For instance, walking past New York City Center will trigger a link to a WSJ story entitled “Theaters Playing to Plumper Audiences,” about how the Center is expanding the width of its seats. These little alerts can be silenced, of course; you can indicate whether you would like to accept “Pings” from the WSJ at any time.
Even if you’re reading stories on the WSJ Web site, you can now associate them with real-life, Foursquare-managed experiences. Beneath some restaurant reviews, in addition to the ubiquitous buttons inviting you to post the story to Facebook, Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon, etc., there is now a Foursquare button. This button launches a pop-up window asking whether you’d like to add the restaurant to your “To Do” list. “Use foursquare to create ‘To Do’ lists of all the things you want to experience,” it reads. “Keep track of restaurants to go to, bands to see or art exhibits to check out.” So the next time you’re out in the world, ambling along with your eyes glued to your phone, you’ll be reminded of these spots when you’re physically close to them.
Other organizations, like The Independent Film Channel, invite its members to write content, too, then curate the best tips to post under the brand name. This idea seems to have a lot of potential: either to really help build brand affinity and user-generated Web content at the same time (see: Yelp), or to be annoying and useless (see: Yelp).
Speaking of Yelp, that’s really all the first posts on Foursquare’s layers look like so far. The Huffington Post reviews a comedy club, for instance, and the IFC promotes a local independent bookstore. It’s branding through association with other brands. There’s just not that much actual news content populated in yet. (Gowalla, a similar program, has its own partnerships with USA Today, The Washington Post and National Geographic, and it’s the same story over there.)
The success of this experiment depends on what kinds of content these papers will choose to feed into the system beyond the shopping-guide type of stuff that’s it’s largely limited to now. In May, the Journal notably used Foursquare for news purposes when it checked into Times Square and notified followers that a suspicious package had prompted police to evacuate the area. More work along these lines could be a fruitful way to use the service. Linking real-world points of interest to articles from the papers’ archives would also be potentially interesting, and could help readers understand current events within a historical context.
In the end, raising brand awareness and providing new advertising opportunities is all well and good. But newspapers should keep thinking about ways to use this tool to contribute to the primary reason for a newspaper’s existence: that is, reporting and publishing the news.