In a recent blog post, Chris Brogan explained why he’s not a fan of location-based social applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla. From a business perspective, these services don’t add any apparent value for Chris, and might even cause problems, such as unintentionally revealing the identity of a client or inadvertently snubbing someone who might want to meet up if they knew he was in town. Personally, Chris doesn’t much care to be the “mayor” of his local haunts, preferring instead to reap the more traditional perks associated with frequent patronage. While Chris’ post hardly qualifies as a “rant”, he’s an incredibly influential guy, and this rather succinct post has already garnered 98 comments, a good portion of which laud him for pointing out the Emperor’s lack of clothing. Unfortunately, and with all due respect, Chris is just wrong about location-based services (LBS).
You’re not Chris Brogan
Let’s assume for a second that Chris is right about the potential professional pitfalls of LBS. His concerns apply to only a very narrow subset of LBS users: those folks who need to keep the reasons for their business travels secret, and are popular enough to have to worry about unsolicited invitations from their hundreds of thousands of followers. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that neither of these apply to the vast majority of potential LBS users. Even for folks like Chris, these aren’t exactly compelling arguments against LBS. Don’t want folks to know you’re in town, whether to conceal a client’s identity or insulate yourself from unwanted contact? Don’t check in. Holy crap, that was easy. It’s not like they implant a GPS chip in your brain that automatically broadcasts your exact whereabouts when you sign up for Foursquare. Selective use of the technology pretty much solves all Chris’ professional concerns.
From the comments on Chris’ posts, it also seems that there is a general misconception about how information on these services is conveyed. Sure, you can post your check-ins to Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, but it’s certainly not required. With Foursquare, for example, only your Foursquare friends will be able to see your check-ins and history unless you intentionally push that information to a third-party platform. You can even check-in “off-the-grid” to hide your whereabouts from everyone but still earn badges, see nearby specials, and otherwise take advantage of the service. If you’re selective about who you choose to “friend” on Foursquare, and how and when you send check-in information to other social sites, you can reap the rewards of LBS without sacrificing your privacy.
We don’t need no stinkin’ badges
It’s funny – in a sad-funny sort of way – that so much of the conversation revolves around badges, mayorships, check-in points, and other social gaming aspects of location-based services. To me, these are utterly beside the point, and certainly no reason to avoid using these services. Not to dismiss the value of these social gaming elements entirely, at least to a subset of potential LBS users, but that’s not why I use Foursquare. Here’s how I put it in my comment on Chris’ post:
I’m sitting at the bar, enjoying a happy hour cocktail, and decide to “check in” via Foursquare (or Gowalla, BrightKite, or any other LBS). A notification appears, informing me that the restaurant next door is offering free appetizers to Foursquare users. I’ve never tried the place, but a quick perusal of reviews that accompany the business listing on Foursquare makes me think it’s a place I’ll like. When I check in at the restaurant, three more notifications appear, one of which is for matinee-priced admission to the next showing of Inception at the theater across the street. A check in at the theater pulls up another half dozen notifications, including a free cocktail at my favorite bar around the corner. And all of this happens without me notifying a single person of my whereabouts, thanks to privacy controls on the LBS platform (sharing locations with other users or the general public isn’t mandatory). What’s not to love?
The benefits I receive from location-based services – discovering new places, receiving special offers, serendipitously meeting up with friends while out on the town – have nothing to do with social gaming. These are practical benefits that improve my offline experiences, from dining and entertainment to shopping, and enhance my appreciation of any local environment. As more users jump on board, and venue and review data becomes more robust, discovery will become even easier. As these services mature and brick-and-mortar businesses become more sophisticated in their use of the technology, the tangible rewards of LBS participation will extend beyond mayors and loyal patrons to include incentives for first-time customers (sorry, Starbucks, but I can’t compete with Johnny the barista in terms of frequency of check-ins, and I HATE Frappucinos, but 30+ check-ins at a half-dozen locations in two months ought to count for something). Even at this early stage of the LBS phenomenon, I’m already “winning,” and that has not a damn thing to do with badges.
Professionally speaking, I have a hard time wrapping my head around Chris’ arguments against LBS. If he’s truly concerned about folks discovering the identity of a client, he might want to remove the Clients link from the New Marketing Labs website. If it’s about maintaining stealth-mode while courting new business – or keeping an existing relationship secret – the concern seems kind of absurd unless he’s talking about traveling to a one-business town. And if it’s the unintentional snub he’s hoping to avoid, doesn’t that same risk occur ever time he shows up for one of his well-publicized out-of-town speaking engagements? If there’s a professional-life argument against LBS in here, I’m not seeing it. On the other hand, I can envision ways LBS participation could be good for business. As a consultant whose business is not quite at the beating-clients-off-with-a-stick stage just yet, I have no problem advertising my arrival in a new city, or letting potential clients know I’m having a coffee down the street from their office. I might not have time to meet, but I sure as hell have time to shake a hand or take a call and make future plans. Seriously, there’s a downside here?
You got your online chocolate in my offline peanut butter! Mmmmmmm!
Setting aside the question of whether you as an individual should jump on board the geolocation bandwagon, there is the more important issue of what the services mean for your business. Put as plainly as possible, location-based services are a mobile marketing dream come true. Imagine being able to reach your target consumers when they’re not just in-market, but right around the corner. For brick-and-mortar businesses, LBS are ideal channels for attracting new customers, rewarding loyal patronage, creating awareness about promotions and special offers, identifying market synergies, and keeping an eye on the competition. Services such as Foursquare have already created tools for businesses, including the ability to offer a variety of specials through the service, promote specials in-store, and track venue performance. Here are just a few examples of businesses taking advantage of the Foursquare opportunity:
- Village Lantern (New York, NY)
Everyone who checks in gets a 2 for 1 Svedka cocktail. The mayor receives a free shot of Jameson on Friday.
- Matcha Box Pop Up Store (NYC, Ny)
Receive a free matcha tea, or latte when you leave a tip about Matcha Box.
- Boqueria – SoHo (New York, NY)
Free Glass of Sangria with your meal!
- Mermaid Oyster Bar (New York, NY)
Check-in to claim a FREE side item (limit one per table per visit). DETHRONE THE MAYOR and receive a FREE lobster sandwich! You must show your phone to your server or bartender to activate these promo
- American Eagle (Ottawa, Ontario)
Check-in to any AE store and unlock a 15% Off discount towards your next merchandise purchase. Expires 7/31/10. Limit one per customer.
- Foos Burgers (New York, NY)
Free game of foosball on your first check in. Beat the reigning champion and win a beer and burger at Lucky Strike. (Mon – Fri 10-6)
- Emack & Bolio’s (New York, NY)
- Bobby Berk Home (New York, NY)
Show us your check-in and get 15% off any regular priced item.
If your business isn’t already experimenting with proximity marketing through location-based social applications, it should be. Not only are these services great marketing tools in and of themselves, but they are rapidly surpassing more traditional channels. As Brian Solis recently noted,
Local services are realizing, albeit slowly, that increasing visibility in the real world, on the traditional Web and now the social web, is an effective way of competing for attention where it is focused. Foot traffic, Yellow Pages, Google and Yahoo Search are losing favor to new forms of research and referrals. Yelp paved the way for social reviews and referrals, but Foursquare and the like are introducing trusted opinions and real-life networking into the mix that reward exploration and experimentation. Businesses can only benefit by playing along.
Given the massive growth of location-based services over the last year, the only real question here is which service to choose. Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite are the Big 4 of location-based social applications, with Foursquare dominating the other three in terms of both users, venues, check-ins, business participation, and rate of growth. However, Facebook has made rumblings about joining the geolocation fray, and Yelp has already dipped its toes in the LBS waters, so the future of this market is far from decided. At the moment, I urge clients to remain platform agnostic, and advise that they examine local LBS usage data to determine platform popularity in their local market. Unless promotional participation is cost-prohibitive on a given platform, try them all. Additionally, going with a service that simplifies engagement and tracking is always a good idea. But the bottom line is this: if you’re not already thinking about how location-based services can help your business, you’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity. I wonder if Chris would disagree with that statement?