One of the more intriguing new mobile and social media services available today is the location-based check-in "game" Foursquare. Ever since it burst into the mainstream last year, the music industry has struggled to figure out ways to use the service's functionality -- whereby users manually check-in to different locations so others using the app (or via Facebook) can see where they are, who they're with, and what they're doing -- and its 7.5 million users.
Earlier this month, Foursquare added new features, like providing recommendations to users of places to visit based on their history and that of others, or allowing users to leave tips when the check in for other users to follow, and even the ability for venues and merchants to create their own rewards and loyalty programs through the app.
To date, Foursquare personnel have avoided speculating on its utility for the music industry, instead leaving it up to the industry to work out its own possibilities. But that looks to be changing. In the process of researching a story on how the music industry can best use some of today's most-hyped social media services (printing in this Friday's issue), I talked to Jonathan Crowley, Foursquare's director of business development for media and entertainment, and younger brother of founder Dennis Crowley. He talked about the efforts the company has been making and plans to make toward the music industry, and pointed to a number of interesting examples of how the industry has used existing features so far -- like Soundgarden's clever use of the site around their Lollapalooza appearance last summer.
What follows is a near-full transcript of that conversation, most of which doesn't appear in magazine article.
Billboard.biz: How can artists best use Foursquare?
Jonathan Crowley: Sharing your location is a very new concept for celebrities. Initially, a lot of artists were not very comfortable sharing their location. So we created a set of tools for them called Celebrity Follow mode. That allows celebrities to share their check in location with any one of two groups. One can be a group of friends, or a group of followers. So if they're about to take the stage, they can share with everybody. But if they're having a private drink somewhere, they can share with friends and not their followers.
BB: Can you give me an example of artists who are using that?
Crowley: Big Boi. Adam Duritz [of Counting Crows]. We just met him at SXSW. We showed him the new tools, and in a week he started leaving all kinds of tips and check ins. You check into a venue and a tip pops up from Adam Duritz because it's his favorite coffee shop and he's recommending you get this special drink there. If you have an affinity towards a musician and their music, you sort of have an affinity for their entire lifestyle and everything about them, so it's just nice to get those surprising tips. We started testing it six months ago.
BB: How do artists get involved?
Crowley: They have to contact us. It's a special add-on we have to do custom for them -- they can
reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. That gets filtered down to me or someone else who works in the entertainment space. Typically artists have such a big following. Big Boi has 25,000 followers. Adam Duritz will have many, many followers once it's known that he's out there and using it. By default, more people will see that tip, and we surface the most popular tips to the top. Celebrities by nature typically have a very popular tip menu.
BB: What else do you have in the works?
Crowley: This summer, we're looking to add more data to the check-in location. So if I'm going to a concert at Madison Square Garden and it's a Bravery concert, we want users to share not only that they're at MSG, but at a Bravery show there. We tested that down at SXSW. If you can allow thousand of users to check in not only at MSG but to check into the Bravery concert, then they push that to their Foursquare activity feed and that gets pushed to Twitter and Facebook and that expands their social graph. We're currently looking at how to create that product.
BB: I'm surprised more music venues aren't integrating with Foursquare now.
Crowley: We actually have hundreds of thousands of businesses doing that now. It starts out in larger cities and starts to spread outwards. In New York, there are a ton of venues here that are verified, and venue owners are looking at the check-in data and using it to create specials to cater to the people who are there, like drink specials or free coat check. Artist managers will reach out to venues and ask for special offers like ticket upgrades or discounts on merchandise or the ability to meet the band backstage.
BB: Can you give an example of that?
Crowley: Soundgarden headed up Lollapalooza. Before they played there, they did a little scavenger hunt where they said "follow us on Foursquare and we're going to check in around Chicago." They checked into like five locations around the city. If you showed up where they checked in, the first person who did so got free tickets to a private show they were doing the night before to warm up for their Lollapalooza set.
BB: They did that on their own?
Crowley: They did it totally on their own. We're a platform. That requires no custom work on our end. But if a big artist is going on tour to 50 venues around the world, right now they'd have to go out and contact those venue managers to get permission to run specials. We know that doesn't scale. They're not going to go contact 50 different venue managers. We're trying to bridge that gap and come up with a solution where Lady Gaga's manager can run specials without having to contact these 50 venues, so long as the specials are related to a discount around things they control -- like buying one CD and getting one half off; check in for a chance to meet Lady Gaga backstage; ticket upgrades; get onstage; get 50% off at the merch booth for T-shirts.
BB: Did you work with any artists at SXSW?
Crowley: Big Boi played a Foursquare/Pepsi concert there, and the only way to get tickets was to follow Big Boi. If you checked in where he did, you had a chance of unlocking the Golden Ticket badge. We wanted to create the same hype and energy and excitement of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
BB: What is the Foursquare user demographic?
Crowley: The data we hare now is we have 7.5 million users. And about 60% of that is in the U.S.
BB: What about areas or gender, age?
Crowley: We're not sharing that right now. We started being very popular in larger cities like New York and San Francisco, but since then it's expanded. We've got people using it in the Midwest, in the suburbs. There's this stereotype that Foursquare is only good in cities. It's not. We've launched our new recommendation engine Explorer to help find things around you. Those things work wherever you are.
BB: Anything other tips for the music industry to use Foursquare?
Crowley: I'm really excited to see how labels and managers start to leverage Foursquare as a loyalty platform. You can image a situation where a Lady Gaga fan that has gone to multiple shows can connect her Foursquare account to the Lady Gaga fanpage website. Once we've connected those, the Lady Gaga website knows that user has connected into X number of concerts or locations. Once that happens, they're in this VIP group and they can access certain content. You have access to see the live setlist, or listen to it for free or whatever. And the artist can have the ability to ping you via email the moment you check into one of their events. And you can do that all just using our API. I love the idea of bands rewarding the fans and giving them access.