EXPOSED: UK PR Agencies fail to understand Foursquare
You’d have to have been living in a cave over the past few months to not have heard about Foursquare, the location based mobile social network. Even more so, if you happen to work in PR/communications, as the platform is being hyped by many as the “next big thing since Twitter” for consumer-savvy brands (for whatever that’s worth).
Foursquare is a really interesting service which has attracted a lot of interest from brands like Starbucks who see an opportunity to tap into friend networks, offering discounts and special deals to loyal and regular customers. Unlike Twitter, Foursquare has been quick to spot the potential revenue streams for marketers looking to connect back with users (see: http://foursquare.com/businesses/)
With this in mind, it’s worrying that UK PR agencies have failed to embrace Foursquare with open arms. Given that registration is free and it is very simple to set-up an account, why have so few consumer PR agencies in the UK ignored location based social networks like Foursquare?
Imagine the following scenario:
I’m the head of a UK consumer retail brand looking for a PR agency to deliver a cutting-edge, smart, creative, engaging campaign which is relies on no/low media spend. I turn up at your agency’s offices to hear you deliver your well rehearsed credentials. These creds will invariably contain some waffle intelligence about social media and community marketing to complement your agency’s experience in traditional media engagement.
However, I arrive early for the meeting and as I’m waiting in your über trendy [insert Shoreditch-esque location] reception area as your pitch-team rushes to put the final touches to their PowerPoint presentation, I check in to Foursquare.
One of five things could happen:
- Your agency is not listed on Foursquare: At best, this can be interpreted as you being ‘behind in the game’, at worst it exposes your social media hyperbole as lies.
- Your agency is listed on Foursquare but nobody has checked in: This tells me that whilst someone recognises that you should be on here, even your staff refuses to engage with this platform.
- Your agency is listed on Foursquare and I am met with some trivial in-jokes from your staff about who got drunk at the office party in the ‘tips’ section of my iPhone App: This shows a disregard for your company’s ‘public image’ and sends alarm bells off in my head about not being able to trust you with my brand’s reputation.
- Your agency is listed on Foursquare but unbeknown to you, a competitor/disgruntled client/ex-employee has posted some negative comments which are now being read by me: This tells me that there are smarter cookies out there who are taunting your ignorance or indifference. It’s like a giant neon sign over the door of your agency which you choose not to see from the inside of your building.
- Your agency is listed and as I check in, I see a message welcoming me to the agency with a link to your website: I know that this is an agency which covers all the angles and knows how to present itself to the world.
Of the top 50 Consumer PR agencies in the UK, not a single one of the companies that made the PR Week List in 2009 managed to tick box number 5.
I’ve been number crunching this weekend, and this is what I’ve brought to the surfaced:
- 60% of the Top 50 UK Consumer Agencies are NOT listed on Foursquare. Surprising, given the recent coverage the site has been getting not just within the marketing trade media, but also within the mainstream consumer press (broadcast, print and online).
- Of the 20 agencies that were listed on Foursquare, only five have had more than five unique users check-in. This means that an average sized UK agency consisting of around 30 staff, only a handful of employees are encouraged to experiment with new technologies which could well be beneficial to their clients. I suspect most agency senior directors are clueless as to whether or not the company has a presence on Foursquare, Facebook or Twitter for that matter.
How can agencies look their clients in the eye and talk about social media when they refuse to practise what they preach on their own doorstep? To add a location, it takes no more than 30 seconds of logging into Foursquare (via the website or on the handset application) and entering your company name and address.
Only ONE of the 50 companies researched managed to include relevant tags in their Foursquare profile to make the location searchable using keywords. That agency is Consolidated PR who also added their staff’s Twitter profiles as keywords, enabling searchers to associate the agency with its individuals as well as by industry keyword.
As search engines like Google, Yahoo! And Bing place a higher weighting on realtime search results, Foursquare will undoubtedly become increasingly visible as people comment on where they are when they check-in.
Which begs the question of why you would go to the trouble (admittedly, not too much trouble) of registering your agency on Foursquare (allowing you to be found by ANYBODY who is in the vicinity), without letting people know what exactly it is that your agency does?
Foursquare’s latest iPhone application attributes icons to the location depending on the category which has been preselected for it to make businesses like restaurants, bars, retail outlets more distinguishable from each other. Similarly, the tags can help those who are using FoursSquare as a search engine.
Currently, a tag search for “PR” lists the following agencies/organisations in London:
105 Victoria Stree
London, Greater London SW1E 6QT
60 Great Portland Street
London, UK W1W 7RT
22 Endell St
Camden Town, Greater London WC2H 9
15 kean street, London, WC12 4AZ
London, UK wc12 4az
Chartered Institute of Public Relations
52-53 Russell Square
Camden Town, Greater London WC1B 4HP
London, UK WC2B 6SR
My main concern is that 31 of the Top 50 PR Agencies don’t even have Foursquare on their radar which means that they would be unaware of any negative comments that may have been posted about them. You can imagine the situation where frustrated hacks who have been poorly pitched by a PR exec one too many times could have a bit of fun posting messages on Foursquare at the offending agency’s location. This is worrying only because it shows that if they can’t keep tabs of what damage is potentially being done to their reputation, how can they then safeguard their own clients’ own good standing?
I was highly tempted to expose the remaining 31 agencies on the list who are yet to put themselves on the Foursquare map by adding them myself together with a note saying something along the lines of:
“This agency doesn’t even know they’re on here. If they claim to be cutting edge, don’t believe them”.
I would of course caveat the tip with some text saying that I will remove the tip once someone from the agency comments or indeed, checks in. In my mind, I had even devised a cunning plan to track how long it would take the agencies in question to even notice that the comment was there, and how long it would take them to respond. Think of it if you will, as a modern-day equivalent of a “kick me” sign stuck on somebody who claims to have eyes in the back of their head.
On the point of rewarding your ‘active staff’ who do invest their time in exploring new networks like Foursquare… how about this idea for headhunting digitally savvy PR folk from other agencies? Farfetched, but possible!
What does all of this mean?
For one thing, it means that the traditional PR industry (‘The Old Skool’) still doesn’t practice what it preaches. The last few years have seen many agencies – old and new – jump aboard the social-media bandwagon and use it to bolster existing PR budgets which were already starting to lose ground to more digitally savvy marketers. However, many of these ‘modern’ agencies have yet to grasp Twitter, Facebook and the concept of blogging let alone even more disruptive technologies like location based mobile marketing.
It annoys the hell out of me that PR agencies who claim to understand new trends in consumer behaviour still fear the platforms that they are only too quick to sell on to a client, wrapped up in strategic jargon and disingenuous enthusiasm. Foursquare has added an average of 100,000 users in the past week or so (mainly thanks to SxSW) – surely a trend like this should prompt marketers to check out the service for themselves?
Even the companies that I’ve named as having a Foursquare presence are failing themselves by not having a clear enough identity on the site. A lack of tags, categories, tips, etc. Suggest that the listings are being managed and used by a small percentage of (often junior) staff who may not have considered the wider consequences of their official presence on Foursquare.
If the PR industry wants to take a slice of the social media pie, it must bring to the table a suitable fork with which to eat. Otherwise, emerging ‘social-media’ agencies like We Are Social, 33 Digital and 1,000 Heads will continue to legitimately steal established clients away from digitally paranoid PR agencies.
Am I being harsh?
Yes. Quite possibly. The reaction I expect is one that echoes “We can’t have a presence on EVERY new social network that comes along – we simply don’t have the time”. Rubbish!
My point is about reputation. If PR Week calls you up to offer you a free 1 page advert in next week’s print edition, would your agency be so “meh” about things? Hell no! They’d be on the phone, making sure that the copy reflects the true brand of the company, fussing over correct pantones and pondering over which image to use. Foursquare offers your company the same thing except you never know who’s reading.
My second reason for writing this post is to find out why PR agencies aren’t focusing enough time on R&D. Other service industries are constantly investing time and resource into the research and development of new products which ensures the future-changing media economy we’re living in. We all know that the industry “‘aint what it used to be” and that new technologies and emerging communications paradigms are forcing us all to repackage the basic PR offering. Tools like Foursquare give us a glimpse of what tomorrow’s clients will expect of us. Only by taking the bull by the horns will PR professionals learn the nuances of new marketing disciplines (mobile, search, location-specific) which can be developed into client strategy.
This post could equally have been about Twitter six months ago or about Facebook a year ago. The difference is, as communications experts your agency should be ahead of the game and not playing catch-up.
Finally, I guess if you can’t be bothered, then don’t pretend you are when a client asks you your opinion. Who knows…? They may not even need to ask you. They may already know.
If your agency is mentioned in this post and you have changed the way you present yourself on Foursquare, drop me a line or post a comment below.