Checking Out Checking In

22 06 2011

With over 700 million users now calling Facebook home, there is no question that social media have captured our collective attention. We have embraced it without question, posting our every turn and shutter click. It’s hard to argue with the success of something that, for many people, has literally become the first and last things they do every day.

Not to mention a few dozen times in between.

But while we have fallen head over heels for the social aspect, there are other equally social applications available that just aren’t yet taking off. Specifically, it is location-based services (e.g., FourSquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places) that are simply plodding along with but a small fraction of the overall FB fanbase playing. The few that do play are almost obsessive about it, but the majority of Facebook (and Twitter) users have opted out.

LBSs are all about leveraging the social graph to announce where you are. It can only be done with a smartphone, and because it is all based on GPS, users must at least be within shouting range of the place at which they wish to announce their presence. Linking your account to FB and/or Twitter allows you to share this-just-in information with all of your friends and followers.

And why would you want to check in? To tell your world what amazing taste you have, how infinitely cool you are, and, no doubt, to brag a little. Oh yeah, one more thing: To receive promotional offers from participating merchants.

Of the three providers, Foursquare appears to be hitting something that might be called a stride with 10 million users. Austin-based Gowalla has 1.5 million users, while Facebook is mum about how many of its 700 million actually check in.

So what’s the problem?

Simple. A lot of bad press, which resulted in negative perceptions. Early on a third-party site embedded both FourSquare’s and Gowalla’s timeline onto their homepage, allowing anyone and everyone to see who was at home…and who was not. Burglars, take note. Easy pickings.

There is also huge age and gender difference, with males comprising 78% of users (with females possibly fearing being stalked…or worse), and the 18-29 demographic accounting for 44% (and older folks probably just not getting it in the first place. Young. Male. Fearless.

“Here, take the wheel while I check in from I-40.”

The marketer in me, though, loves LBSs (also known popularly as geo-locos). I see a huge opportunity for stores to reward customers with discounts and special promotions simply for checking in (like some of the frozen yogurt places in Amarillo are doing). Furthermore, check-ins give retailers (and other establishments) a wealth of metrics about customers…the kind of thing that can be used for more effective marketing in the future.

But another part of me simply likes doing it. I use Gowalla, and it has become a repository of my busy and far-flung life’s activities. I occasionally scan my “passport” to see where all I have been, and to reminisce about the good times.

And perhaps there is a bit of bragging right that enters the equation as well. FourSquare honors the person with the most check-ins at a site by calling them Mayor. And while Gowalla does not offer any honorary political offices, it does maintain a leaderboard for every site. Please let the record note that I have checked in at Amarillo’s Red Robin over 25 times.

So there.

But getting more people to play has been difficult, including not just end-users, but also companies. While there is great potential for companies to glean data and reward frequent customers, it has become a chicken-and-egg proposition. I am beginning to wonder if both sides are waiting for the other to act.

In the mean time, FourSquare is no doubt considering an IPO (who isn’t these days?), and Gowalla is trying to set itself a little bit apart by focusing on brand marketing rather than promos and deals. As for Facebook, they certainly have the wherewithal (not to mention the home field advantage) to send both back to the minor leagues, but thus far has not.

And with regard to the bad press, if a person is careful with whom he makes friends on all of these social media sites, there is probably little to fear. Set your privacy controls to the tightest possible, and only your select inner circle will know all the cool places you visit.

Which has me thinking about dinner. But you’ll have to wait for my check-in to know where I land tonight.

Dr “I’m Thinking Tex-Mex” Gerlich



2 responses

22 06 2011
Amy Harman

I did four square for awhile and didn’t really like it – now I’m Yelping but not posting all my check in’s to facebook. Yelp is fun to post your reviews and see the really bad reviews before you decide to check out that new restaurant.

24 06 2011

Yelp has been around a while, but is a recent arrival in LBS. I think it’s fun to read the reviews. Another similar site I use is Foodspotting, but I do not post any of those to my FB. Foodspotting allows you to snap a pic of your meal and then upload it with location, info and review. Very cool!

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