Skift Take

There was so much hype about Groupon and Zynga, and perhaps their stars are getting clouded over. But, Foursquare, if it handles its commercial strategy with a little more acumen than it has shown so far, could really turn into a viable business.

Foursquare enhanced its Explore feature in an iPhone update, taking on everyone from Yelp to Google and Zagat, and even Goby. And, one twist that will be hard to overlook are the big, fat advertisements that dominate the first screen of the app as you begin to browse through recommendations for nearby businesses.

With today’s iPhone update, Foursquare introduces scores for local businesses based on user reviews and check-ins, and the local nature of the recommendations and the user data Foursquare collects each time you check in to a location make for a very potent advertising mix.

That is, of course, if the blitz of advertisements doesn’t turn off users because there is nothing minimalist about Foursquare’s approach.

This isn’t Facebook blending in ads along a right-hand column; this is in your face.

When I opened the app and initially tapped the Explore feature, almost the entire first iPhone screen was filled with this Hertz ad (at right), which was labeled “Promoted” and located just 2.7 miles away.

The ad offered a 10% discount on a Hertz car-rental, and unlike the rest of the venues below in the stream of businesses, there was no Foursquare score for the establishment.

Foursquare introduced Promoted ads over the summer, and at the time Mashable noted “these ads aren’t intrusive: They’re confined entirely to the Explore tab.”

But, the Explore feature seems to be the heart and soul of where Foursquare is headed.

And, in this early rendition of the Promoted ads, if the Hertz promotion is indicative of how Foursquare is handling other advertisements, suffice it to say they are indeed intrusive.

Foursquare is finally honing its commercial strategy, and it will have to come up with a delicate balancing act to maintain the social nature of the app without poisoning it with hyper-commercialism.

With the new scoring system and update to the Explore feature, Foursquare now offers Top Picks, such as the nearby Office Beer Bar & Grill, which earned a 7.6 rating.

Like the Yelp scores and Zagat restaurant ratings in Google Plus Local, Foursquare’s system is based on user reviews so it will be competitive with user-generated restaurant content from the likes of Yelp and Zagat.

There were 19 tips about The Office Beer Bar & Grill in Summit, New Jersey, and users chimed in that it features $2 domestic draft beer on Wednesday or simply, “Go somewhere else.”

Foursquare’s Top Picks feature within Explore also represents a challenge to sites and apps such as Goby, which is geared for people looking for things to do in the area.

With Foursquare’s enhanced Explore feature, you can search for “specials” as well as local restaurants, shopping, nightlife and the arts.

Intriguingly, in keeping with the very social nature of Foursquare, you can also view places your “friends have been,” businesses you’ve “been before,” and local attractions you “haven’t been.”

As Foursquare candidly says within its iPhone app, it will “learn [more] about your tastes with every check-in.”

When Skift reported last month that Foursquare had enhanced the Explore feature on its website and within its iPhone app, it was apparent that Foursquare was upping the ante in search.

Now, with the latest tweaks to Explore, Foursquare’s commercial strategy is being exhibited very clearly in big, bold advertisements, too.



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Tags: advertising, foursquare, search

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