Amex Classes Up Foursquare

Some of us don't need no stinkin' badges, to paraphrase the John Huston classic (by way of B. Traven) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Some of us would rather have cash, or at least some shopping discounts.

Location-based social networking start-up Foursquare's new deal with American Express has enabled it to offer more tangible rewards for using a mobile device to "check in" at locations.

Starting on June 23, Amex members can link their Foursquare profiles to their cards to learn about American Express "specials" at certain venues. They can then check in on Foursquare at one of those venues and load the merchant special on their Amex card. If they make a purchase with their card, the discount is credited to their account.

The gaming aspect of Foursquare—earning badges, competing to become "mayor" of a location and winning coupons—has helped it create a high profile among its competitors. Its partnership with American Express, which had a test run at this year's SXSW in Austin, has given it something entirely new—validation. Foursquare will not receive any cut of the revenue—no "specials" here. But its user base is expected to grow, and PR pros and marketers may begin to take it more seriously.

"The Foursquare/Amex deal will absolutely drive an uptick in location-based marketing adoption and usage," Aaron Strout, head of location-based marketing at WGC, told PR News. "I see this deal single-handedly adding another million users into Foursquare's 10 million member base."

Strout, who is also the co-author of the upcoming book Location Based Marketing for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons), adds, "The win here is you have a big brand that is going to generate a lot of transactions—this is loyalty 2.0. Foursquare realizes that this is a huge shot in the arm for them. It's validation from a major brand."

Strout says there are three initial takeaways from this deal for PR pros, marketers and their clients:

1. The volume of check-ins and the venue tips that people leave are going to increase and get richer. Foursquare will be collecting valuable pieces of content that merchants are going to want to manage.

2. The check-ins are going to inspire more organic search—another aspect that will need managing.

3. Foursquare is now an even better partner to look at for location-based initiatives.