I’m On A Boat! – How To Use Foursquare To Get 231 People to Check In To Your Restaurant In 1 Day

A few weeks ago, Joe Sorge showed us how he used Foursquare to get a flash mob of 150+ people into his restaurant, AJ Bombers. This Friday, with a little help from Milwaukee’s online community, he pulled together the most successful Foursquare-based event run by a restaurant to date in a 24 hour period, and proved that his Foursquare formula truly works for restaurants, and that it’s repeatable. By the end of the day on Friday, 231 people had checked in at AJ Bombers’s “I’m On A Boat!” badge party, and Joe had done more business at lunch in one day than he ever had. In this post, we’ll share some media and stats from the gathering, discuss exactly what it takes to pull off one of these events, and Joe will share some lessons learned and tips for using Foursquare to drive business.

Before we dive into my interview with Joe where he discusses how he did it, here’s some video, media and stats from the event so you can get a flavor of what it was like:

Video From AJ Bombers’ “I’m On A Boat!” Foursquare Badge Party:

Foursquare Check-in and Share Stats to AJ Bombers for 4/16:

Photos From The Event On Flickr

My Interview With Joe Sorge

Q. Joe, back in March you put together what turned out to be a hugely successful event for your restaurant using Foursquare. Over 160 people showed up for that event and earned the Foursquare swarm badge. When we broke the news and documented how you did it on this blog, even though we had pictures and video of the event, some people thought that it was a fluke. But here we are. Your second event’s done, and was even more successful than the first. What would you say now to the people who said it couldn’t be done again?

JS: I hope the skeptics can now see that not only is it possible to use foursquare to drive sales at your business, but that it becomes slightly easier with each event like this that you pull together. As your customers look to you to provide this type of event as a part of their entertainment schedule, even going so far as to share their suggestions with you for the next event.

Q. The first time you pulled off a successful Foursquare event you were running blind with no real blueprint to follow. This time, though, you had one event under your belt and a much better idea of what to do and what to expect. Was there anything you did differently this time? If so, Why?

JS: Actually we were very careful to duplicate the steps exactly as we had during the Swarm badge event. I wanted to be sure that we were going to prove that there could in fact be a systematic way to create this style of promotion.

Q. How did you come up with the idea to base the event around Foursquare’s “I’m on a boat” badge?

JS: On March 22nd an uber Foursquare fan from Tampa, Nate Bonilla-Warford came up with the brilliant idea to declare April 16th Foursquare Day (4 squared = 16. 4/16. Get it?). It started with a blog post, and the idea caught on and spread over the next few weeks – by last week there were small events being organized in cities all over the country to celebrate the day thanks to all the chatter about it on the web. People were getting into it. So I looked at the badges that were available to the average foursquare user to base our own event around and we chose one that was hard to acquire, but also would be fun to acquire with a group of friends. Did we have a boat? No. But with a little creative thinking, we partnered with another local business, got a kayak and went for it anyway.

Q. How exactly does the ‘I’m On A Boat’ badge work? Is this something that you needed Foursquare’s help to implement?

JS: In contacting foursquare about earning the badge, I asked the question about what was required to earn the badge.  My question was, “are there two things needed to acquire the boat badge, a) a boat and b) a boat “tagged” venue page?  They confirmed that was in fact the case, but there was also a third way to earn the badge.  That’s the route we chose, to have our customers check-in in the boat itself and add a “shout” to their check-in: “I’m on a boat @AJBombers”.

Q. You chose Foursquare day to hold the event. How much did people’s enthusiasm for the that affect your success.

JS: It certainly helped to keep awareness high in the days immediately leading up to the event, ironically it was our customers who continued to tweet with us about how excited they were to be celebrating foursquare day by earning a new badge together @AJBombers.  We even had a little fun with adding: Happy @foursquare Day to the front of the “I’m on a Boat” badge shout, which earned this players the additional Four Square Day Badge, a fun bonus for all involved.

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

JS: Again, we followed the exactly same method as the one that we used to promote the Swarm Badge event, just in a shorter overall timeframe.  That is, we chose the badge to acquire, contacted foursquare about the process of acquiring the badge, built the twtvite.com invitation and began to promote it via twitter and facebook during the 1 day leading up to the event.  With the date also being foursquare day, we researched the badge that might be awarded for that day and changed our twitter avatar to that badge for the two days leading up to the event.  The entire process of putting the pieces in place took less than two hours to pull together and we tweeted with approximately 50 users to get the ball rolling in the last 24 hours before the night of the event.

Q. The first event you threw you were promoting publicly on Twitter and Facebook for about a week beforehand, but this time you didn’t announce the event until the night before. It was almost like you were trying to keep the event a secret. Why did you do it differently this time?

JS: I was a little afraid that another business may try to duplicate the idea quickly if I released the idea too soon, so yes I did keep it a bit of a secret. I Only privately DM’ed our customers that I knew would think it was fun and who could keep a secret!

Q. You and I have discussed the importance of getting other local businesses and organizations involved when you’re putting together an event like this. Do you think it’s even possible to pull this kind of event off without recruiting others to help?

JS: I don’t think that you could be anywhere near as successful without employing partners in these events.  Without our neighbor, outdoor outfitter Laacke & Joys, we wouldn’t even have had the boat!

Q. Any final words of wisdom for people wanting to duplicate what you’ve done?

JS: I hope that the fact that we were able to achieve our best sales day so far with such a short duration of well planned promotion via social media tools lends some credibility to the opportunity for measurable ROI that so many of those skeptics of our Swarm Badge event were previously critical.

That’s a wrap. If any of you out there have additional questions for Joe on this, I’m sure he’d be happy to discuss them with you in the comments. Also, if you have your own ideas or case studies you’d like to share, please do. It’s discussion time….


  1. April 19, 2010 at 11:29 am ·

    Steffan, thank you for doing what you do so well and taking our event and it's results and turning it into such a great post. It really goes a long way towards a “how to” for businesses to create events just like these two. Also, none of this happens without help from many others, especially the gang at Foursquare, they've been exceedingly helpful and fun to work with throughout the entire process. Thanks again for your generosity in sharing your ability to create such a great summary, Steffan.

    • April 19, 2010 at 2:23 pm ·

      My pleasure, Joe. Thanks for a great set of back to back interviews. Keep it up!

  2. April 19, 2010 at 3:39 pm ·

    Steffan, I was there (shot the video actually – that's my disclaimer ;) ) – As first hand observer of the event you did a great job capturing what happened with both the media pieces you included and the interview with Joe. Another excellent post! – Jim

    • April 19, 2010 at 5:02 pm ·

      Thanks for the kind words, Jim. The video is excellent. As with the first,
      great job capturing the event and with the editing. PS. I also appreciated
      your “shout” that you captured in the video when you got the I'm On A Boat
      badge. You got a little gangsta. :)

      • April 19, 2010 at 6:54 pm ·

        I can't take credit for the gangsta shout, that's all set-up by Foursquare. I also liked it when I earned the badge. The Foursquare team does know how to have fun.

    • April 21, 2010 at 4:54 am ·

      Jim, thanks for coming through in a pinch! even better editing work on this one that the last, couldn't have done it without your help.

  3. April 20, 2010 at 3:32 am ·

    Excellent followup Foursquare event Joe (Paul-my forever pet name for you) and followup post Steffan! Although I must say that I'm WWWWAAAAYYYY disappointed that you didn't fly up and get yourself a boat badge. It's time you got yourself some AJ Bombers' action in person! Nice job guys!

    • April 20, 2010 at 3:51 am ·

      Thanks, Angie. Yeah…I did think about flying up there. It's about time I
      get me some AJ Bombers burger goodness.

    • April 21, 2010 at 4:52 am ·

      Hi there Angie, thanks for your comments here. Okay, you fly me there for another show and I'll bring more burgers than you could eat in a month, heck, let's cook em up live!!! ha.
      All the best,
      Paul, err, umm, Joe.

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  6. Natebw
    April 20, 2010 at 12:01 pm ·

    Thanks for this profile. I think that Joe what Joe did with the boat is a shining example of how to creatively apply a hot idea in a unique way to promote a your business. It is funny because the whole Foursquare Day idea started as a way to promote my business, but it was just so intuitive that both users and business owners ran with it

    It has been great to get to know dynamic folks like Joe over the last month.

    • April 20, 2010 at 1:35 pm ·

      I totally agree with you. Joe's creativity is what's making him so
      successful with these events (and his business overall). We do have
      you to thank for the setup for Foursquare day though! How did you come
      up with the idea if you don't mind me asking…when did the lightning

    • April 21, 2010 at 4:53 am ·

      Nate, so much of our events exposure was because of your great work on 4sqday, nicely done sir.

  7. April 21, 2010 at 2:25 pm ·

    This is a really cool event and great post, Steffan. And nice find on the picture up top too, so funny.

    I've been following Joe on twitter after the first write up you did about AJ Bombers and Foursquare. I don't think there is a business owner out there that is having more fun than him! He is making me reconsider going against a vow I made back in college to never work in food and beverage again.

    • April 21, 2010 at 3:49 pm ·

      Bring it on Luke, let's have some fun!!! #twitterworks!

    • April 21, 2010 at 5:18 pm ·

      Thanks man. I had to go with the “I'm On A Boat!' Lonely Island reference.
      Had to :)

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