop, and the like; and “USA Today Trips” written by travel writers.
 
“For us, this deal was about getting our product to the business traveler,” says Alexandra Nicholson, USA Today’s social media strategist.
 
This just in
 
Geolocation social networks are most often associated with good-timey meet-ups with friends. But when a suspicious vehicle caused the evacuation of Times Square in May, The Wall Street Journal broke the news on Foursquare. As soon as it learned of the evacuation, the Journal “checked in” to Times Square with the following message: “Portions of Times Square have been evacuated after a report of a suspicious package.”
 
Gowalla’s run for the roses
 
The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky., this year took Gowalla for a test gallop at its hometown’s premier event: the Kentucky Derby. Any user checking into the airport got a welcome message from the newspaper, and an invitation to take a number of custom-designed trips. Given all there was to do on Derby Week, and the extensive spots on the trips possibilities, a surprising number of visitors did complete the trip circuits, says Jodi Gersh, Gannett ContentOne’s content manager/social media.
 
Cha-ching!
 
The Metro free commuter dailies in Toronto and six other Canadian cities were the first newspapers to partner with Foursquare, and they’re making the most aggressive efforts to monetize geolocation. Metro cross-promotes the Foursquare deals for checking in to, say, restaurants, and also has deals exclusively for Metro’s Foursquare users, which is also featured in print. “It’s given us new business leads for restaurants,” says Jodi Brown, Metro Canada’s marketing and interactive director. “It leads to repeat business, and for restaurants, it’s a risk-free way to reach new customers.”
 
Travel Advisory!
 
Many expect geolocation to be a huge phenomenon, but for now it’s in its infancy and can’t be expected to provide either a large audience for newspapers or a compelling story for advertisers. Gannett’s Washington, D.C., television station, for example, heavily promoted an event to allow Foursquare users to get a highly coveted Swarm Badge, which requires at least 50 people to check in at the same place simultaneously. Just 18 checked in, and others at the bar couldn’t be coaxed to sign on to Foursquare even with the offer of two free, says Gannett’s Gersh.
 
“The adoption is still low, which makes it hard to offer deals and attract businesses and even community involvement,” Gersh cautions. “We think everyone’s using it — but they’re not.”

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