This guest post is by BJ Emerson, vice president of technology at Tasti D-Lite. Considered a social loyalty pioneer in the industry, Emerson led the deployment of the first loyalty platform to feature an integration with Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare in 2010. Once named in Mashable’s Top 40 Brands on Twitter and the People behind Them, his award-winning projects have been featured as case studies in six books published in 2011. Emerson’s unique perspective comes in part from spearheading the integration of the Tasti D-Lite brand experience with online communities. His revolutionary use of mobile coupons on Twitter in 2009 earned Tasti D-Lite a spot in Twitter’s Business 101 Case Studies, which ultimately led to invitations for Tasti D-Lite to be launch partners with business products for companies such as Foursquare and Google. He is co-authoring the upcoming book “The Race for Transparency.”

I heard a story recently about a customer who became Mayor of a Tasti D-Lite on Foursquare. In her words: “The day that I became the Mayor, I was standing in line, checking-in [on Foursquare] to receive the $1 off coupon. I saw that I had become Mayor and so I excitedly told the cashier as I did a little dance. ‘What does that mean?’ [the cashier] said, seeming amused by my excitement. ‘It means I come here more than anyone else. It means I’m your most loyal customer basically.””

Do you see the missed opportunity here? While I believe her expectations were met (the check-in special was honored), the potential to bridge the gap between the virtual and the physical was not realized. The larger opportunity lies within our ability to understand the dynamics and context that exist within these social networks and recognize and celebrate our customers.

Going beyond will require an understanding that combining the competitive elements of these applications with fanatical customers can evoke some strong emotions. Emotions that we need to understand and appreciate. So how do we move past the mechanics of these apps and really meet the needs and capture the hearts of our customers?

Here are four ways to go beyond the check-in:

  1. Get passionate about listening. With the wealth of information now available online, getting visibility to the conversations happening around your business is critical. Five minutes a day can get you up to speed on what’s happening, but the more time you can invest, the better your perspective will be. Use the tools that are available to set up alerts and notifications when certain activity occurs. Check out http://goodeatsfor.me (currently in beta).
  2. Play the game. You need to download, sign up, claim your business and get involved. How do you understand the dynamics of a community if you are not engaging within it yourself?
  3. Make it part of the DNA of your brand. Inculcate this within your organization by pushing down those insights and engaging with employees online. You’ll come up with some original and creative ideas for new campaigns and everyone will be behind them. For example, the Foursquare integration with our TastiRewards loyalty program was partly inspired because we were already using the application. At the end of the day you are going to need a culture that supports your social efforts. Push it from the inside out instead of needing to have customers educate you.
  4. Bridge the gap. Why not bring the information into your venue with a digital display? Foursquare leaderboards, Mayorships and other public information can be displayed for everyone to see. Companies like http://nextepsystems.com/ are starting to include social content into their digital menu board solutions. See also http://www.placewidget.com.

We need to take the time to acknowledge and appreciate customers who are making the effort to check in, share their brand experience with friends, and are engaging with us online. “What does that mean?” Well, it means a lot to this customer, and I’d like to extend a special thanks and congratulations to Mayor Briana Severson for allowing me to share her story. Her experience will certainly live on within the archives of the Tasti D-Lite social media training curriculum.

SmartPulse — our weekly reader poll in Restaurant SmartBrief — tracks feedback from restaurant owners and managers about trends and issues.

Last week’s poll question: Does your restaurant use Foursquare?

76.36% — My restaurant does not use Foursquare at this time.
12.73% — My restaurant has offered promotions via Foursquare.
7.27% — My restaurant has coordinated events via Foursquare.
1.82% — My restaurant has used Foursquare in other ways.
1.82% — My restaurant does not use Foursquare, but I use Foursquare for personal use.

How does your restaurant use Foursquare? Tell us in the comments, or join the discussion in Restaurant SmartBrief’s LinkedIn group.

Photo courtesy of BJ Emerson.

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5 Responses to “Going beyond the Foursquare check-in with Tasti D-Lite”

  1. Central Restaurant says:

    Great information, thanks for having Mr. Emerson as a guest blogger. I can't believe despite how popular Foursquare is, 76% of restaurants aren't using it. We first realized the impact of Foursquare after Indianapolis had a Foursquare day and we talked to Russ Chargualaf of Houlihan's for our blog (http://bit.ly/n9fLp5)–which is proving to be very successful for them. Then last month, we featured a series on our blog on why social media is important for restaurants, the last one being Foursquare (http://bit.ly/qo5Fp3). Through these, we've discovered it can be a very useful and beneficial tool for restaurants. It only takes a little bit of time and education with employees and can work wonders. We're starting to learn more about it too for our own establishment after learning all the success stories!
    My recent post 10 Ways to Make an Extraordinary and Memorable Table Setting

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  4. Cy Price says:

    Love Foursquare and I love it even more when I become the Mayor of my favorite establishments. Customers are not only "checking-in"…we're leaving tips and shouts about what's good (and the not so good).

  5. BJ Emerson says:

    Good point Cy. I find it interesting that the focus of the Foursquare Tips are intended to be positive and share some little known infi about a venue. Perhaps they could contain things to watch out for as well but it really is supposed to be a "glass half full" type of comment. We need to embrace the negative as well (and there are plenty of sites to find those insights) but this approach seems more additive and fun.
    My recent post Customers Behaving Badly