Looking beyond the web, marketers are considering location-based services as a way to extend their reach and engage consumers in the "real world."
Some, including Bravo, HBO and Warner Brothers, are partnering with consumer-facing location-based services (LBS) like Foursquare to do so. Others are seeing a benefit in creating their own communities and geo-apps, though this can be a development-heavy and costly process. Through a new DIY platform, Socialight hopes to make this a much simpler proposition.
The new Socialight Community Platform, launching this week, is designed to help enterprise clients connect multimedia content and information to a map interface, which users can access via website, WAP site, or iPhone app. Think of it as Ning for LBS. Ning developed as a MySpace alternative for organizations to create their own niche online social networks. Likewise, Socialight allows anyone build their own Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla, or SitOrSquat, customized for their own objectives.
"It makes sense for brands to work with existing location-based services when they want to market specifically to the demographic using that LBS within the feature-set that's available via that service," Socialight's founder, Dan Melinger, told me. But, he said, that may not always align with a brand's goals and existing location-based services are relatively small -- they might not overlap with a brand's the existing and target demographics for most brands.
Socialight was formerly a consumer-facing service but shifted focus last year to becoming a B-to-B platform provider. It powers Travel Channel GO, a mobile app from the Travel Channel that enables their viewers to explore a destination through the eyes of show hosts, such as Anthony Bourdain. Chris Ackerman, director of business development for Travel Channel Media, likes it for the flexibility in the content and features that Travel Channel is able to offer its users, which can help simplify deeper integration into its other platforms.
Indeed, Socialight sees LBS as a major opportunity for the Hotel and Tourism industry. They are currently working with Fashion 26 -- a Wyndham Hotel in New York City on a mobile concierge application. Deirdre Yack, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, sees it as an extension of the hotel's concierge services that will curate the Fashion District and other areas for guests, marking spots they should shop, pinging them with nearby deals, or hooking them up with free passes, for example.
There is also the option of monetizing a branded application. Location-based advertising is poised to be a huge money maker with local and national advertisers alike looking to target consumers based on location and indications of purchase intent. While Fashion 26--A Wyndham Hotel's app is purely a guest service right now, think about the co-marketing and local promotional opportunities of which it could take advantage.
Travel Channel and Fashion 26 -- A Wyndham Hotel are both users of Socialight's custom "Enterprise" option, but the new launch will also include an Express Beta that makes it so easy to make an LBS "your mom can do it," Melinger bragged to me. Through Socialight's new administrative interface, customers can do everything, including create and launch custom iPhone apps, without writing a single line of code.
Of course, creating an app is not all a brand should be doing in mobile, but now that the barriers to entry are getting so low, expect more in the App Store. What's most compelling about geo apps in particular is the ability to tie digital content to location, essentially overlaying the web on the real world. When possible, more branded apps ought to provide this type of utility and utilize the unique attributes of mobile.
Most brands would be wise to use a multi-pronged mobile strategy. It's all a matter of going where the fish are -- some may be on existing social networks, while others can be reached through other marketing channels. As Travel Channel Media's Ackerman says, "We realize that not every mobile user is going to be a Travel Channel GO user, so we plan to enable users to sample content where they expect to find it for us, making integrations with existing LBS applications also interesting to us."
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