Getting Started with Location-Based Services Requires Foresight, Practicality

We’re excited to welcome our newest guest blogger, Joe Waters. Joe blogs on cause marketing and how social media, location-based services and mobile technology are revolutionizing the field at Selfishgiving.com. He’s also the co-author of Cause Marketing for Dummies (July 2011).

One of the most frequent questions I get from nonprofits is on how they can use location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare for marketing and fundraising. It’s a good question, because while I’m convinced that LBS will play a major role in cause and company partnerships in the years ahead, location-based services are in their infancy.

Foursquare, the dominate location based service currently has eight million users. Impressive, for sure, but tiny compared to the 600 million users Facebook has. In short, LBS has a long way to go before it’s mainstream.

But that doesn’t mean you should ignore LBS or wait until it’s more popular.

Disregarding LBS is not a smart strategy for causes. A driving feature behind LBS will be offers and discounts from retailers to smartphone-toting consumers. It won’t be long before two key demographics, moms and Millennials, embrace this new technology. As these two audiences are the two major audiences for nonprofits, it makes sense for causes to get busy with LBS now.

Waiting for LBS to become the next Facebook isn’t a good move either. Smaller nonprofits in particular have a history of ignoring important trends and then playing catch up after larger, savvier nonprofits have pulled far ahead. This is one movement that nonprofits of all sizes shouldn’t sit out.

Getting started with location-based services is similar to starting any other type of cause partnership. First, you need a willing business partner. This is probably the most difficult thing to accomplish, but once you have one you’re more than halfway there.

The second step is pick your location-based service. There are many to choose from. My two favorites are Foursquare and Facebook. How do you choose which one is right for you? Always keep your audience in mind. Choose the platform on which you think your partner’s customers and your supporters are most active.

Third, choose a promotion that focuses on awareness or fundraising, or both. A promotion centered on awareness might have you using Foursquare to add tips about your nonprofit to venues in your community. For example, if you’re a nonprofit that provides wigs to women in cancer treatment you might leave tips at local hair salons, with whom you could partner for additional exposure. When Foursquare users check into these locations they’ll learn about your nonprofit’s efforts and what they can do to help.

A promotion focused on fundraising might have you working with Facebook Places. When users check-in to a location–like a Barnes & Noble, Borders or even your favorite independent bookstore–the business donates five dollars to a nonprofit that is working to improve childhood literacy.

Whether you use location-based services for awareness or fundraising, remember these tips.

Use LBS as an Enhancer. Most fundraising is still offline. Look for ways to add LBS to these programs. Using LBS for a standalone program is a wonderful way to better understand how specific services like Foursquare and Facebook Places work. But the small return-on-investment that will follow the program won’t offset the time and effort you gave the promotion. By itself, LBS seems small and maybe not worth the effort. But combined with more traditional fundraising, like cause marketing and special events, it will make a good program look even better.

Use LBS as Is. We have to work with location-based services as is and not get distracted with the things they don’t offer, or aren’t easily accessed, like badges on Foursquare. Stick with built-in features like check-ins, tips, offers and mayorships, which you can control. Check out my Drive Thru Guide to Fundraising on Foursquare.

Use LBS with the Right Demo. Not every location is right for LBS. For example, if you live in a rural area and/or serve an older audience it may not be the right tool for you. But if you’re focused on urban areas and young hipsters, LBS may be the right tool. You have to do your homework. And while it’s alright to lead your supporters with a new idea, you should confirm there’s a good chance they will follow.

Use LBS to Build Credibility. This may be one of the most undervalued benefits of LBS. Businesses get pitched all the time on marketing ideas. A lot fewer of those pitches include any talk of social media. Even fewer discussions include LBS.
Distinguish yourself from your competition by knowing all about the thing everyone is buzzing but few can talk about.

Guest Blogger on May 18, 2011 in Social Media | 3 comments
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  • Ran

    Joe,

    Thanks so much for the insights. From your experience, do you think start-up nonprofits needing donations and wanting to expand, but may not carry much clout with retailers, could still benefit from LBS?

  • Thanks for the comment, Ran. I think your best bet at this point is for you personally to sign up for a location-based service of your choice–I like Foursquare!–and become an active user so you know how it works.

    If you choose Foursquare, follow AboutFoursquare.com so you can learn even more about the service.

    Finally, there is a good Dummies book coming out in July called Location-Based Marketing for Dummies. You’ll enjoy.

    Try, experiment, learn and then implement LBS into your new nonprofit. Good luck!

    Joe

  • Ran

    Joe,

    Thank you so much for the further guidance. I will check out the resources that you suggested and learn more about LBS (glad to know there’s a website AND soon a book). More experience at this point would be the most ideal starting point.

    Again, much appreciated!
    Ran

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