Foursquare Launches Self-Serve Platform

Foursquare on Tuesday opened up its self-serve ad platform more widely after testing the service with select New York City businesses in recent months.

The company said it is rolling out self-serve ads to “a few thousand local businesses” today before expanding it even more in the coming months. The promoted listings appear in users’ feeds or in relevant search results using the Explore feature in the Foursquare app.  

“The idea behind these new ads is simple -- connect people looking for somewhere to go with businesses that want to drive traffic to their stores,” stated a Foursquare blog post today. Until now, only large restaurant chains like Taco Bell and KFC have been able to tap into the company’s promoted venue program.

Now, local joints and small businesses can do the same. Foursquare allows marketers to target ads based on whether someone is near their business or who are searching for something related, or have checked into similar places.

An example of one self-serve ad shown in Foursquare’s blog post shows an ad for “L’Ecole at The International,” appearing in results under a search for “French Restaurants.” The ad looks similar to other listings but is lightly shaded and labeled as “Promoted” in the right corner.

The ads are sold on a performance basis, so advertisers only pay if someone visits their business in person or checks in through the Foursquare app. Businesses can see how ads are performing through the “Manage your ads” tab in their dashboard as well as through weekly email updates that might include advice on how to get the most out of Foursquare Ads.

In addition to the U.S., Foursquare said the ads are now also available to select businesses in the U.K., Turkey, Brazil and Russia. While extending self-serve ads for small- and medium-sized businesses is a logical step, it will not necessarily boost Foursquare’s ad sales overnight.

“Self-serve is often seen as the holy grail for companies pursuing the local merchant space. But SMB adoption of self-serve paid products can be sporadic, even scant, and churn can be dramatic,” said Jed Williams, director of consulting and a senior analyst at local media research firm BIA/Kelsey.

He noted that rival local search service Yelp, for instance, doesn’t have a self-serve platform -- opting to rely on its internal sales team to work with merchants. 

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