SCVNGR vs. Foursquare challenge

This semester, my Public Relations Writing and Applications students are completing a service-learning project designed to improve Morgantown small-business revenues by incorporating SCVNGR, a geolocation-based mobile application, into their promotions.

SCNVGR, two-screen shot of retail store challenge.

I envisioned that the task would be an easy one. After all, none of the small-business owners have to pay for the mobile challenges, treks, or rewards offered through SCVNGR, nor do they have to design them. The PR students do all the work for them. Then, after the promotions are up and running the PR students write news releases, feature stories, pitch letters, etc. to get each small-business free publicity. I thought the hardest part would be pinning down small-business owners for meetings. I was wrong.

It seems that Morgantown small-business owners are not very familiar with SCVNGR — or it’s competition, Foursquare. This was surprising as a large part of Morgantown revolves around West Virginia University and college students are HUGE users of mobile phones as well as gaming applications. This meant that the hardest part of this task was that students had to explain (often multiple times and in the minutest detail) what location based applications and gamification were.

Sometimes the small-business owner had heard of, or were at least a bit familiar with, SCVNGR‘s competition, Foursquare (which didn’t always work to our advantage).

Foursquare, two-screen shot of check-in and "tip" posting.

So, I decided to ask my Advertising Media Analysis students to take a few weeks to compare the two different geolocation-based mobile applications to see what they thought. My end-goal was to help find ways for the PR students to “sell” SCVNGR services to small-business owners.

Here are the highlights of their findings:


  • “After I started getting the hang of this application it was easy to see how so many people are addicted to “check in” everywhere they go.”
  • “I really enjoyed that if I checked in enough I would earn new badges.”
  • “I like Foursquare because it seems more venues use it.”
  • “With Foursquare you can easily check in at different locations and earn free stuff.”
  • “I’m more prone to visiting a restaurant where I know I can get a discount rather than a restaurant where I buy something at full price. By earning discounts on Foursquare in a college town like Morgantown you have a good chance of increasing sales to WVU student looking to get a dollar or two off their receipt.”
  • “This application seemed like a friend who could give me advice on where to go.”


  • “SCVNGR is easier to understand because its main page has all the different ways to check in.”
  • “SCVNGR seems to be focused more on businesses and Foursquare seems to be focused on finding new places and doing new things.”
  • “With SCVNGR I had to check in at a place and do a challenge to receive some kind of reward. Generally the rewards from SCVNGR were more tangible, a coupon or a discount, while most of my rewards from Foursquare were just badges.”
  • “I think that SCVNGR has a better application for advertising and promotion… SCVNGR is an advertiser’s dream because it requires people to buy products or at least come into contact with them in order to get what they want.”
  • “SCVNGR offers a better variety of activities at each check in location.”
  • “SCVNGR creates a more interactive environment.”
  • “The rewards aspect of SCVNGR is more appealing to the advertising/promotions side in comparison  to the pure competitive nature of earning points on Foursquare.”
  • “If you are looking to create a buzz to a level where it will actually generate new business then I would highly recommend that you check out SCVNGR.”
  • “SCVNGR has a call to action that Foursquare is missing.”
  • “I like that the application tries to further involve the user past a simple check in.”

Overall, both advertising and public relations students thought that geolocation-based mobile applications were a great new media to utilize.

  • “I think geolocation-based mobile applications are a really great idea to get people interacting in places that they may not usually visit.”
  • “I think geolocation-based mobile applications are fun and useful once you figure out how to use it effectively.”
  • “Overall I think these geolocation-based mobile applications are a great idea just because it causes others to interact with one another with comments about what they think is good and not.”

All of these findings were quite useful… and inevitably have become part of many of the PR groups’ pitches to potential clients. This project is ending soon. Follow it on Facebook and Twitter (pr_324).


SCVNGR’s influence on sales and brand perception

Throughout the fall 2011 semester my public relations writing and applications students are actively working to bring SCVNGR, the geolocation-based mobile application, to Morgantown, W. Va.

The first question many people as me is, “Why?” Quickly followed by “What will local businesses get from this?”

A recent study by Ogilvy & Mather and Chatthreads contains some insight into the possibilities of this project. Though their study deals with social media (and not mobile gaming) I believe some of their findings transfer.

First, they suggest that social media directly correlates with sales increases. Recent blogs suggest that gamification (via websites and mobile applications) does the same. Consumers get to interact with, engage with and be entertained by your brand. Does engagement lead to sales? An overwhelming majority say yes. Especially with a mobile gaming application like SCVNGR where promotions are designed to get consumers to interact with your brand in the best possible ways — thereby highlighting your brand attributes.

Second, the study suggests that your media should be integrated. For this project students are creating blogs, posting to Twitter, messaging via Facebook (social media) as well as creating news releases, feature releases, social media releases, short teasers, media advisories, and pitch letters for traditional media outlets. Everything is integrated — each piece telling different parts of the whole story. Findigns from Ogilvy & Mather indicate that by combining social media and public relations consumer spending could increase as much as 17 percent.

Third, Ogilvy & Mather’s study suggests that social media directly influences spending and consumption. SCVNGR users can immediately post photos, tips, and comments about brands directly to social media sites Twitter and Facebook — ways that can help influence other consumers in their networks. The 0-1-2 effect shows that the more people we observe doing something the more likely we are to do it. Visibly posting SCVNGR “challenges” to social media will result in this.

Fourth, and not surprisingly, the authors suggest that social media have the ability to rapidly change brand perceptions. Advertising “build-up” is long, taking forever to change brand perceptions. Seriously, don’t we still feel poorly about BP regardless of how many ads (see below) they show? Public relations works a bit faster. We feel better when we seen companies acting professionally and giving back to the community — even if they have done something “bad” (e.g., Phillip Morris donating computers to underprivaleged children).

Fifth, the study indicates that consumer exposure to brands via social media (24%) is much lower than that of television (69%). What this means is less clutter. So, when you look at your SCVNGR application and only see a few companies listed, it means your business is highlighted as one that is forward-thinking enough to include gaming in your marketing strategy. It means you don’t have a bunch of competitors taking away your customers. It also means that when customers use SCVNGR to earn rewards, they will come to your business!

On a different note, I would like to point out that through this service learning project the public relations writing and application students are getting some hands-on, highly relevant experience with:

  • developing mobile promotions,
  • meeting with clients,
  • pitching ideas to clients,
  • creating sales, marketing, and other “pitch” materials,
  • writing for social media,
  • getting media attention for this unique project, and
  • increasing student awareness through events, flyers, etc.
The work they do in this class will result in some very impressive portfolio pieces and will definitely set them apart from their peers.

Gamification and Social Media in the Classroom: SCVNGR and International Town & Gown in the PR Writing and Applications Course

Gamification and Social Media in the Classroom: SCVNGR and International Town & Gown in the PR Writing and Applications Course.

Chopped Off My Hair Because I Was Scared to Leave Campus

In the early nineties I left Avoca, a very small town of approximately 500 people (though I think they were counting cats and dogs as it never seemed that populous) nestled along the Wisconsin River, to go to college 580 miles away in Jamestown, ND. I had always considered myself to be a fairly brave person, but when I got to college I soon found that I didn’t have to leave campus for very many things — and that was just fine with me. I felt safe on the Jamestown College campus, with its population of approximately 2,500 students it was already bigger than what I was used to at home, and leaving the campus was a bit scary for me.

Before I left for college I visited our town’s beauty shop (which coincidently was just down the road from my house) and got my hair permed, cut, and colored. I didn’t consider how I would get my hair done when I got to college — perhaps I thought my hair could wait until I came home for Christmas break?

I wasn’t very nice to my hair my first semester, however, as I was on the Jamestown Track & Field team and was constantly running (putting my curl into a ponytail thereby pulling them out), and doing water workouts in the pool. Needless to say, my perm soon began to come out and I had a ton of split ends.

Determined NOT to leave campus I enlisted the help of one of the football players, who was well-known on campus for cutting members’ of the football teams hair. I don’t know what I was thinking — naively that if he could cut boys hair he could cut girls hair as well????

The football player began cutting, and cutting, and cutting. Unable to look at see what he was doing until it reached this stage (see photo below) I finally had to agree to let him cut off all my hair. After all, this chin length bob simply wasn’t a good look for me.

I ended up with a hair cut that looked a lot like a mushroom on top of my head. NOT a hairstyle I would have ever chosen for myself, but now one I would have to live with simply because I was scared to venture off campus and find a hairstylist in an unfamiliar town.

This semester at the P.I. Reed School of Journalism students in the Public Relations Writing & Applications (PR 324) course are trying to save students new to the West Virginia University campus, located in lovely Morgantown, WV from a similar fate. Their task is to encourage WVU students to leave campus and explore local businesses via a location-based gaming application called SCVNGR. This is being done via a partnership with the International Town & Gown Association whose goal it is to bring colleges and communities closer together.

Throughout the coming weeks these PR students will put together marketing plans and sales materials and make presentations to approximately 50 Morgantown businesses. The goal? To provide SCVNGR services to local businesses — including helping them build Challenges, Rewards, and Treks — all the while encouraging other college students to engage with, become loyal to, and “buzz” about Morgantown businesses via the SCVNGR game (and its social media partners Facebook and Twitter).

Needless to say, my students are VERY excited about this project and will be blogging, creating news releases, features, media kits, pitches, social media releases, and other forms of promotional materials as the project evolves and they get to know their “clients” better (and be able to help tell their stories). Throughout this course they will have the opportunity to work on their writing, selling, presenting, client relations, media relations, planning, and promotion skills — all the while connecting to local businesses and helping those businesses build engagement with their customers via SCVNGR.

Join us in this amazing journey. I’ll be blogging about the process as will they. Wish us luck!

Freshman Year

Football player cutting my hair freshman year.

My "mushroom" hairdo.