Punxsy Phil teams up with Foursquare for high-tech event

HARRISBURG — Punxsutawney Phil and the state Pennsylvania Tourism Office chose an unusual location to announce the latest technological promotion for Groundhog Day 2011: The state Farm Show & Expo.

Maybe it’s not too unusual, however, because last year, Punxsy Phil and tourism officials announced that his prognostication would be sent to his loyal followers via text message.

There won’t be text messages this year, but followers of the Foursquare mobile platform have an opportunity to earn a special PA Groundhog Day badge if they “shout” their current location Feb. 2.

According to the Department of Tourism, Foursquare is a location-based, mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. By “checking in” via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges — such as the upcoming PA Groundhog Day badge.

Last May, Pennsylvania became the first state to partner with Foursquare by populating the network with more than 200 state tourism attractions, “to lure city folks into more rural parts of Pennsylvania, offering them badges if they visit three different categories three times,” according to Mickey Rawley, deputy director of the state tourism department.

The badges include PA Shooflyer for visiting three different dining establishments; PA Retail Polka for three shopping locations; and PA 4 Score 7 for three historical locations.

“It has worked extremely well, with some businesses in Pennsylvania not knowing they were being promoted,” Rawley said. “We understand a lot of people were going to those places.”

Rawley said there were about 30,000 followers on the visitPA Foursquare system, “so we decided we would work with Punxsutawney in some fashion.”

Rawley, who will be departing his post following the departure of Gov. Ed Rendell, was named by Rendell the president of the Harrisburg chapter of the Groundhog Club, which debuted Feb. 1, 2004, in a live video feed from Harrisburg shown at the Groundhog Banquet.

“The governor kept the promise in 2003 (when he became the first sitting governor since 1909 to visit Groundhog Day), that there would be a Harrisburg chapter,” Rawley said.

Rawley said he’s not sure how the administration of incoming Gov. Tom Corbett will embrace Groundhog Day, but noted, “I have commented that this is the single biggest non-federal, non-sanctioned event in America. Eighty-five percent of calendars have Groundhog Day on them, and we’re letting them know about this very unique and special Pennsylvania event.

“This governor loves it, the state director of tourism loves it, and anyone I bump into, such as my counterparts, are envious that we have this,” he said. “It makes them smile when talking about Pennsylvania.”

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Do you use the Foursquare system? If so, you can earn your own virtual PA Groundhog Day badge for your Twitter, Facebook or other social networking system.

It works like this:

• Take your Foursquare device anywhere in the world — as long it is Feb. 2.

• Follow visitPA on Foursquare — www.foursquare.com/visitPA.

• Check in to “shout” the word “groundhog.”

• Earn your virtual PA Groundhog Day badge.

A shout is Foursquare’s version of a status update or a tweet. You either shout when you check in at a location, or you can create a standalone shout.