Geo-Location Services Provide New Opportunities for News

Knowing where someone is as they consume media can be a powerful tool in the hands of a journalist, publisher or advertiser.

And as use of GPS-equipped mobile devices has grown, so has interest in and competition to provide location-based services such as tailored news and information, advertisements, coupons, travel guides and more.

Recently, it seems like every digital media and advertising conference has sessions about things like “geo-location” and how to provide local services on mobile devices.

The Ad:Tech conference earlier this month in New York, for example, had three geo-location seminars with executives from:

  • Geo-location services Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla, all of which let users “check in” from where they are, give and receive recommendations, receive rewards and communicate with friends on the services. Foursquare is the leader with a reported 4 million users as of October.
  • Companies such as Outside.in, which aggregates and assembles news by geography from multiple providers.
  • Mobile service providers such as AT&T and Virgin Wireless, which have a deep interest in people using more of their services on handheld devices.
  • Advertising agencies that have used geo-location services on behalf of clients.

Notably absent from the panels was Facebook. The 800-pound gorilla of social networking
nevertheless stole headlines during the conference by announcing that its location-based Places service, announced this summer, now had a “Deals” feature that let businesses reward customers with special offers for checking in.

The promise Deals and its competitors are providing has been a holy grail of marketing. If a restaurant or store, for example, can send you a 25 percent off coupon when you’re a half-block away and looking to eat or shop, that’s a strong incentive to go in.

If a coffee shop gets you to keep checking in, and in the process gets you to repeat the establishment’s name to friends and family on the app, and perhaps automatically send it through to Twitter and Facebook, the value is clear.

News and other content providers, too, are storming into the local mix, with the hope of capturing advertising dollars.

At the Paley Center for Media in New York mid-November, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong spoke of an initiative to “digitize towns” and put information relevant to them online, such as from schools, government and religious institutions. Every town should have about 8,000 websites he said, two to four times as many as he said they usually have now. That’s in addition to AOL’s Patch hyperlocal news service, which has announced plans to have 500 news sites up by the end of the year.

AOL was working to “micromonetize at a ZIP-code level in each town,” Armstrong said, by combining content and location. “Eighty percent of commerce is still done locally,” he noted, saying local was one area that still provided huge opportunities.

Opportunities for News Organizations

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley said at Ad:Tech that he didn’t know how the company would create a real business, but that ideas included not only location-based advertising and loyalty cards, but also providing services such as articles about places people are visiting, and using the data Foursquare is collecting on users and their habits to “create a whole bunch of products the other guys will not be able to go after.”

For a local business, “Foursquare is Google Analytics [measurement software] for the people who walk in your door,” he said.

News organizations will want to play attention and be ready to provide the content the location services need and want — restaurant reviews, event information, real estate listings, even hard news — relevant to the spot a user happens to be. While services like Yelp and Craigslist have already grabbed some of the review and listings share, news organizations still have a strong brand presence and ties with local businesses they can exploit in the community.

Newsrooms, meanwhile, can monitor the services to see what trends, news or events might be getting attention in specific locales, and get a new layer of information and sources in addition to what they glean from social media like Twitter and Facebook. As one example, people may check in at a local performance or other event and become eyes and ears the news desk can reach out to for content.

On the business side, news organizations can structure deals in which local advertisers’ ads on a website are enhanced with information on loyal customers provided by a geo-location service, and rewards are offered online to encourage more of the same.

But it also will pay to be cautious and make sure to structure any deals carefully to allow the news organization to reach users on whatever location-based service they happen to use. It’s hard to see how all of the new location-based services will survive, and there’s bound to be a shakeout. Don’t restrict your organization to a single location-based service, when it may turn out to have less presence in your community than another.

While the battle over geo-local rages, new opportunities are being created for news providers and local businesses. Now’s the time to monitor the services and move toward using them.

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