Foursquare and the Art of Unexpected Gestures

Unexpected gestures of thankfulness and appreciation shown by companies to their users or customers are – at least in the Internet industry – a neglected instrument to create loyalty and brand ambassadors. Thus when it happens, it becomes even more powerful. Here is a good example:

The other day I found a mail by Foursquare in my inbox, titled “Your thank you gift”. In the mail the location recommendation service thanked me for having written 137 tips. “Tips” are small comments about locations. In my approximately 6 years as Foursquare user I have been writing the occasional tip. Apparently exactly 137 of them.

After the initial thank you note, the mail informed me that I would receive a complimentary $10 gift card that I can redeem at 40 major retailers (Amazon, Starbucks etc).

Foursquare

Since Foursquare provides the cards through a third party service my initial suspicion was that this is just a marketing campaign trying to use my attention to sign-up for some kind of loyalty product that Foursquare has decided to partner with. But after entering some requested data into an Google Doc online form, receiving the digital gift card and seeing with my own eyes that I indeed had received $10 with no strings attached, I got quite enthusiastic. Not about the value itself, but about the gesture.

Obviously $10 is not the world. But the point of this kind of move is not to compensate Foursquare users for the work they have done by posting tips. That would be rather counter-productive anyway because paying users for reviewing locations would most likely lead to huge amounts of low quality tips/reviews.

What made me happy was that somebody at Foursquare had the idea to personally show appreciation to contributors and to even attach a symbolic real-world value to it. This is especially remarkable considering that Foursquare has been struggling with growth issues for a while and is most likely not swimming in money. The last funding round happened a year ago and was not very large. Despite the challenges that Foursquare is dealing with, the company has not forgotten about its most active users, and it expresses that in a way that is pretty unusual in the consumer Internet industry. Way too often companies put a lot of effort in winning over new customers/users but do not invest any thought in doing something nice for existing ones.

Unless this charming initiative is a tactical maneuver to create goodwill ahead of a possible bad news – say the sale of Foursquare and closure of the app (maybe to Microsoft?) – Foursquare has just shown how to use a little gesture to increase an active user’s emotional attachment to the service.

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