Social Media Strategy Lifecycles: Why Social Media Brands Need More Depth

Posted: March 31, 2010 in apps, best practices, community-at-large, inbound marketing, new media, social media, social networking, socialnomics, technology
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The FourSquare "Game"

The FourSquare "Game": This year's model in barhaopping, and not much else?


[tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”] 

There is a great piece (great as in hilarious) that vents on FourSquare making the rounds today. The argument is not a new one, but ages well over time. It runs along the lines of “we’re sick of seeing your pointless FourSquare updates” and extols the virtues of real-life connections over virtual ones. In part, I think this is dead-on, and in another sense I think the ennui of virtual connections has mostly to do with their inherent shallowness of purpose to begin with. A lot of the shallow/surface short-term limits of social media tools like FourSquare are about context and can easily be overcome with some longterm branding vision.      

Say you’re a location-hopping fool and just too social to know what to do with yourself. FourSquare’s “check-in” game makes sense if you are checking in for the sake of connecting with just the people you know well. It becomes a surreal, futuristic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie when all the personal elements of one’s day are turned into a voyeuristic game for anonymous onlookers to engage in from a window. Afterall, do you really want everyone to know what you’re doing 24-7? Are there really no negative repercussions to checking in everywhere you go? In fact, we all know there are. FourSquare may be banking a little too much on the “game” lifecycle of its own service.      With social media comes more opportunities to socialize and make new connections. Networking for business benefits from social media and so do tribes with common interests. When it comes to forward-looking insights on how social media does and doesn’t make sense, FourSquare looks a little like another 5-year company to me (being generous here), unless they can seriously come up with new ways to market their service to young professionals and entrepreneurs and innovative company management.      

For instance, checking in makes sense to your boss if you’re on company time and he’d like his team to spread out, get things done and stay plugged-in with each other. Same holds for family and friends. As a gamy fad, however, it’s not a business proposition so much as a bet on how long a fad can be stretched before it implodes and fades away under the fierce cacophony of public derision that once also embraced MySpace as an open-ended social media tool.      

Social media tools with investment behind them need to have better longterm strategies than they currently do, or else there is going to be a bubble for them, too, and then the investment just won’t be there anymore for the true innovators of the future. We need more niche content partners and fewer monolithic vertical companies trying to do everything and absorb it all into a over-extended brand (Take Google’s gradual digestion of the Twitter and YouTube brands and their continual “user interface improvements” which will probably hurt the brand in the short-term, not help). We all get hurt by poor strategy and over-extension in the end, not just the companies, but the audience who could truly benefit from the tools, but ultimately won’t due to poor brand management and short-term gimmicks like games that age and start to annoy and lose relevance in the eyes of advertisers. Have we forgotton how to “focus” on the brand? Where is focus in the age of social media marketing? Is the lifecyle of a brand automatically reduced to 1.5 years peak and then resigned to being dumped into the cyberspace wasteland? Why are so few companies seriously thinking about the longterm viability of the brands they’ve creating and asking others to invest in (both capital-wise and attention-wise)? [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

  1. Michele says:

    I have to admit, I love Foursquare, but in the sense that it allows me something to focus on while I’m sitting in the doctor’s office, or traffic, etc…and by “focus” I mean rest my eyes on for approximately 44 seconds on my little Blackberry screen. Okay, I see where you are, I see your “shout” to people I don’t know…now what? The problem I see with Foursquare besides the obvious ones you’ve mentioned, Mark, is the gaping hole it leaves for subterfuge. Do we know (better yet, do we care?) if so-and-so is actually AT Starbucks and not really at the strip club down the street? Deceptiveness for the sake of a free latte? Or something more? It’s an incredibly shallow tool whose days are numbered unless the company can give us something more. Something useful. Some more meaningful ways to implement it.

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Good point, Michele. Subterfuge potential is enormous, as well, within the limited confines of the “game”. Deception against bosses, friends and even spouses is also a real shadow side of the FourSquare “game”.

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  3. Michele says:

    Yes! THAT’S what leaves a slightly bad taste in my mouth about Foursquare….and social media in any form shouldn’t taste bad….right?

  4. Mark Brimm says:

    Well, the annoyance factor for onlookers is high, and the dangers seem kind of high, all that is true, but my main focus is that once the check-in game wears thin, what then? Perhaps there is a way to enhance the game beyond bar-hop bingo or becoming the mayor of Ace Hardware? Give it another dimension that isn’t basically jumping up and down in one’s chair about a new application of a fairly old-hat geo-targeting technology?

  5. I tried this and know some others who do it. I honestly feel like it’s just a way for advertisers to suggest purchases and for users to use up bandwidth. But do people actually meet up with strangers with only a tenuous follower connection via Twitter? The geo-targeting just gives me the creeps, mainly. I use a map to find places I want go, but not to be found on the grid with pinpoint accuracy.

  6. Mark Brimm says:

    Yes, it’s a novel idea to make a game out of living under glass, and businesses are certainly to be commended for making a connection and offering things to those who check in, but for those who will inevitably have 4sq breakdowns and grow tired of it, or never jump on in the first place (anyone over 35?), it’s not excactly forward-looking. At first a onslaught of adopters were tweeting locales every few minutes, now how often do you see these on Twitter tweetstreams? Not much, unless you go on Some people are just getting a feel for what the fuss is about, etc. Marketers may play with it to show onlookers and potential prospects for mobile advertising. But what happens after the game wears off? Guess they’ll either fold or figure it out quickly. I’m saying FourSquare needs more incentives and motivation for non-users and new users to overcome the inevitable stigma of being a “check-in”.

    My suggestion would be to have the app ask the user if they want to set it on auto so that they can check in just by being near a little device the businesses are forced to buy. (Genius?) And then they can choose whther or not to braodcast check-ins and to whom from there. Add in advertising specials that run the network in a compact format. Bam. More dollars and sense.

  7. Mark Brimm says:

    I’d be open to any other fresh ideas on how 4Sq could enhance and improve their service…anyone?

  8. jckh says:

    Great discussion. I don’t use check-ins, even though I go out fairly often.

    Foursquare has focused too much on impressing the media in an attempt to attract investor attention. People who work in media (I learned this the hard way) tend to value how other people perceive them more than stability and career life.

    Do you really want everyone you work with to say, know you’re an alcoholic? In some corporate cultures, it might be acceptable to glorify drinking problems, but for most family people (who control most of the purchasing power) are going to be disinterested in it.

    That’s short-sighted from a business standpoint. You need to do more than just appeal to college kids and young singles, otherwise you’re constantly cycling through your customer base as they age, reducing the value of their data collection.

    I’ve thought for a while that these guys really need to focus on creating value for customers in return for them giving up some privacy and attention. Small businesses need more effective middleware for developing customer loyalty programs. 4SQ could do that, and it has the user base to accomplish it. The question is – do they care that much about generating revenue when they can just suck up investor cash to inflate the value of their shares?

    Pretty disconcerting – I hope that it improves. There’s potential in these kinds of services.

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Excellent context and points, JC. I wonder how it would pan out to do some polling, etc. to find out from users what they wish 4Sq could be doing for them, how to “go the extra mile” in terms of what is already happening. Points systems worked for credit cards and airlines, maybe they could work for 4Sq, too? That would require partner/advertisers (offering the points) and would open up some ground for agencies to include FourSquare in a way that is forward-looking and offers better promise for investors and actual IPO potential down the road.

  9. jckh says:

    Yup. They have to make it simplistic and rewarding for small businesses to use it to track customer behavior. I can’t follow 4SQ spam. If I did, I wouldn’t get any work done. Just relying on ad hoc adoption from businesses isn’t going to function.

    I constantly run into older business people that are completely indifferent to the web beyond practical searches. To reach those guys, you need to provide a clear financial win for them.

  10. As ever, a great post, Mark. I get tired of the fashion changes. Some people seem as if they’re only happy if they’re using something no one else is. We’ve developed a culture where we slosh from one social network to the next and recreate a lot of the same social infrastructure every time.

    At the same time, I’d hate to see a monoculture. That’s why things like OAuth are so great–we can get some ground rules down and experiment from there.

    As for the game question, it’s interesting to me that most of the big networks in Asia (and they are VERY big) involve a gaming component. I see otherwise rational people defending Farmville and Mafia Wars (which, incidentally, I just can’t get). However, it’s obvious these games tap something really deep in the psyche. I suspect they’re here to stay.

    What might happen is that we see the game “strategy” become more sophisticated, and the sharing of information becomes more of courtship as opposed to the shotgun wedding it is right now.

    We are rewiring culture. I just talked with a very thoughtful reporter who is looking at research that’s considering whether there’s a correlation between increased online connectivity and higher levels of perceived isolation. I doubt they’ll find that. In fact, I told him that I think this kind of connection brings us much closer to what we’ve had in the past with small-scale societies. It’s hard to hide much in a small tribal unit. You end up with a lot of information about everyone. The information flows very quickly. And I think it has advantages in encouraging everyone to act well. Of course, today we don’t have the limitations that come with those small groups, so in that sense it’s completely different, but it interests me that the feeling may be similar. If this were the case, we might look at the 4square Tweets as something akin to whistles between hunters stalking something, or the hand gestures SWAT teams use to coordinate themselves–meaningful communication, but not something you’d judge on a content basis. I’m obviously rambling a lot here.

    In any case, you’re absolutely right that what we’re getting is one experiment after another, just to see what the new toys do, and no one is thinking long-term as to how to build lasting relationships. In that sense, it’s still outfits like Disney that really get that equation. Great companies and organization figure out ways to make money while having a vision. Mediocre companies may only figure out the making money part. There is a definite sequence, though–you can have money without vision but not the other way around, which explains a lot of the fervor for implementation.

    Very likely is the chance that seeds have already fallen that will grow into things we can’t even imagine right now. I’m kind of excited about it. Nervous, even. Are we entering a sci-fi future where we tap into a group mind to solve larger problems, or are we stumbling into Idiocracy? Still to be seen.

    Thanks again.

  11. […] days ago, I wrote a piece on how social media brands need more user-perceived and business-perceived depth […]

  12. […] Lady Gaga scores a victory for product placement | Marketing and New Media Ad Age Hispanic Advertising Awards intro video | Hispanic Marketing BlogSocial Media Strategy Lifecycles: Why Social Media Brands Need More Depth « […]

  13. Ian Trowel says:

    I believe you actually, It looks like! Will this be probable that will have your site translated directly into Italian? English is actually my own second language.

  14. Earl Remey says:

    Hi. I read a few of your other posts and wanted to know if you would be interested in exchanging blogroll links?

  15. […] 17, 2010 by Mark Brimm I’ve previously commented that FourSquare hasn’t managed to become enough of a player in the reward…, leaving the ground-breaking application a little on the flat side of a robust loyalty-program […]

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