A Newbie Takes on foursquare: A Q&A with Strout and Reid

This guest post by colleague, Brian Reid, originally appeared on our WCG work blog. Brian is a director at WCG in the product group, where he specializes in media. He is a former journalist who believes content really is king.

 

I love technology and take pride in early adoption. My first blog post went up in 2002. My first podcast hit in early 2005. But I’ve resisted location-based services until last month when I jumped in after reading my colleague Aaron Strout’s smart takes on the potential of location-based services for businesses. On the heels of Aaron’s recent vacation, where I followed his exploits through check-ins, pictures and updates, I decided to take the plunge and test out a location-based service for myself on my vacation. That 10-day trial led to some observations, which sparked the following conversion:

Strout: With so many location-based services out there, how did you end up on foursquare? I ask because this is the problem a lot of first time LBS users face: which service to go with?

Reid: I wish I could tell you that there was a lot of research. Foursquare was just top of mind; I had a sense that it had the most buzz and the biggest user base.

Did it take you much time to get the hang of foursquare?

I had decided that I was going to test-drive this on my vacation, and I literally set myself up while I was multi-tasking to rush out to the airport. It was all done via the mobile app, and I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was.

As someone that is brand new to using location-based services, how much of a role did “gamification” play in your experience?”

I didn’t go into location-based services for the game element. I could not care less about mayorships or checking into more places that my friends. Yet, as I used the service, I found that the points and the badges and the graphs showing progress had a lot more pull than I expected. On the second night of vacation, I checked into a nice restaurant. But because my GPS hadn’t update the location, I didn’t get any “points.” I was taken aback by how angry I was that the service didn’t think I deserved credit.

In your opinion, how good a job are businesses doing using location-based services to engage their customers? In general, what percentage of businesses (that you checked-in with) are actively participating?

I was disappointed in a couple of different ways. First, the number of businesses that seemed to have any sort of presence was pretty small, and this was in an upscale, tourist-driven area where every other form of marketing was on display. I’d done a good amount of Internet-based research before I left on things to do or see to eat, but staring at the landscape through my phone showed a completely different landscape, with some businesses completely invisible. Secondly, the “specials” rarely seemed significant enough to make a difference in my decision-making. And that held for both large and small businesses. I spent one night in a Starwood property, and Starwood offers twice as many points for declining housekeeping for one night than for a check in.

What more could businesses do to up their game using LBS?

Businesses that aren’t on foursquare need to get there. For people who rely on LBS, not having a presence utterly eliminates you for some percentage of the population. It’s like being erased from the Yellow Pages. And the businesses that are there could stand to be a bit more creative. I don’t have enough checkins to gather a really robust sample, but few of the specials seemed achievable or worth it.

Did you see a value in the “tips” or “photos” at the venues you checked into?

Not really. When you read a board on chowhound.com or Yelp, people can get into details, and you can get a sense of whether you can trust a given review. Because comments on foursquare are so brief, not only is the actual recommendation short, but I didn’t get enough cues to let me establish whether the reviewer’s tastes matched mine. A caveat: I’m not using the social aspect of foursquare because I don’t have local friends on the service. Perhaps tips from friends would be better, but that assumes much heavier adoption.

Now that you’ve gotten the LBS “bug,” will you continue to use foursquare? And if so, how?

The short answer is “yes, but.” I’m not sure I get a huge benefit as a consumer, but the potential here is pretty big, especially if businesses and institutions get better at taking advantage of the opportunity. Though the offering is currently pretty slick, the “how to use it” aspect seems stuck in beta. For that reason, I’m really looking forward to reading your book (Location Based Marketing for Dummies, which hits soon.)

What could location-based services like foursquare do to make their services better/more engaging?

At the risk of spouting clichés: it’s the network. I imagine the real fun comes when there are large numbers of friends, nearby and far away, all hitting the same places. And I think that businesses, too, need to keep honing their presence on foursquare. Honestly, all foursquare did was tell me the soup of the day at my favorite café, I’d be a happy user. But that’s not information that’s being offered right now, and a checkin at a place that isn’t aware that I’m using FourSquare – no matter how much gamification you layer on top – isn’t going to do a very good job of holding my attention.

We’re Writin’ a Book

Okay, when I say “we’re writin’ a book,” it’s a Dummies book. Which of course is a real book. But it’s not like we’re creating the next great American novel. More specifically, the “we” is my good friend and geo-location savant, Mike Schneider and me. And the Dummies book (Wiley imprint) we’re writing is Location Based Marketing for Dummies. To my knowledge, it will be only the second printed book on this subject. Our friend, Simon Salt’s book being the first.

In the book, we plan to cover a broad array of topics including:

  • Choosing the right platform(s)
  • Building a LBS campaign
  • Creating a relevant offer
  • LBS as part of your loyalty program
  • Integrating LBS with other marketing efforts
  • Developing a monitoring strategy
  • KPIs and Measurement
Mike and I have started writing the book already and plan to have the book wrapped up in March of 2011. The book is scheduled to be published in June of 2011. God willing, we’ll start the pre-orders around May. As soon as there is a link up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, we’ll be sure you know about it.

By the way, I’d like to give a special thanks to our acquiring publisher, Amy Fandrei. She’s not only super smart but she knows her stuff and has already done a fantastic job at “herding kittens” so to speak. Let’s hope she’s not sick of us by the end of this process.

So How you can help?

I’m glad you asked. If you’re a LBS platform or vendor, we are interested in access to your executives, platform and case studies. If you see a new LBS hit the scene, send @schneidermike and I a tweet with the hashtag #LBM4D. You can also keep checking in and letting us know if you discover cool offers, glitches, Easter eggs and any other LBS topics that might be noteworthy. Tell us if you have specific things you think the book should cover, we are always listening.

And of course, you can read the book!

Webinar: Retain Brand Loyalty with Location-Based Services

So I’ll be doing a webinar with social media smarty, Cody Barbierri of Piehead, next Wednesday (11/17) titled Retain Brand Loyalty with Location-Based Services. The webinar is free and it will take place from 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET.

Here’s the official writeup of the event:

Facebook has expanded the value of location-based check-ins for its 200 million plus mobile users. Twitter has broadened the horizons of its geolocation platform to provide more value for businesses and users. Foursquare has exploded to more than 4 million users and continues to offer businesses ways to build brand loyalty. Location-based services are certainly here to stay.

Utilizing mobile and location-based concepts to engage an audience on new levels can do wonders for a brand that’s looking to increase customer loyalty. The marketing potential around these services, like Foursquare and Facebook Places, represents an opportunity for brands to engage and retain their key audiences.

Location-based services represent a new access point for brand engagement and marketing opportunities. While every brand’s marketing goals and objectives are different, some of the potential uses may include special offers and discounts sent via mobile, games and mobile apps.

Join two industry leaders for this thought provoking web seminar and discover how targeted location-based service campaigns can drive increased consumer engagement and long-term brand loyalty. By attending the event, you will not only learn about the major players in the space, but also gain greater insight into how to:

  • Track customers using various location-based services
  • Engage with users to ensure increased brand loyalty
  • Retain and develop relationships while giving potential customers reasons to convert
  • Analyze marketing efforts and customer response through continuous analysis
  • Cody and I will also be available to answer your questions during a live Q+A session.

Hope you can join us! Register here.

Location-based Services Goes Automotive

A few weeks ago, my friend, Eric Miltsch, sent me a direct message on Twitter letting me know that I might want to check out his latest offering called Car Zar. Having met Eric last year at the Driving Sales event in Las Vegas, I knew how passionate Eric is about cars AND social media. Eric in turn, knows how passionate I am about social media and location-based services. What I can tell you is that I think he’s onto something with Car Zar — especially for folks that fall into the “car enthusiast” category. Unfortunately, I don’t really fit in that category but I can appreciate what this app. will do for that crowd.

Here my thoughts on the app in the quick video blog I recorded.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/15798940 w=400&h=300]
Quick thoughts on Car Zar – LBS for Automotive from Aaron Strout on Vimeo.

Do you have an industry specific location-based app? If so, please let me know. I’d love to check it out.

5 Initial Thoughts on Facebook Places

My guess is that I’ll be 50% wrong about what I’m about to say in this post… In baseball that’s a fantastic batting average. In surgery… not so much.

In case you didn’t hear, Facebook made it’s foray into the world of location-based services yesterday with it’s announcement of Places. If you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s pretty straightforward. To checkin, you must use the most recent version of the Facebook iPhone app or the iTouch mobile site for Facebook. Although I’ve discussed the potential negative impact Facebook could have on existing location-based service providers like FourSquare, Gowalla and Whrrl, I’m going to change my tune a little (this is where the 50% wrong part could come into play).

To that end, here are my five initial thoughts about Facebook Places (hat tip to friend and fellow LBS enthusiast, Mike Schneider, for helping push my thinking on this front):

  1. Facebook ‘likes’ boring – I had an epiphany yesterday after ReadWriteWeb’s coverage of the Places announcement yesterday. Facebook doesn’t want to crush the players in the location-based field, it wants to provide the scale and infrastructure that they’ve been sorely lacking. Most telling was RWW’s interview with former Facebook engineer, Yishan Wong, who theorized, “My guess is that Facebook’s product tries to commoditize the ‘boring’ parts of location while providing a platform for the ‘real’ location-oriented companies (e.g. Foursquare, Gowalla, Booyah, Yelp) to build real products off of. Based on what I’ve heard from various sources, companies like Foursquare find the ‘venue management’ business to be quite tedious and not the real source of differentiating value… so commoditizing this aspect of their business doesn’t threaten their core value proposition.
  2. Businesses will seize the opportunity – It took all of 24 hours before all-in-one checkin rewards  site, Topguest, announced that it was including Facebook Places in its service. It won’t take long before others follow suit. The potential access to 500 million members/eyeballs/customers will do that.
  3. Places appeals to the masses, not the early adopters – Mike Schneider and I were going back and forth earlier on Twitter about how disappointed he was in the lack of innovation on Places. My Quick’n’Dirty podcast partner, Jennifer Leggio, and I had a similar conversation yesterday on our weekly show. My take is that Facebook intentionally didn’t include any sexy new features for two reasons a) they want to appeal to the masses so keeping the UI and functionality as simple as possible was essential and b) if bullet number one above is correct, Facebook wants other LBS players to do the innovating while it does its LBS platform thing.
  4. Facebook will make a killing in geo-targeted ad revenue IF Places takes off – I may hate ads, but the more relevant and geo-focused they are, the more inclined I will be to react to them. Check out eMarketer’s post yesterday for more details on this topic including forecasts.
  5. Places will create a privacy nightmare for Facebook – I bet you thought I was going to yadda yadda over this one. Nope. This is the thing that could make or break Places. The major sticking point being the ability to check people into a location. While I personally like this feature in theory (and it is unique to Facebook as far as I can tell), this will cause plenty of problems down the road. It will only take 1-2 times of someone being checked into a location that you either don’t want to be checked into or weren’t actually at… but by the time your friend/parent/significant other sees the update, it will be too late.
How about you? I’m sure I’ll get some push back on some of my predictions. But you know me, I welcome the discussion!

In Populus Nos Fides

You’re probably asking what the hell this title means. In case you failed Latin back in high school, it means “in people we trust.” The reason I chose this title is that I’ve read a lot of posts/articles recently talking about the risks of location-based services (a topic that is near and dear to my heart). And while I feel that there are absolutely risks with letting people know your location on a regular basis 1) the rewards outweigh the risks AND 2) that people are inherently good. As my friend, Michelle Greer, would argue, it only takes one bad apple. But still…

This past Friday, I had a chance to reaffirm what I already believed when I participated in my friend, Jim Storer’s, annual Island Pond Road Rally. Jim has been doing this all day race for 19 years now and the essence of the race is for 8-10 teams (usually 3-5 people per team) to get from a starting point in Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire up to Jim’s family place in northern Vermont. The race takes about 12 hours and along the way, each team must collect items and pictures of places. The way Jim sets up the race, it requires A LOT of interaction with folks who you wouldn’t ordinarily come into contact with. Some of these folks are store owners who are used to dealing with people/tourists on a regular basis. Many are not but rather are ordinary people.

Shannon, our faithful navigator

Scooch and his dopplerganger
Team Shuckri in a strangers pool
Liz Phillips posing at a barbershop with curlers in her hair

What’s amazing about this race is how helpful and genuinely giving most of the people are that we encounter along the race. And when I tell you that there are certain items like convincing someone to shave off their beard, allowing your team swim in their swimming pool while they take a picture or hanging upside down in a tree with you, this takes a higher level of faith (or craziness) than just giving directions or posing for a picture.

Tying this all back to the world of social and location-based services… I’ve mostly found that my positive interactions with people in the real world are not mutually exclusive to the online connections that I’ve made over the last several years. What’s different is that at least in the offline world, I can look someone in the eyes (or vice versa) and interpret their body language. In the online world, your taking a leap of faith. On the upside, you can find out a heck of a lot about a person via Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You can also hit the “un-follow” or “un-friend” button if someone decides to abuse your newfound friendship.

I know this concept is nothing earth shattering… but it’s how I feel. And while I may be alone in my beliefs, it’s gotten me through nearly 42 years of my life. As a result, I’ve lived a good life and have been fortunate enough to meet some amazing people. How ’bout you?

Photos courtesy Shannon DiGregorio (one of my friends and fellow road rallyers)