Recommendation sites like Yelp, Travel Advisor and others have become a major influence on what people end up buying when they search for goods and services. And while the results are very helpful, the recommendations on these sites are not personalized to the specific context of a unique individual’s circumstances. The “one review fits all” model works well, but Foursquare is looking to bring more context to recommendations to personalize the recommendations users of their apps get to make them more meaningful to each person.
Nina Yiamsamatha, a member of Foursquare’s small business marketing team, discusses the importance of local personalized recommendations to help small businesses be more efficient and effective in building long-lasting relationships with consumers today, and how their approach differs from the more traditional approach to serving up recommendations. (This transcript has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the audio player at the end of this article.)
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your personal background?
Nina Yiamsamatha: I’ve been at Foursquare for almost four years, working on primarily marketing from both the consumer and the business side, as well as supporting our global community.
Small Business Trends: What have been some of the biggest developments at Foursquare over the past two years when it comes to the small business sector?
Nina Yiamsamatha: We’ve had local business owners claim their business on Foursquare. To claim basically means to take control of your listing and make sure the information is up to date and engage customers using Foursquare at your business. So that’s always been there.
The most exciting developments were probably in August last year. We launched our self-service advertising platform for local business, and now we have self-service advertisers. Local businesses advertising in over 80 countries around the world, and that’s been very, very exciting.
Small Business Trends: You guys really made “check-ins” popular, and you had the original Foursquare app. Tell us about the new app and how it fits in with what you were doing before, and what you’re doing now.
Nina Yiamsamatha: It actually all fits in pretty perfectly in terms of the vision of the company. Dennis, our CEO, built Foursquare in order to support local communities and help local business and small businesses really stand out. So the concept of checking in was both social, but also about people connecting the places they love around the world. That’s still the same goal.
Check-ins isn’t a part of the new Foursquare app. It’s about searching for and discovering really great places. So you’re still connecting people with places, but not everyone wants to check in. What we’ve done is make that even easier for people to find and discover places, and make it more personal, focused on personalization, not just finding the same results no matter where you are.
If you and I were each searching online for a burger, we’d get the same results. But in fact, maybe Foursquare knows I like burgers with fried eggs, or I like specific types of veggie burgers, and you like rib eyes. That’s the kind of results that will be different for the two of us.
Small Business Trends: You use not just location, but also knowing, like you said, I might like a burger a certain way. Or maybe the friends I have that have shared their experiences, to be able to personalize these notifications based on a number of things.
Nina Yiamsamatha: Absolutely. As a company, we’re solving the problem with global search tools. Everyone gets the same results, right? So if I’m a vegetarian and you’re a carnivore, or a steak eater, we shouldn’t get the same results and that’s just broken. So in order to personalize results, we have all this great data from the past five years of, like you said, where people have gone, where their friends have gone.
Small Business Trends: When a lot of people think of recommendations, they think of Yelp or any number of sites. How is this different from more traditional recommendation sites?
Nina Yiamsamatha: We think the future of global search is personalized. It isn’t just everyone getting the same thing. So when you go to Amazon, the bookmark innovations you get are very different from what I’d get. Same with Netflix. It really learns what movies and genres you love, and then based on that, will give you recommendations so you can have a better entertainment experience.
So it’s the same thing, but for places that you go to, and the real world, and businesses that you frequent and that you want to be a loyal customer to inevitably.
Small Business Trends: Are there some tangible results customers of yours, from a business perspective, are starting to get by participating in this?
Nina Yiamsamatha: Absolutely. Not only getting new customers in the door, but how to engage with them, because we know when people have found your business through our app.
The first thing is to claim your business, or take control of your listing. We hope it’s even easier to get started, and what you get for a $20.00 one-time fee is the ability to control your information and update various details about your business such as whether you accept reservations, whether you have extra seating or Wi-Fi.
You also get access to analytics. So you can get to know your new customers, your top customers, as well as distribution over time of who’s coming in. That’s very valuable information you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Small Business Trends: Can you tell people where they can go to learn more?
Nina Yiamsamatha: Yes, you can go to Business.Foursquare.com.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.