geotagging: the next big thing? part ii: foursquare’s gorilla marketing.

With the largest user base, Foursquare is the 800-pound gorilla of geotagging, or location-based social media options that allow you to interact with spaces and other users. But be cautioned that it is a competitive, clumsy and gregarious gorilla.

Chances are, among your friends, more of them are on Foursquare than Gowalla, Yelp or other geotagging service — an advantage in itself. Theoretically that means that establishments will have more tips (microreviews) — which means a better picture of whether its food, service and/or amenities are good and bad — but the sheer socializing aspect holds great appeal. “I’m hopeful for the day when a friend checks in and I really am right by where they are and I can go over there,” says Michael Climek, an MBA and marketing grad student at Baruch College. “That hasn’t happened yet, but I can dream.”

“Foursquare is best for one’s regular haunts, with more incentives for repeat visits,” explains Jon Boyd, online media manager for admissions at North Park University. “Social media has been fun and productive for me, but until these platforms, I was often frustrated by the unfulfilled desire to make the social connections SPATIAL as well.”

Some users like the gaming nature of Foursquare, where users can become mayor of a property, collect badges and score points. You become mayor as a most-frequent visitor within a time frame. Since the Foursquare interface is clunky, anyone who can figure out how to do anything deserves something. “It’s fun to check into a place to check to see if you’ve become the mayor … or find that someone else has beaten you to it,” says Jason Smith, “Morning Edition” host of Oswego NPR affiliate WRVO. “It isn’t clear what the points are for. I’ve earned 15 points this week so far. Foursquare doesn’t tell you what the points mean.”

But, as users push their mayorships and new badges to friends via social media, one could argue this noise drowns out the more important feature of showcasing and providing reviews for businesses and attractions. As Lori Packer, Web editor at the University of Rochester says, “I like reading other people’s ‘Tips and To Dos’ for various venues … But the whole ‘unlocked the Adventurer badge’ nonsense just feels like Farmville-esque social gaming spam to me.” Personally, when I see a tweet declaring “I just became the Mayor of the Duluth Wal-Mart” (or whatever) — the hi-tech equivalent of the 4-year-old who screams “look at meeeeeee!” — it’s hard not to feel a mix of annoyance and pity.

Georgy Cohen, managing editor of Web communications for Tufts University, rebuts that “the Foursquare backlash about it clogging up Twitter streams” is misplaced, as “it’s not Foursquare’s fault; it’s people’s fault for pushing all of their updates to Twitter.” As with Gowalla and Yelp, Foursquare users regulate some information they push to Twitter and Facebook, so “I feel Foursquare gets a lot of crap for what is really an (arguably poor) decision by the user,” Cohen says.

But the biggest real drawback to Foursquare is usability-based: As a geotagging service, its GPS locating ability is unreliable, and spots often are created instead via street address. Nearby location lists tend to be erratic and incomplete. The complicated creation system is especially a drawback for use on some college campuses, as my building has no street address; if my office were a place of interest, the closest I could place it would be the college’s main entrance.

The business and marketing potential of Foursquare remains muddy — current challenges to GPS-based location being a real drawback for many campuses — but users saw potential. As the services continue to grow and evolve, Boyd likes the opportunity to connect users geographically and perhaps develop tours on his urban campus. Climek notes NYC’s Cavatappo Wine Bar gives a free drink to whomever is mayor of it at the time. Cohen thinks it could be great for treasure-hunt style fundraisers, with potential to expand it “as Harvard has done, to encourage students to explore off-campus locations.”

Whatever its faults or flaws, Foursquare remains that 800-pound gorilla … and if you’re a marketer, you ignore it — and geotagging in general — at your own peril.

Stay tuned for Part III, Gowalla: A Kinder, Gentler Geotagging Service

16 Comments

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16 responses to “geotagging: the next big thing? part ii: foursquare’s gorilla marketing.

  1. Georgy

    Actually, with the mayor announcements, Lori’s right — Foursquare pushes those to Twitter (or any other platform you have set up) automatically, and I’ve found no way of deactivating them. What you can opt out of pushing to Twitter, etc. are normal check-ins. I’ve had it happen where I’ve checked-in somewhere and unchecked “Post to Twitter,” but if I happen to become mayor of a location with that check-in, that gets pushed to Twitter anyway.

    In addition, I second the Tips and To-Dos as very useful in Foursquare.

    Great post, Tim! Can’t wait to see the comparisons to the other services as the series continues.

  2. Georgy — hmm, that’s interesting. I’ve purposely turned off the Twitter and Facebook announcements for unlocking badges and becoming mayor. It’s under the settings in the Foursquare app for the Palm WebOS and on the website. I agree with your point that it’s the user’s behavior not the tool itself that can become annoying. I haven’t become mayor of anything yet though, so I wonder if it will ignore my preferences and post to Twitter anyway.

    Thanks, Tim. Looking forward to the installment on Gowalla, since that seems to be where the big battle is at the moment.

  3. Georgiana Cohen

    Hmm. Let me go double-check re: mayor announcements. Maybe I missed something!

  4. I think these geotagging services should default to not pushing updates to Twitter. When I log into my Twitter account, I expect to find relevant links to articles I find interesting, and funny/thoughtful/useful updates from the people I like to follow. When it’s all, “I’m the Mayor of the Jantzen Beach Target!” or “I just checked in at the Starbucks on Main Street,” Twitter loses it’s relevance for me. And what’s frustrating is that there’s nothing I can do to hide those specific updates (as I can for Farmville, THANK GOD), unless I unfollow the person posting them, but I usually don’t want to do that because most of the time I find their updates interesting.

    Also, at the risk of sounding like an out-of-touch technophobe, the whole security issue with geotagging.

  5. Isn’t it indicative of the freshness of the platforms (and maybe exciting, too) that we need to have discussions like this one in the comments about “how do you do X, Y, or Z”?🙂

    But LoriPA is right, that you can use website settings to change your personal default for tweets. But the fact that you can’t do that via the iPhone app is indeed a significant drawback of Foursquare. (I’m trying to double-check the mayorship options online, but Foursquare seems to be down right now.🙂

    Tim, I agree with you about the challenge of placing venues that lack a street address — but here’s a good solution, for those willing to do the extra work: you can move the “pin” in the embedded Google Map for a venue you created (or have rights to edit, if you’re a superuser). I’ve done that with a number of spots on the North Park University campus, to get them closer to their real location, despite a general (or no) street address.

    Thanks for hosting this conversation! Looking forward to the rest of it.

  6. insidetimshead

    GEORGY and LORI: I had the opportunity to become the mayor of my own office, but experienced a #foursquarefail so I couldn’t test the theory. Other than it not, you know, working, the upgrade does seem like an improvement.

    LAURA: Did you catch Part I where I touched on the privacy issue and even quoted someone you may know? And that clutter/clatter is what first turned me off geotagging, but I see the services — used correctly — do have potential.

    JON: We have a large and rural campus, so it’s a bit more of a challenge. Gowalla having the Google Satellite option to see the physical buildings (to be discussed in the next episode) makes it easier to move the pin. And I see Gowalla’s brand new update is trying to add social gaming. Not only is it so new that we can have discussions wondering about features, but some features changed since I started the series!

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  11. Since you didn’t mention it, I have to assume the ability to move the marker’s location didn’t exist when you posted this. It helps, but sidesteps the actual problem you describe.

    And don’t even get me started on how well it works with SMS!

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