Radio Shack Shows Nonprofits How to Succeed on Foursquare

Radio Shack reminds me of a lot of the local, scrappy nonprofits I work with. The Shack is big - nearly 4,500 company-operated stores - but it has a local feel to it. Maybe it's because you'll find them in local malls, strip malls and downtown business districts.

With competitors such as Best Buy, Walmart and, Radio Shack is certainly an underdog. It's like saying your competitors this holiday season are St. Jude Children's Research, The Salvation Army and Toys for Tots. Radio Shack knows what it's like to be constantly competing against the big guys to eke out a profit.

One area in which Radio Shack is winning big is on Foursquare. It started the summer of 2010 when Radio Shack joined the location-based service. It accelerated over the holidays that year with its Holiday Heroes campaign on Foursquare.

In just 60 days Radio Shack went from zero followers to 20,000.

Last spring, the chain announced that Foursquare customers spent three times more than regular customers.

Today, The Shack's Foursquare following has grown to 63,000. If last December's success is a yardstick, they'll recruit even more followers with their So Right holiday promotion this month. For each badge earned, RadioShack will donate $1 to LIVESTRONG, the cancer charity founded by Radio Shack spokesman Lance Armstrong.

But how can this be? Such success from a company who's CEO once admitted that he had no idea how the electronics store chain stayed in business. Now Radio Shack really sounds like a lot of the nonprofits I work with!

The good news is that nonprofits share more with Radio Shack than just my sympathies. Like The Shack's eclectic product mix that has somehow kept the chain in business, its Foursquare success is all about having the right mix of audience, location, marketing and good old fashioned DIY know-how.

Does your nonprofit have what it takes to be the next "Shack" on Foursquare?

Are your supporters inclined to use Foursquare? Don't be fooled into thinking that all those grandmothers you thought shopped at Radio Shack suddenly jumped onto Foursquare. It didn't happen. The Shack tapped into a natural, existing audience for the service: smartphone-toting Generation Yers that know more about apps than algebra. Radio Shack isn't quite the DIY electronics store it was when I was a kid. It sells a lot of phones now and attracts a younger crowd.

Does your nonprofit speak or cater to a younger crowd? Is your nonprofit more like than the Arthritis Foundation? You might be a natural for Foursquare. Think young and/or geeky.

Are you a Foursquare expert? Radio Shack prides itself on its knowledgeable salesforce. Not only can they match the right phone to your needs and budget, but they can show you how to download the Foursquare app and how to use it when you shop with them.

Are you active on Foursquare and know how to use it? Or are you as clueless about Foursquare as most people are? You need to be the expert so you can spread the news to your supporters.

Are you active on social media in general? Radio Shack just didn't sign up for Foursquare, they use everything, which supports their Foursquare efforts. The Shack has combined Foursquare with Twitter's Promoted Trends and positioned Facebook as its social epicenter. Foursquare is tagged on their blog, YouTube videos, e-mails and some of its Web campaigns.

Is your nonprofit already blogging, tweeting and Facebooking? Your nonprofit's social media strategy shouldn't begin and end with Foursquare. You need to have the whole package.

Are you focusing your Foursquare promotion on deals, specials and discounts? Radio Shack is, which explains why they're doing so well on Foursquare. They're not sharing "important dates in Shack history" on the service. They're offering "Check-in Specials" and "Newbie Specials" and special offers for mayors. It's all about saving dough (or, in the case of the So Right badge, helping a great cause).

You probably see the sense of offering a special on Foursquare if your nonprofit is a museum or historical site. But any nonprofit can have a special offer when it's tied to a cause marketing promotion. If you're working on a campaign with a chain of department stores in your area, offer shoppers a check-in special on Foursquare that includes a donation to your cause. You'll learn what The Shack learned: people love deals and will even embrace new technology to get them.

Are you spreading your net wide? Radio Shack isn't waiting for shoppers to come into their stores to check-in to Foursquare. Users of the service don't have to follow Radio Shack to be alerted of its special offers. If one of its stores is the closest available merchant deal on the platform, users will see a "Special Nearby" icon in the upper right-hand corner of their screen. When they click, offer details and the store's location take over the screen.

Are you tapping the foot traffic around your nonprofit? That's why they call Foursquare location-based marketing. The marketing happens where your supporters are.

Are you sure you can't afford Foursquare? Radio Shack loves Foursquare because it's FREE! Using the platform, creating specials and rewarding mayors costs nothing. Badges aren't free but you don't have to start with them.

What are you waiting for?

Is your nonprofit "The Shack" of the nonprofit world? I'd love to hear how you plan to use Foursquare in the coming new year!

Walgreens Checks-in to Controversy with 4sq Cause Marketing

This is a guest post from the Center of Social Impact Communication at Georgetown University. It first appeared on their blog. I'm reprinting it here with their permission because it's an excellent case study on the trouble cause marketing can stir and how to deal with it. I faced a similar reaction when I wrote here and on The Huffington Post on JDRF's partnership with Kentucky Fried Chicken. 425 comments later, people are still sending me hate e-mail!

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Last week, Walgreens kicked off a month-long social media cause campaign to donate 200,000 flu shot vouchers (worth $6M) to uninsured and underinsured individuals.  Donations are triggered by store check-ins on Foursquare and Facebook Places, and Facebook fans can vote to determine the proportion of vouchers distributed to each of five organizations (Feeding America, American Diabetes Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, National Urban League, and Americares).

The campaign draws on Walgreens’ success in engaging its fans on both social media platforms — at the time of posting, it has more than 1.18 million fans on Facebook and is the most popular drug store chain on Foursquare.

The reactions to the campaign by Walgreens’ fans have ranged from the good:

To the bad:

To the downright ugly:

Clearly, vaccines are a touchy subject.  So what does a company do when not everyone agrees with the cause it’s supporting? How does it publicly respond to the (very public, thanks to social media) haters?

Let your fans come to your defense. Walgreens has remained pretty silent throughout the debate raging on its Facebook page, aside from answering technical questions related to voting.  Instead, other fans of the drug store are posting responses.

The very best a brand can hope for are passionate “fanbassadors” who will come to your defense when others go on the attack.

Educate your employees. Likewise, your employees wield enormous power when it comes to sharing the good that your company is doing.  Share your initiatives internally beforehand, so that employees will be informed and (ideally) enthusiastic when they roll out to the broader, more skeptical, public.

Remind people of your purpose. Tell stories. Show impact.  Don’t expect to be able to convince everyone, but sometimes the greater purpose and impact your campaign is having can get lost in the hundred-comment debates.  Perhaps they’re wary of expressing too strong of an opinion, but it would be nice if Walgreens offered up a “here’s why we’re doing this and why we believe it’s important.”

Don’t shy away from engagement. Negative comments can be discouraging, but brands can’t let that deter them from continuing to engage.  In the past, some brands have opted to censor or shut down their Facebook walls when negative comments have surfaced.  Kudos to Walgreens for allowing the conversation to happen.

Not everyone is going to love the causes or issues your company chooses to support. Some will be extremely vocal in their dislike. But your fans and employees will reward campaign communications that continue to engage and demonstrate the impact you’re having.

What do you think about Walgreens’ stance? Are they avoiding the issue, taking the high road, or something else?

Check-in to Cause Marketing for Dummies Today & You Could Win a Copy!

[Update 8/4: We had three winners yesterday. Thanks to everyone that participated!]

Are you in Boston, New York or Los Angeles today? Well, it's your lucky day! Check-in to "Cause Marketing for Dummies" on Foursquare in Boston, New York and Los Angeles--today only--and one person in each city will win a copy of my first book Cause Marketing for Dummies.

You'll learn something checking-in because each location has a special connection with cause marketing.

Two things to keep in mind.

  • You don't have to go to the actual location to check-in to "Cause Marketing for Dummies." (Shhh...just for today, we'll set Fousquare's rules aside!) If you're in Boston, New York or LA today, whip out your smartphone, hit the check-in button on Foursquare and type in "Cause Marketing for Dummies." Hit check-in here and presto you'll be entered into the contest to win a copy of my book. Even better, share your check-in with followers and friends on Twitter and Facebook so they too can take part of today's cause marketing madness!

  • In Los Angeles, you have a second option. Allison & Partners is hosting a fantastic cause marketing conference today called "CM Conference: Maximizing Corporate & Nonprofit Partnerships." (Follow the conference on Twitter with the hashtag #apcause.) When you check into the conference on Foursquare, you'll also be entered to win a book!

After today, we'll pick winners from the three cities and the conference and we'll be in touch about getting you you your book! Is your city not on today's list? No worries. It could be in the days and weeks ahead! Stay tune.

For those of you in Boston, New York and LA, remember: many will enter, few will win. Good luck!

Foursquare, Cause Marketing Find Home with Housing Charity

I love this cause marketing promotion from a UK housing charity that brings together eight Edinburgh thrift shops with the leading location-based service, Foursquare.

It capitalizes on a physical location. Shelter Scotland helps people with all sorts of housing problems from homelessness to poor living conditions. 16 percent of Shelter's annual donations come from its two dozen thrift shops throughout Scotland. Not all nonprofits are destinations for shoppers or visitors. But the ones that are should follow Shelter's lead and tap Foursquare, which just isn't for nonprofits that are cultural institutions and museums. What about thrift-store giant Goodwill or a busy historical attraction like the Freedom Trail in Boston? Foursquare should be part of their [cause] marketing too.

Shelter jumped in with both feet. They launched the program in eight stores to start and created a great video to educate supporters about the campaign and how to use Foursquare. Shelter isn't assuming anything. They're building a Foursquare promotion one user at a time and are not giving people a reason to say no (e.g. "I've never heard of Foursquare." "I don't know how to use it.")

Shelter also developed real benefits for users that regularly checked-in to their stores. They’re offering a buy two, get one free special for both newbies and for loyal customers on every sixth check-in.

I also like how Foursquare users can earn cool badges from a noted designer. Shelter even created a unique badge for each store. Those who collect all eight will be entered into a contest to win prints of the designs.

The folks at Shelter really gave this promotion some forethought and didn't skimp on the details.

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The promotion has room to grow. Shelter is off to a great start and can develop the promotion in  a couple ways. The charity has a number of corporate partnerships they could add to the promotion. In exchange for a co-marketing opportunity on Shelter's Foursquare page a company could make a donation for each check-in. The real opportunity, however, is for Shelter to create Foursquare promotions for businesses--preferably ones with lots of locations--and include a cause marketing component that will benefit the charity. Companies would profit from Shelter's expertise and the housing chartiy would profit from sharing it.

Shelter was smart to focus on smartphone users. Now's not the the time to question the merits of mobile. Trust me, its future is as bright as the printing press! However, Shelter shouldn't stop with Foursquare. What about SMS? Those who read me regularly know that SMS is my new cause marketing darling so bear with me. Adoption rates for location-based services such as Foursquare are low and growing slowly. Adding a text component to Shelter's mobile promotion might make sense.

Use SMS for reach--because it's the ring that everyone answers--and then a QR code, landing page, application such as Foursquare for a richer media experience. SMS is the messenger that will tell mobile users that supporting Shelter Scotland and earning rewards for themselves is just a check-in away.

Is Your Road to Success Paved with Location Based Services?


Thanks to everyone who came out to our breakout session on Saturday at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D. C. We had a blast, and thanks to some good questions afterward, I think we all learned something.

Here's a summary of the key points from my presentation.

Action-Triggered Donations (ATD). Most of the major location-based cause marketing programs have been ATD's. Your check-in triggers a donation from a retailer. This was the case in January with SCVNGR and American Eagle when an "action" in Time Square triggered a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Badges. I'm eagerly awaiting the arrival of a cause marketing badge! An attendee at our session from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital reported that their longtime partner Chili's Bar & Grill explored getting a badge for its annual cause marketing program for the hospital but the $15,000 fee Foursquare wanted to charge was hard to justify. Hopefully, we'll see a Foursquare cause marketing badge soon.

Loyalty Programs. Not all small businesses are ready for location-based services, but every business is eager to save money and build customer loyalty. LBS offers both. We recently helped a local bagel chain here in Boston replace its traditional card-based loyalty program with a social program led by Foursquare that will save them thousands of dollars. More importantly, we've helped create a location platform from which we can launch cause marketing programs. So don't limit your outreach to businesses that already use location-based services, or you'll quickly run out of prospects. Offer to share your expertise on LBS in a language they already know: building better and cheaper customer loyalty programs.

Mobile Payments. I really think mobile payments combined with location-based services will dramatically change cause marketing moving forward. However, the technology hasn't arrived. I'll be sure to keep you informed!

Use LBS as an Enhancer. Since my work is so mainly focused on offline programs, I look for ways to add LBS. I suggest you do the same. If you lead with LBS you won't see the type of return you need to justify the time and effort you put into it.

Use LBS as Is. Several knowledgeable attendees at the session confirmed what a lot of us had suspected: LBS, and especially Foursquare, just weren't in to nonprofits. We have to work with LBS as they are and not let the things they don't have keep us from using them. In practice, this means not getting caught up in special promotions and badges and other things you'd have to ask Foursquare for. Stick to check-ins, tips 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 location. 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 for you. You have to do your homework. And while it's alright to lead your supporters, 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. Some businesses get pitched on cause marketing programs all the time. A lot fewer of those pitches include any talk of social media. Even fewer include LBS. Elevate yourself from your competition by knowing all about the thing everyone is buzzing about but few can talk about.

Being in the know is the always the best place to be.

Your Drive Thru Guide to Fundraising on Foursquare

I talk to more and more people every day who want to use Foursquare and other location-based services for fundraising and cause marketing.

I point them to a whole series of posts I've written on the subject. But now I think I need to make the whole process just as simple as possible.

Fortunately, I have some help as McDonald's has just launched a Foursquare promotion with its restaurants in Philadelphia to benefit the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC). This promotion runs through March 17th.

Here's what you'll need for your cause marketing promotion on Foursquare.

  1. A partnership between a cause and company. In this case, it's McDonald's and the RMHC. No company or cause? No cause marketing.
  2. At the minimum, the company has made a commitment of money or product per check-in. McDonald's is donating $1 for each check-in.
  3. The venues that will be part of the promotion need to be claimed on Foursquare. If they're not, they'll be nowhere to check-in to! Fortunately, creating a venue is easy. On the bottom right of this page, click on "Search and claim your venue."

The next phase is to set-up the actual promotion.

  • Encourage consumers to check-in on Foursquare. Who should you target? First, people on Facebook and Twitter as they are already social media savvy and more likely to be using Foursquare. The other opportunity is with in-store customers via signage. Check out these posters that our partner, Finagle A Bagel, hung in their stores.

  • Be clear with users on how their check-in is counted. This is what I really like about the McDonald's promotion. A one dollar donation is made to RMHC whenever a Foursquare check-in is sent to Twitter with the McDonald's Philadelphia handle "@McDPhilly". If you've used Foursquare you know this is very easy to do (see below), and it's a great promotional idea for McDonald's. They'll reach a much bigger audience on Twitter and it makes for easy counting as you only have to do a search on the @McDPhilly handle to determine what the  contribution should be.

  • Reward users for their participation. McDonald's is giving each customer that participates in the mobile social fundraiser a coupon for a free McCafe Shake.

  • Add up your check-ins on Twitter when the program is completed. But you might want to do this daily or weekly. There are many ways to do this, but you can use Tweetdeck or Tweedgrid and did a search for the handle "@McDPhilly".

I think this is an easy way to use Foursquare for cause marketing. You don't have to petition Foursquare for any special promotion or badge. You can track your own numbers on Twitter, which are open for all to see.

But it's obvious you need a couple things to make this program work.

  1. A generous company to front the money for the program. No money, no donation per check-in.
  2. Either the cause or the company, preferably both, need to be engaged on social media. If you have 10 followers on Twitter and 80 friends on Facebook and you think people will suddenly come out in droves to support you on Foursquare you are dead wrong.

Consider the example last week of Second Harvest Food Bank and the Social Media Challenge they did with Massage Envy. The reason the program worked is because Second Harvest already had a vibrant online community (which was further enhanced by the  program).

To review:

  • Find a partner with some dough.
  • Confirm their social media credentials.
  • Develop a program that is easy and fun.
  • Reward and thank supporters.
  • Use Twitter to track engagement and donations.

Like the people under the Golden Arches say, I'm lovin' it.