the Birddog Blog
Location-based social media is all the rage in 2010, but has its potential for businesses been dashed before they’ve even moved in?
Monday 30th August, 2010
A lot of new media buzz is generated when a new ‘breakout’ company arrives on the scene. Twitter was 2009’s indisputable success story, and for a long time, it looked like Foursquare might check-in at number one for 2010. It’s trendy, fun, and it comes ready made with a simple business model that companies and brands could quickly benefit from.
But its rocketing popularity has been stymied during a period of increasing focus on privacy online.
Foursquare, for those unacquainted, is the feted darling of location-based social media tools. As opposed to being asked ‘What’s happening?’ by Twitter, Foursquare in essence asks its users – around 3 million, up from 500,000 in March this year – the question ‘Where are you?’
To answer, Foursquare users ‘check-in’ to their favourite places, racking up visitor points and unlocking badges when visiting new places and their top locations. The user who checks-in to a location most often becomes its ‘Mayor’ (the service works using GPS-tracking to confirm a person’s whereabouts, so there’s no cheating).
Harmless enough, and given the pervasiveness of smartphones, laptops, netbooks et al, it’s pretty useful. And the epitome of social, too: using your techno gadgets to tell people exactly where to find you in real-time can only encourage and accelerate face-to-face communication.
But there’s a privacy issue. Like Twitter, the chances are most of your Foursquare followers are people you’ve never met, and don’t really know anything about. And yet the service provides complete strangers with your precise location.
The Guardian highlighted this best with this article, “Louise has straight, auburn hair…” http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/jul/23/foursquare but such concerns have been bubbling under since Foursquare launched. Worries vary from the na´ve, where users detail the location of their homes (and then detail when they’re out), to the conspiratorial: fears that governments or security agencies can monitor an individual’s whereabouts through their social network activity.
The truth is, despite its relative success in the US, adoption in the UK has been slow. For the right brand, the benefits are clear enough: using Foursquare to engage with audiences and reward consumer loyalty adds a competitive edge to customers’ interactions with a brand, and incentivises ‘another’ visit to a favourite coffee shop, bar, cinema, park, tourist attraction, etc.
Now, fresh from its own privacy problems earlier this year, Facebook has entered the ‘geosocial’ space with their launch of Facebook Places. While it’s put location-based social networks on the map (sorry), those privacy concerns have suddenly become a mainstream hot topic, thanks to the small matter of its half-a-billion strong user base.
As a result, much of the wider audience will so far only have been exposed to Foursquare and the ‘geosocial’ buzz through its negative publicity.
Social media in 2010 is undoubtedly all about location, but its full impact may have already been damaged, at least short-term, by concerns over privacy. And until these are fully understood, brands thinking about location-based social networking might be served best by waiting to see whether ‘geosocial’ literally does go global.