How Foursquare communicated its brand transformation to users and partners

Foursquare took a piecemeal approach to tell its complicated transformation story to users and business partners. But can it win over critics who accuse the app of taking up too much space on users' smartphones?

NEW YORK: Foursquare relaunched its eponymous app and refreshed its brand on Wednesday as the final part of a piecemeal approach to tell the story of its transformation over the past several months.

Foursquare gave The Verge an exclusive on its new branding, unbundling, and general app changes, said Brendan Lewis, director of corporate communications at Foursquare.

The website has been reporting on Foursquare’s strategy shift since May, when the company announced its plans to split its features into two apps: Swarm, which helps users find nearby friends and check-in, and the original Foursquare. The eponymous app has a new focus on discovery and personalized local search.

"This was a very complicated story we had to tell with a specific outlet over a number of weeks to explain everything," said Lewis. "We had to tell the story of the unbundling, tell the story of Swarm, then we had this in-between period where we had to let people know what was going to happen with Foursquare moving forward."

Foursquare is working with DKC, which it selected as its PR AOR in February, to communicate the relaunch in the US. In Turkey, Brazil, and Mexico – Foursquare’s fastest-growing markets, according to Lewis – the company is working with Weber Shandwick on comms for the launch.

"We are following the same playbook to communicate the changes internationally," he said.

Along with the story in The Verge, Foursquare announced the developments on its company blog and created videos for Vimeo and YouTube that were embedded in the blog post.

"We don’t do press releases as a company. Our distribution mechanism is so good with our blog that using press releases isn’t something that would be worth our time," said Lewis. "Our blog serves as our main comms vehicle."

In the days leading up to Wednesday’s launch, Foursquare’s comms team briefed a number of news outlets and provided about 50 reporters around the world with an early version of the new app. The focus this week was on media relations, and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley did a TV press tour.

In addition, Foursquare’s support team is interacting with its "super user" community, which Lewis described as the people who are constantly "scrubbing" Foursquare’s data to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant.

The support team is also fielding questions from users about the app changes.

The company also unveiled its new logo on Wednesday. Lewis described its previous symbol, which had been around since the company’s founding, as a "bouncing ball check mark." Though he said it was iconic, it didn’t fit with the app’s new story.

"[Crowley] has always said he loves Foursquare because it almost gives you super powers to discover really great things in your neighborhood or city," said Lewis. "If you look at the new emblem, it kind of harkens to a superhero crest, as well as a plan pin that you can put on a map."

He added that the company is aware that Foursquare had been known mostly for its check-in feature, which is now a part of the Swarm app. Yet he said that with its new focus and capabilities, Foursquare is trying to solve a problem.

"Let’s say we are standing in Grand Central, and we look for restaurant suggestions through Yelp or Google. We’d get the same search results because there is no personalization," Lewis said. "Everyone has unique tastes, places, and foods they prefer. Personalized search is something only Foursquare can provide."

The new Foursquare on-boarding process prompts users to pick from a list of 10,000 interests, all sourced from its collection of 55 million tips, allowing it to give users personalized suggestions. Foursquare’s content partners, such as The Wall Street Journal and Eater, have added the tips.

The company said earlier this year that it registered 45 million users as of last December, up from 30 million at the beginning of the year.

Foursquare has kept advertisers and brand partners in the loop about its changes, which Lewis said are advantageous to them.

"They are excited there are two apps they can now use to reach people," he said. "They will also be able to create campaigns that resonate with people and that can drive people into physical locations."

Not everyone has welcomed Foursquare’s changes with open arms. Last week, users protested Swarm on Twitter with hashtags such as #hateswarm and #killswarm.

Internet commentator and parodist Dartanion London, impersonating Foursquare’s CEO, made a video apologizing for the app’s changes.

"We are changing our name to Fourteensquares, because that is how many slots we want to take up on your phone," he said in the video.

A number of media reports also revealed that the relaunched app can track a user’s location as long as a smartphone is turned on, even when he or she is not using Foursquare.

"We understand there are concerns or anger expressed because we are changing something that people have used over the years, but this is going to help our company grow, and we are going to give a better experience to a larger pool of people," said Lewis.

He added that Foursquare’s comms team still has a lot to do to tell Foursquare’s story.

"We have to communicate not just that there is a new app, but there is a business story we need to tell about the company moving forward, there is a technology story, and we need to tell our advertising and monetization strategy to the advertising books," Lewis said.

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