Brendan Lewis, director of corporate communications at Foursquare, talks to PRWeek about the company’s decision to split into two apps and the communications efforts describing them.
Q: With the launch of the Swarm app, will anything change in terms of PR, either internally or externally?
A: No. We now have two separate apps that we’re going to be telling stories about, but nothing has fundamentally changed from a PR point of view because we’ve always told these two stories. One being the social aspect of Foursquare, which has always been about helping people to keep up and meet up with their friends, and then the discovery part of the app, which is helping people find and discover great places. The fact is that we’ve always told these two stories, but now what we’ve done as a company is we’ve made this conscious decision to unbundle these two use cases into their own separate apps, which will allow both apps to actually become stronger and freer to develop on their own. The only thing that has changed from PR scale is that now we’re going to be able to talk about them in their own separate apps, but the stories that we tell about the company and about each particular use case remains the same.
Q: Will any comms staffers be brought on for Swarm?
A: Right now, we’re holding steady. It’s me and Laura Covington in-house, and we brought on DKC [in February], and they’re going to continue to help us [on Swarm and Foursquare], probably skewing a little more on the consumer side.
Q: Give me a brief description of how Swarm differs from Foursquare?
A: Swarm in and of itself really is the evolution of the original vision of Foursquare. Many of the traditional elements of Foursquare will live on. The focus and vision of the app is to help people keep up and meet up with their friends, so things like the check-in live on in Swarm, but the experiences will have improved on a number of levels. The number one request from people who use Foursquare was to make check-in faster and more fun, so we did that with Swarm. With the check in, you say, ‘I am at this specific place right now,’ and you broadcast that to your friends who you choose to be friends with on Foursquare.
We also have this concept of neighborhood-sharing within Swarm. It lets your friends know what neighborhood you’re in without the need to check-in. Let’s say I take the subway to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I wonder which of my friends is in Williamsburg. I can get off the subway, look at Swarm, and see how many people are there. We built in the ability to either text or send Facebook messages so you can reach out to your friends and say, "Hey, I’m nearby, want to grab a drink or grab lunch?"
There’s also another new functionality which we’re plans. That’s the ability to broadcast your desire to do something a little bit later to all of your friends within certain proximity, so we use that a lot in the office and say, "Who wants to get lunch at 12:30?" The plans mechanism is really good, too, because it’s all about creating these social moments when people want to get together, and this helps facilitate that.
Q: Will Foursquare be communicated differently?
A: People download Foursquare, and they want to use it for local recommendations and things to do, but they don’t want the check-in aspect or they want to bypass [showing] where they are to people. You’ve always been able to do that with Foursquare, but we’re obviously unbundling things into two experiences. The story about Foursquare moving forward is that we’re reinventing how local search is done, such as the one-size-fits-all results when you go to Google or Yelp. When you search for restaurants, you get the same result no matter what and it doesn’t take into account where you’ve been before or your tastes or interests. We’re looking to take all of that information, like things you like [and put it into search results]. Me and you are two completely different people, and if you search for a restaurant, you and I should probably get two different results because we aren’t the same person. For Foursquare at the end of the day, it’s definitely going to be a wide audience we talk to about this, and a bit more of a varied audience moving forward, and that means talking to travel and entrainment books and foodie people and so on.
Q: What are some challenges you plan to face promoting the standalone app?
A: We were very cautious in working to do an exclusive with The Verge to explain two things. One, why the company is making the move we are right now, and two, to announce Swarm and show it off to the world. A lot of the great elements of the check-in or the social aspect of Foursquare will live on there, and that’s what a lot of people know us for, so I don’t think there have been any real challenges on that front. I think the app itself is really fantastic and it’s definitely more fun to use, so I think the people who have always relied on Foursquare for that social aspect will love it, and certainly, we hope additional people who haven’t necessarily used Foursquare might give it a whirl and find that it’s a great experience. We expect Swarm will be available in a couple of weeks, and then the new Foursquare will be available in the summer.