Case Study: How To Use Foursquare To Draw A Crowd Into Your Restaurant

[tweetmeme] Restaurant owners are quickly discovering how to use social media tools like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp to their advantage and drive customers to their tables, but there’s a guy in Wisconsin doing it better than almost anyone else.

Joe Sorge, who runs a burger joint in Milwaukee called AJ Bombers, shot me a tweet yesterday to tell me about a Foursquare party they had this week that brought a flash mob of 161 Foursquare users to his restaurant.  My eyebrows shot up when I read that number. 161 check ins in one day?! How could that be? There are only about three or four hundred Foursquare users total in Milwaukee?! Over 150 of them were in the same place, on the same afternoon?

When I called him up, Joe explained. They came to earn the highly coveted and elusive Foursquare “Swarm Badge” – something you can only get when 50 or more Foursquare users check in at the same place at the same time. I hadn’t heard of it, but apparently the promise of this coveted Foursquare badge can really draw a crowd.

Before I launch into my interview where Joe discusses how he did it, here’s video from the  beginning of the event so you can get an idea of what was going on at the restaurant at the start of the event.

Video From The AJ Bombers Foursquare Swarm Badge Party

Flickr Photos from the AJ Bombers Foursquare Swarm Badge Party…


Wonder how AJ Bombers did it? Here’s my interview with Joe…

Q: What made you to decide to take the leap to try and base an event around the Swarm Foursquare badge? (did you see it done well and replicate? did foursquare come to you? How did you find out about it and decide to go for it?)

A: We had been noticing our twitter fan base really getting in to Foursquare lately so I went about investigating the various badges that could be achieved and found the elusive Swarm badge at the bottom of a badge page, awarded for a gathering of 50 or more foursquare users. We thought it was a great idea, so we started searching the web for how the badge worked and got in touch with Foursquare who helped us out.

Q: How did you organize/coordinate the event with foursquare?

A: Total time considered, organizing the event took us about a week. Once I connected with Foursquare, I emailed back a forth with them about logistics and asked some specific questions about how the badge was awarded and to how many users, etc.   They were TOTALLY on board with the event by the way, even tweeting about it themselves just hours before we were to be awarded the badge

Q: How did you get the word out before the event?

A: We used twitter primarily, but the main tool was called a Twtvite from the good tweeps at TwApps. Here’s the Twitvite we sent out. We cross promoted the event as a fundraiser for Milewake SWSX.  As we got closer to the event the invite spread out on social networking sites like Facebook as well. We had almost 100 people sign up beforehand, and over 100 people Tweeted about it. By 1:30pm, before the event was supposed to start, the restaurant was already packed with people.

At almost 3pm on the dot, people on the inside of the restaurant all got notification at the same time from Foursquare that they had earned the Swarm badge and they all started Tweeting about it. There was a lot of energy in the room at that moment that I wish we could have captured on video. There was so much word of mouth happening when people started telling their friends on Twitter that they’d gotten the badge. New comers were earning the badge for over 3 hours, right up until 6:20pm. Even 56 users who’d never used Foursquare signed up and checked in just to get the badge.


Q: Did you have any anxiety/legitimate concerns that it wasn’t going to work before the day of? (if so, what were they)

A: Absolutely I was concerned that we couldn’t get to the number needed all at once. FourSquare assured that the network would be there for us, and it was!

Q: Just one more thing, got any tips for managing the mob when they show up?

A: Eat, Drink and Check-in!

Q: What sense did you get that people really wanted out of the event? To meet others? Were they there just for the badge? How many of them knew each other already (i.e. did they come in groups, or were they all individuals who came alone)

A: This event, like nearly every Social Media event that we do was and is all about community and building something, or in this case earning something together.  We are, after all, a restaurant built by twitter and now made even more fun by foursquare.

So there you have it, right from the horse’s mouth. I hope this confirms for any nay-sayers out there that social media can work for you. If you have any questions for Joe, let’s discuss them here in the comments.


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  1. March 5, 2010 at 5:51 pm ·

    I can't begin to thank you for this exposure to our FourSquare / Social Media campaign @AJBombers. We have so much fun every day with these tools that I sometimes forget that there can be a real and sustainable business model to be had. I'd gladly field questions here if anyone were to have them.

    Thanks again Steffan, it's been great to get to know you personally and professionally over these last few weeks.

    Joe Sorge
    AJ Bombers

    • March 5, 2010 at 6:01 pm ·

      No thank you, Joe. Our talks over the past few weeks have been awesome. Total energy booster. I hope we have tons more. I love talking to you about this stuff. You're even more excited about it that I am. I'm so glad that Chris Brogan posted that video on you, and that you were listening when I talked about it on this blog. If you hadn't of been listening and didn't respond when you did, I might never have met you. I am so glad that things turned out the way that they did. I've already learned a ton from you and this story is something I think others can learn from too. Thanks for reaching out to me this week to tell me your story. Good luck and keep killing it!

  2. katiewynner
    March 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm ·

    Yet another reason FourSquare is insanely rad. I'm so thrilled for AJ Bombers. The success of exciting social tech experiments like this one serve to push other companies to go farther, using tools like FourSquare to build enthusiastic communities and create better customer experiences. Kudos to you guys for going all out – it's so great to see folks willing to take the plunge and get drenched in success.

    • March 6, 2010 at 9:02 am ·

      Joe definitely took a leap of faith with this but you can see it paid off.
      The percentage of total Foursquare users in Milwaukee that showed up for the
      event I think it a testament to how powerful promotions like this can be and
      how small business should be taking platforms like Foursquare seriously.

    • March 6, 2010 at 11:10 am ·

      Thanks much Katie, we're having some fun for sure.

  3. March 5, 2010 at 7:40 pm ·

    Steffan – Thanks for letting me know you included the video. I have so much fun shooting and editing these videos I forget they have value beyond fun. It was great to be at AJ Bombers with so many people I now call friend that I met through social media (mostly Twitter).

    We may only be about 400 (Foursquare) strong in Milwaukee but I travel far and wide to run my company and I have yet to participate in Social Media community as vibrant and alive as ours is in Milwaukee. I'm sure they are out there and as a person just passing through town it's sometimes tough to tap in. Had some success in Atlanta recently using Twitter to find some nice places to eat. Looking forward to putting Twitter to the test again next week in the OC.

    Thanks again, I'm looking forward to your future posts and to sneaking back here when I have time to catch up on some of your archives.


    • March 6, 2010 at 8:56 am ·


      Thanks again for putting the video of the event together. You guys were
      obviously having a great time. Good luck next week in the OC.

    • mmangen
      March 16, 2010 at 11:33 pm ·

      Jim – you also do video?

      Was so fun to come out to this post as I was planning the #sma2010 TweetUp next Tuesday @AJBombers and to see a couple of familiar faces out here (you, Darren Monroe and – of course, my buddy, @JosephRanseth)

      Was even cooler to also recognize @PhilGerb in some of the flickr pictures!

      Hope to see you next Tuesday – I sent you a message on Twitter with the twtvite

      • March 18, 2010 at 12:40 pm ·

        Michelle – I really enjoy making the mash up style videos like this of events I attend. There are a couple more on my blog(note to self: need a tag for mashup videos on blog) or in my YouTube account.

        Your @AJBombers event sounds cool, I will unfortunately be out of town – again – lots of travel right now to support our growing business.

        I still think Phil had the funniest line in the whole video ;)

        • mmangen
          March 20, 2010 at 7:09 am ·

          I'm totally locking the video work into my mind. We, here in Appleton, have a “resident videographer” who also does great videos of our events – though I don't know if he's ever done one as long as yours. In the event you aren't already connected to him he is @RossLarocco. (also a big foursquare geek). He won't be able to come on Tuesday either as he works until 2 pm.

          Will have to check out your blog for more of your mashup videos too. :-)

          Michelle @mmangen

  4. bsimi
    March 6, 2010 at 9:47 am ·

    I love the way @AJBombers uses social networking! Can't wait to get out there and meet them!!!
    Great post and great work guys!

    • March 6, 2010 at 11:16 am ·

      Brian, thank you so much for your comment here. I'm absolutely flattered. I was introduced to your SM prowess via Chris Brogan when he visited Milwaukee in January. I asked him if these sorts of meetings happened very often and he gave you and The Roger Smith Hotel as the prime example of the way social media works! Can't wait to visit you in NYC! Headed your way soon, ya know, it's Yankee season soon….ahem.

  5. March 6, 2010 at 9:51 am ·

    nice work. creative :-)

  6. March 6, 2010 at 11:15 am ·

    Great piece man. I think you should work for one of those social media think tanks like Dachus or something… well done.

  7. carynlea
    March 6, 2010 at 11:57 am ·

    Hi guys – Who do you suggest I connect with to create a similar event out here in Ventura County, CA? It looked and sounded like such a fun, creative, wonderful way to spend an afternoon…and of course, earn the coveted swarm badge! Any suggestions as to where to start would be greatly appreciated.

    • March 6, 2010 at 12:04 pm ·

      Caryn, Joe is the best guy to ask about where to start. You can find
      him on Twitter @ajbombers. I'm also sure that the guys at Foursqure
      who do this all the time would be happy to assist you.

    • March 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm ·

      Hi there, thanks for asking.
      I'd start with creating the twtvite at http://twtvite.com there layout what sort of promotion you'd like to pull together. I'd also suggest having the event benefit a charitable organization (use your power for good). The Swarm badge part handles itself once your 50 guests arrive, but be sure to do some work on your 4sq venue page first so it's fun for your users to get involved. I'd gladly share more if you'd like to tweet me.

      • carynlea
        March 6, 2010 at 12:23 pm ·

        Thanks, Joe….I am definitely going to tweet you. I know what charity, just need to think through logistics first so I'll know what to ask. Thanks so much!


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  9. March 6, 2010 at 4:03 pm ·

    nice article! and thanks for linking to my photos of the event. it was such a great time. @AJBombers is truly an amazing asset to us here in milwaukee. :)

    • March 6, 2010 at 5:24 pm ·

      Tracy, you we're a big part of the success of this promotion, thanks so much for all you do! Go #mkesxsw!! Represent!

    • March 6, 2010 at 6:46 pm ·


      Great photos. I they really help to show just how successful this event was.
      Thanks for stopping by to read it!

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  11. March 7, 2010 at 4:40 pm ·

    Thats what I call building a FOLLOWING not followers ! Great post!

  12. March 8, 2010 at 8:29 am ·

    The amount of research and commitment you've put into this post is commendable. That said I'll be sure to find some use for this post even from 10,000 miles away in another corner of the world!

    I appreciate the time and detail you put into your blog, it's an inspiration to me and i'm sure to many others as well. Thank you.

    • March 8, 2010 at 8:33 am ·

      Thank you Ahad,

      This is why we blog, right? To be informative and helpful (and to learn
      something ourselves in the process). Thank you again for your kind words.
      I'm really glad you've found this useful.

  13. March 8, 2010 at 9:11 am ·

    This is awesome. I wrote a post about how Restaurants should use Foursquare.http://jimmyhendricks.artistichub.com/2010/01/26/restaurants-should-use-foursquare-for-marketing/

    This post is much more comprehensive. I love it. Great job Steffan

    • March 8, 2010 at 9:39 am ·

      Thanks Jimmy. And thanks for the link to your post. It'll get read shortly
      (I'm replying on my iPhone right now)

  14. clayhebert
    March 8, 2010 at 10:04 am ·

    Awesome post, as usual, Steffan. As you know, I'm from Wisconsin, a huge Brewers fan (and both my parents went to school in Milwaukee), so I'll definitely be heading to AJ Bombers.

    I'm hopefully coming to San Diego at the end of the month. Will you be around?

    Keep leading, my friend.

    • March 8, 2010 at 10:34 am ·

      Ok, first of all, I'll definitely be in San Diego at month end. It'll be
      great to meet you. My treat for beers/dinner. You pick the place. If you
      like sushi, you could be in for a treat.

      Second – thanks for the kind words, and definitely check out AJ Bombers if
      you get a chance. I wish I could get out there to actually meet Joe face to
      face. He's so energetic and friendly on the phone.

    • March 8, 2010 at 11:58 am ·

      Clay, I can't wait to for you to try this burger. Shoot me a tweet when you're ready. We're eagerly awaiting your arrival.

      • clayhebert
        March 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm ·

        I will definitely be there. I don't get to Milwaukee much anymore (I can often be found hanging with Brian Simpson at The Roger Smith in NYC – small world) but you guys are my first stop when I return.

        Keep up the great work.

  15. March 8, 2010 at 11:10 am ·

    Nice way to hit it out of the park Steffan! Love how you keep raising the bar. @ajbombers and Steffan. Since we've been chatting about Twitter Talk Radio-how about we do it on St Patty's day? Love to have you both on 3/17 at Noon PST. Great way to follow up to this post and it would be my great honor!

    • March 8, 2010 at 11:14 am ·

      Angie, that would be AWE-SOME. I'm up for it if Joe is. I think he's got
      some great lessons that your listeners would really enjoy. Joe? What do you

  16. March 8, 2010 at 11:55 am ·

    I'm absolutely up for it, I'm only 1/4 Irish is that okay? wait, don't answer that. What fun! Thanks so much for the invite!

  17. March 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm ·

    Steffan, thanks for posting… this is such a powerfully simple case study on the capacity of social media to not only help business, but as Darren said in the first comment, to really build a community.
    Love seeing how the technology is used to build genuine relationships, as well as sustainable business models.
    Best of luck to AJ's, and gratitude for the example! Looking forward to dropping in on my travels. :)

    • March 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm ·

      Thanks Joe. Yeah, the power of this example is definitely how simple
      it was to achieve. When you stop in there, have a burger for me and
      let me know how it is! I hve yet to have a bombers burger.

      • March 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm ·

        I'll make a slight detour and bring you one on my way to sunny SD next time I come.

    • March 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm ·

      Joseph, we're just having a ball with all this, the exposure is a bit overwhelming, but even more fun! Thanks so much for the well wishes.

      • Joseph Ranseth
        March 16, 2010 at 9:54 pm ·

        Hey Joe, I'm going to pass through Milwaukee next week… I'm going to plan to swing by for one of your burgers on Tuesday afternoon. Is it okay if I bring 49 friends? :)

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  20. March 9, 2010 at 7:05 pm ·

    Just got a heads up about this event from Foursquare evangelist Joe Siewert and had to read about it for myself.

    Fantastic HYPE machine creation, and marketing. Hope to see many similar usage patterns emerge :)

    • March 20, 2010 at 4:54 am ·

      Thanks Mark, honestly though, it wasn't much HYPE machine at all. Our guests happen to be pretty into foursquare and we'd become a sort of clubhouse for the social media community in Milwaukee. Next up we're earning the Super Swarm Badge on 5.13.

  21. March 10, 2010 at 12:43 am ·

    Foursquare users in Chicago will be celebrating Foursquare's birthday on March 24 and going for Chicago's first ever flash mob badge:

    • March 20, 2010 at 4:54 am ·

      Hey Todor, can't wait to celebrate the 4sq Bday in Milwaukee together.

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  23. March 11, 2010 at 9:39 pm ·

    Great post Steffan. I couldn't find a way to Trackback but I mentioned this post in my recent blog post about restaurants utilizing location-based mobile apps. You can read it here – http://bit.ly/bYkycL.

    I'm incredibly impressed with what AJ Bombers did to engage and reward their customers. Seems like such a fun event and the brand awareness they're getting is incredible! Definitely a case study we'll see referenced very often in the coming months.


    • March 20, 2010 at 4:55 am ·

      Thanks Jon, and thanks for the additional Blog post. Much appreciated.

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  29. March 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm ·

    This is amazing! I'm going to tell all my restaurant clients about this.

    • March 23, 2010 at 10:17 pm ·

      thanks Kit, let us know if we can help in any way. Shoot a tweet @AJBombers

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  31. Claudia
    March 24, 2010 at 11:48 am ·

    How does one find out how many Foursquare users are in their area?

  32. Claudia
    March 24, 2010 at 5:48 pm ·

    How does one find out how many Foursquare users are in their area?

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