A new automatic updating service from Foursquare lets businesses target repeat customers with news, specials, and deals.
Foursquare Local Updates let merchants send text, photos, and specials to customers who have either checked into a business several times or liked it on Foursquare.
The updates will be shown to customers when they're in the city where that business is located. The new function will begin rolling out this week.
According to Foursquare, brands including H&M, Luke's Lobster, Togo's Sandwiches, Outback Steakhouse, Northern Spy Food Company and Wolfgang Puck plan to use the updates feature. The tool is free to merchants.
Merchant updates also will appear in search results when consumers search for a place in the Foursquare mobile app or on the web.
Merchants can manage updates from the merchant dashboard, which has been redesigned to let business owners and marketers view data on individual business locations or a group of locations.
Michael Boland, an analyst for local media research firm BIA/Kelsey, said the dashboard's evolution will continue to give Foursquare a leg up on competition from Twitter and Google AdWords.
"Foursquare is faced with the challenge that many online and mobile pure plays in the local space are faced with," he said. "It has to rely on businesses signing up for and managing campaigns on their own. The challenge in the small business marketplace is that a lot of small businesses are not technically savvy or might not have the time."
In addition, he said, the concept of buying clicks doesn't make as much sense to merchants as pushing out Specials does. Neither has Twitter created tools to let merchants easily manage communications with customers, Boland said.
"They will go there, but right now, we're seeing a lot of third-party companies building tools around Twitter for small businesses to use," Boland said. "On Twitter, you have to be more savvy to take the general-purpose tool that Twitter is and craft it as a small business tool."
Boland thinks Foursquare's dashboard is "simple enough for small business but robust enough, too."
The new offering follows last month's redesign of the Foursquare user interface which now gives more prominence to the Explore tab. Boland said that the company continues to move its consumer model from search to discovery.
"The discovery concept is conducive to local mobile user behavior: There's less search happening; people want to discover things around them," he said. "This model will let businesses use the Foursquare platform to deliver commercial messages that aren't obtrusive as pure advertising. They'll start to charge for the merchant dashboard in different ways, and one way will be to let merchants target offers to people around them in a cost-per-action model. That will be the basis for how [Foursquare will] start to monetize."
Microsoft also announced that it has integrated Foursquare into Bing search results. Searchers in the United States will begin to see public tips from Foursquare users in the "People Who Know" section in the sidebar.