Q&A: Dennis Crowley on how Foursquare is evolving for brands

by: on 14 October 2014

Ben Malki asks Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley how advertising fits into the platform overhaul

After splitting the service into two, Foursquare’s Dennis Crowley tells Ben Malki how advertising will evolve on the platform.

  • "We take for granted that we have all this data and a platform that’s based off location."
  • Dennis Crowley, founder, Foursquare

Earlier this year, Foursquare announced that it was splitting its service in two based on clear polarisations between usage. Speaking to 12ahead at the Festival of Media LatAm, Fourquare founder Dennis Crowley outlined these changes and what it means for advertisers.

The platform has changed a lot – can you take me through those changes?

The biggest change has been unbundling the app into two different pieces. Our thinking was that the Foursquare app that we had last year was great but it was becoming a muddled experience. There were check-ins and badges and lists and it was too many things in one app. We found that when we spoke to people they would become confused about the app “can I use search without check-in? Do I have to check-in everywhere?” These are not questions that users should be asking you, they should just know how to do it.

We broke it into two core pieces, Swarm is focused on being the fastest and lightest and easiest way to check-in and meet-up with friends and have a general awareness of where people are. Second part is redesigning the Foursquare app to make it much simpler and much more focused on local search and discovery and specifically a more personalised search, that’s really important to us.

What’s the reaction been, firstly from consumers?

The reaction has been good – initially confusion and we expected that and spent the majority of the summer raising awareness. We’ve been teaching check-in users to use Swarm and existing search users that a new and more streamlined version of Foursquare is coming soon.

We think we did a good job of it, we managed to migrate most of our check-in users to Swarm. Now about a third uses Swarm, a third use Foursquare and a third use both.

What about brands?

Brands still love the tools. Some of the tools ended up in Swarm and some in Foursquare and we had to go in and explain to some brands. Once explained they were ok because now they can target different types of users in both apps.

For local merchants it is more of an education process as it’s a different type of audience, which is perhaps a little less tech savvy. Overall we’ve had to over communicate but now that we are able to share data on it, it makes it all worthwhile.

Speaking of data, what are your KPIs and what does success look like to you?

It's overall active users and we measure that on a weekly basis now. Every group below has their own KPI, we call them OKRs (objectives and key results). We went through a phase when we had one metric and it wasn’t descriptive enough and then we went to 15 and it was too much, so now we have two and we feel pretty great about that.

How do you integrate data into people’s everyday work?

We haven’t had to try too hard, a lot of us come from Google and at Google data is king. It’s just always been baked into the engineering and product process and for sales it’s always been baked in there. If we’ve had to work really hard at anything, it’s been to use our gut more often and rely less on the data. You can lean too much on the data to tell you everything we should be doing.

What is the future for a brand on Foursquare?

Opportunity to target a consumer based on where they are, where they have been and where they think they are going to be, that’s really interesting and unique. We take for granted that we have all this data and a platform that’s based off location. When you sit down with marketers and they realise that they can segment based on people that have been to the gym twice in the last 24 days, it blows their mind.

The more that we can do to help make more targeted segments, there’s a lot of interesting things we can do with it.

What can we expect to see from the ad platform?

The tools work well and mature very well, so we’ll be bringing in other markets. We have a lot of activity in the US and Europe and made a decision to focus on Brazil and Mexico because of explosive growth. So there is no change in product coming but a new strategy for us to focus on international markets because it’ll be incredibly lucrative.

There will also be a focus on our Foursquare Audience Network tool, which allows advertisers to target users off the app. For example, if you checked in at gym you may see an ad elsewhere on the web for Gatorade. To be able to do that across platform and based on where you have been is new and interesting and different, I think that’ll get a lot more attention.