by Ken Hunt
If you’ve been using social networks for the past few years, you’ve seen how the buzz has shifted from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter and back to Facebook. These seemingly organic shifts between virtual worlds have probably left you wondering what might be next on the horizon. Well, many experts in the digital and social arenas have been keeping a close eye on Foursquare.
What is Foursquare you ask? In short, it is a location-based social networking game designed for mobile users to compete with their friends socially in the real world. The Foursquare mobile application uses your phone’s GPS function to locate your whereabouts when you “check-in” through the app at different locations. When users check-in at their favorite restaurant or nightclub for example, their friends are notified and the user can earn points or unlock badges depending on when, where and how often they check in. When a user checks in to a specific location more than any other user, they are known as the Mayor of that location.
How could this change the face of social media marketing? Foursquare offers the unique opportunity for brands to track and reward visitors offline who frequent their real world venues. It’s like a customer using a frequent diner card at any location and letting all of their friends know that they were there. Advertisers now have the ability to attract their most loyal customers with incentives, knowing that their dedication to the brand will be published for all their friends to see.
Starbucks is one of the largest and most recent brands to partner with Foursquare. Back in March the coffee giant began experimenting with Foursquare as a customer loyalty tool. After a visitor has checked in 5 times at any Starbucks location, they can now unlock the “Barista Badge”. Social Media Blog Mashable.com writes, “With Starbucks on board, there’s no question that Foursquare has all the tools necessary to appeal to — and reach — a mainstream audience.” Advertisers like Starbucks have been dreaming of location-based advertising on mobile phones and it seems as though Foursquare is now providing such a platform.
Some might wonder how an application that tracks their whereabouts could ever become popular. It sounds too much like an invasion of privacy, right? It also sounds like you actually have to leave your home to participate (might be more difficult for the workaholics and family folks). In addition, you have to remember to check-in if you want to earn points or badges. That’s a legitimate concern for the growth potential of Foursquare but consider this; before MySpace, no one considered posting pictures of themselves online for everyone to see; and before Facebook no one considered posting their inner feelings in a status update; and before Twitter no one considered tweeting their every move throughout their vacation. Social networks have changed the way we interact and what we consider private; especially for teens and twenty-somethings. Privacy is no longer something to maintain, but something that you must reveal when you’re a celebrity, at least among your 300 closest friends.
At this point, Foursquare seems poised for huge success. As long as major brands keep joining the bandwagon, Foursquare can sit back and let them do the advertising as they see their user base skyrocket. This has grabbed the attention of some major digital players such as Yahoo, who are reportedly attempting to buy the social platform for more than $80 million. Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com suggests that Foursquare would be making a huge mistake to sell at this point. He notes how Yahoo is where “startups go to die” and that founders often “leave in disgust.” At the same time, Facebook and Twitter are poised to make their way into location-based networking which should have Foursquare worried. It looks like founder Dennis Crowley will have some very difficult decisions to make in the near future. We’ll be keeping our eye on Foursquare and look forward to discussing their progress.
Read the 2010 social media report: