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Congratulations for checking-in!

Congratulations for checking-in!

Just days ago, I wrote a piece on how social media brands need more user-perceived and business-perceived depth to become truly sustainable. About that day, Ben Parr (whom I read a lot, btw) wrote a piece on Mashable on how FourSquare’s growth is “not slowing down”. Of course, nobody on this blog implied that it was, and nobody else that I saw on trending blog posts that day was suggesting that it was slowing down in terms of growth, only that fewer and fewer of the initial “elite” 4Sq users are tweeting their locations and badge-earning “out loud” like they once did, anymore. And that’s still true. Are these articles propping FourSquare’s relevance a mere coincidence? Well maybe, but knowing how keyword searches on social media platforms work for brand managers and how those brand managers communicate to major medium voices, yeah it’s probably not a conincidence. I’m flattered to think that my little blog got noticed, if only hurriedly skimmed in all liklihood, as part of the analysis of the noise on the horizon of FourSquare’s brand consciousness. Or maybe it’s just due dilligence on the part of these two fine journalists. Like I said, I’m a fan of both. At any rate, let’s get to it… 

The main critiques that myself and one or two others advanced in my last post on FourSquare, was that there is ennui afoot and it has to do with the “game”, the opportunities for abuse and the lack of forward-looking innovation to maintain the excitement. The game is tedious unless you’re the one doing it and you’re out sight-seeing or flitting about town, and even then, the numbers on how many do not elect to check-in or attach a true identity to their check-ins has not been publically disclosed, if it is even being tracked at all. The onlookers don’t care about your badges, so obnoxious tweeting of check-ins via Twitter won’t last much longer. It’s already almost stopped completely!  

And of course, the final critique is on how the limited potential for businesses is not being expanded on nearly enough to help brands justify spending money to enact internal programs that work with 4Sq. Magically, just today an article was posted by the lovely Jennifer Van Grove (again, someone I read and respect a lot on Mashable) with the title How 5 Brands Are Mastering the Game of Foursquare. It illustrates how 5 companies/brands are taking advantage of the badges to help foster knowledge about cities like New York and more notably Chicago. Badge-earning is also being used by Las Vegas venues to better serve cutomers (the ubiquitous freebies” and special attention that FourSquare customers in exchange for patronage and as a preventative against for looming the threat of customer complaints and retaliation via 4Sq). Starbucks with its internal QA program and Lucky Magazine are also fine uses of FourSquare along these lines. The only problem is…we already generally know about these kinds of benefits to businesses and customers for using FourSquare. The sole exception might be the story of Chicago and the promotion of historical tourism. That is innovative and truly embraces the community-at-large within Chicago, not just for one or a handfull of businesses. Success stories aside, there remain a lot of businesses who fid the thought of FourSquare users more troublesome than titilating. Take, for instance, big chain store with lots of traffic and too many understandbale opportunities for failed customer experiences (Wal-mart comes to mind).  

All that aside, there remain some very salient critiques forming about what’s not happening yet on FourSquare: the persistant lack of a universally-adopted FourSquare points system and the lack of a diversity of models (for now, it’s “checking in” and getting special treatment, maybe, or points, if it’s the one or two businesses using FourSquare for an internal promotion campaign). And not everyone shops in person. For instance, I’d just about rather be punched rather hard in the face than go shopping for clothing in person at the mall. I shop online if at all possible to avoid standing aroud for hours on end. I learn my size for each store I shop from, and then I do that unpleasant business in just minutes, rather than via hours and hours of driving, walking, and standing in lines. Unless it’s food, then I go local. I’m not all that unique in my shopping habits, just a better planner and time manager than many who really just want to go outside for a bit. And hey, who doesn’t? Also, I get the going out. I go out, too. Most of us do sometime. But I feel pretty weird about whipping out the cell phone and enduring the “oh, you’re checking in, now, aha…” looks. I’ve got to confess I’ve never done that. Don’t plan on it. If, however, FourSquare can devise a way to beep me in inconspicuously, nobody’s going to object to that and us private types won’t be “living out loud” to our own chagrin.  

Why am I pointing out these weaknesses? Not because I want FourSquare to fail. I don’t. I’m a marketer who wants to be able to promote this form of mobile opportunity with more confidence to clients. I think there is lots of opportunity for expanding the model to be more inclusive of things people actually want to do with a geo-targeted mobile app. The point is that…it’s just not happening yet. One, five or even 10 companies doing a rewards program isn’t going to revolutionize how people shop. It will take a universal rewards program with some real clout to get everyone on board. And until there are additional options beyond just “check-in”, it’s got a ways to go before my mother is going to use FourSquare. And if my mother doesn’t use it, let’s face it, the majority of shoppers are not being effectively roped in, not even in theory. [tweetmeme source=”MarkBrimm”]

  1. Michele says:

    Well, well, well….lol…kudos Mark! Let’s hope that your prior blog post and the ensuing comments work as they were intended: as constructive criticism of a social media application that has great potential with a little more fine-tuning as a result of users like us.

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Thanks, Michele. I think there has already been more notice of this blog as of the past two posts because it toches at the heart of real marketing concerns for a “rising giant” (in terms of user numbers) that simply doesn’t have a serious plan enacted across the board as yet.

  2. jckh says:

    It’s kind of odd to me that 4SQ is so slow in developing these models. They have backing. They have staff.

    Ultimately, the users are easy to attract. That’s an unimpressive metric. The real customers are local businesses. For some reason, 4SQ has largely ignored them in their initial push.

    • Mark Brimm says:

      Agreed. I think there needs to be more advertiser-centric focus, (even if it’s not your traditional advertising). The MySpace feel is overkill as it is. Badges should always be points towards something free, otherwise you risk the inevitable backlash.

  3. I would just add that there may be any number of developers out there just dying to contribute meaningful value-adding componenets to FourSquare to make it a more viable and open-ended tool for local. Might just take an open-minded attitude at 4Sq to get some of that rolling out more fluidly?

  4. […] FourSquare's Media Ambassadors Fire Back? « MarkBrimm.com […]

  5. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by MarkBrimm: FourSquare’s Media Ambassadors Fire Back?: http://wp.me/pJ9Ex-5g

  6. Watch out for Google Latitude!

  7. PS I’m with you on the check-in ceremony. Most of the people I know are mature professionals, and doing this would put you on a bad footing in a business meeting (and they’ve told me that’s part of the reason they’re not doing it). “Hi. Nice to meet you. Do you mind if I check into Foursquare and Gowalla before we talk? My GPS will just take a couple of minutes. Oh, the venue’s not here yet. Will only take me a second to enter it. Oh, you don’t do this? Yeah, it’s silly. Heh heh.” #nodeal

    • Mark Brimm says:

      True, adults use tools for a foreseeable reward (even if the reward is for charity). Playing games for badges and an infrequent freebie (from some of the more clued-in retailers) can’t hold the attention of existing users for very long. There should be a universal points system that companies pay to play with, as a justifiable social marketing channel. FourSquare should be on top of this already? Just sayin.

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