Checking in as Status Symbol is not Enough

Super-Mayor-FoursquareGeolocation services are not about giving us something to do,
as Joe Chernov writes, although I think that's a pretty good insight. They're also about giving us something to talk about. That something is status, it comes with the territory.

The sociological aspect is probably not as refined as fondness for the whimsical wedded to the devices through which we relate to the world. It runs deeper than that all the way to the human desire to mark territory.

Badges are a manifestation of that desire. Take for example the Mayor's badge. You don't care much about it, until you get one. Then you work on ways to figure out how to get more.

More means more places where you show up as the name of the person who hold the Mayor's badge. Something to talk about in your presence or when your name shows up in that location.

Eventually, check-ins become normal, the ho-hum thing to do when going to a place. Then what? Before we get there, though, let's take a look at what applications like Foursquare engage:

  • your social presence and graph
  • a mobile app you carry with you
  • social gaming with a point system

For those who had difficulty understanding Twitter, Foursquare should provide a new headache. Or maybe not. Shoe design house Jimmy Choo integrated Foursquare successfully with Twitter and Facebook for off line experience and online amplification. It implemented a treasure hunt by using check ins around London. The goal: launch a new shoe line. The winner got to keep the shoes. [hat tip Andrea Colaianni]

And people talking about Foursquare and doing public check ins on other
social networks is the reason why so many are joining the network. That's the reason why Foursquare is fast approaching 1.7 MM members.

Having status — or badges — is not too much fun if you cannot brag about what you're able to do with them, although there is plenty of gaming of the system and associated bragging about it going on. So the company is experimenting with badge rewards.

The suggestions and notes left by others about a location might appeal. Retailers like Sport Authority signing up to provide deals for frequent check ins may be another incentive. However, we're far and away from reaching mainstream appeal. 

In a recent competition/study
run by uTest
, 300+ testers (70% male/30% female) from 35 countries participated in a week long competition. The study included one key question What Most Prevents You From Using Check-In Services More Frequently?


I admit that when at SxSW testing Gowalla I tended to check in only when I was about to leave places.

Mostly, I wanted my off line experience to be untethered from the online validation of it — "oh my, you must be important if you have x-thousand followers," you know how it goes. I can talk with and meet interesting people without talking about follower counts, thank you very much. I also prefer to be one of the people in the room — and not the Mayor of something — on first impressions.

However, I can see how location-based services can play a role in stimulating sales by offering deals like 20% off for a Mayor, a freebie for all check ins, since the information gets broadcast to the networks of the people using the service.

If you own a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, or retail store that could take advantage of this information sharing, you can claim your location by going to the Web site of one of these services, say Foursquare, searching for your business, confirming you're the manager on the profile page, and following the steps to claim your location and offer a deal.

For these services to go mainstream, status symbol is not enough. They need to start incorporating incentives for people to use them, and make the interface easy to use for non-Geeks.

Do you use a geolocation service to check in places? Why/why not? What would make it useful to you?

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0 responses to “Checking in as Status Symbol is not Enough”

  1. I was a big advocate of these services even among my colleagues at a social media agency. My feeling was that they’re a good step toward highly targeted, valuable, consumer-centric advertising and marketing. However, I soured on them after maybe 6 months of use. Now, I really only care to check in to places if I’m, say, at a new restaurant and want to see if someone has tagged, shouted, etc about a dish I might want to try. Other than that, I prefer to save my 30 seconds it takes to check in and put them toward interacting with the people around me.

  2. Valeria, you bring up some thought-provoking concepts with this one. At this point I have yet to test out a geolocation service like Foursquare or Gowalla. I think I’ve been waiting to see how they could be valuable to an individual. Aside from the perks like freebies and discounts I failed to see how this added layer of connectivity was important. I am not opposed to services like these as I think they are probably the precursor to even more technologies weaving into life. I’m not too concerned about privacy/security aspects since if I were to use them. I don’t seriously see myself checking in *everywhere* and I don’t exactly know what would push me over the edge into usefulness.
    My wife had an interested take on this recently. She said that seeing Foursquare check-ins through Twitter and Facebook made her feel like an unwilling stalker. She didn’t want/care to know where those people were at the time.
    – Richie

  3. I’d consider myself a heavy user of geolocation services. (621 checkins over 233 nights out) I use Foursquare to add a layer of information to the world around me. Often as I’m finishing dinner out or a meeting downtown, I’ll check to see who’s around. Checking in (and having friends that check in) has lead to many shared drinks, meals and cabs. I’ve also discovered events that were happening (attended by friends) in my town or in other places I’ve visited when I had a free evening.
    I don’t really suffer from any of the barriers on the graph, security (I’m a 210 pound man), friends (enough are checking in), smartphone (use an iPhone) I realize many others do. I think geolocation will eventually go mainstream, especially after it’s added into Facebook.
    I use Foursquare both to figure out where my friends are and so they can figure out where I am.

  4. @Eric – there needs to be a purpose greater than just getting a badge for it to be sustainable over time. Can these services become a useful bridge between online and offline? Yes. Imagine you enter a store and upon check in you receive a coupon with a discount amount proportional to the $$$ spent there… for that to happen you would have a special code entered by the merchant as you cross thresholds, for example. Just thinking out loud here.
    @Richie – I’m thinking that broadcasting your location may signal you want to be approached. Yet, I think it really depends whether that’s the case or not. It’s become a social thing to do, often when in a group.
    @Jeremy – indeed, you do have the frequent user badge and it’s great you’ve been able to take advantage of the tool to make connections. Alas, we’re still in a physical environment where all kinds of assumptions are made about women… culture, habit, etc. play a role in that.

  5. I like this write up, Valeria.
    But a very large part of me still thinks that we have the whole badge thing upside down. You have to earn badges on Foursquare (for example) by displaying a certain behavior pattern. Swarm, JetSetter, Crunked, Bender, etc.- all of these badges require a certain pattern of traffic conducive to specific audiences and maybe even demographics. That data is then localized to specific areas.
    I think the real value in the badge systems lies in the data we can analyze about consumer behavior and how businesses can then adjust their marketing strategy based on that user generated information. Think persona development at a new level. To me, this is much more powerful then using badges for promotion alone.
    That said, there’s three big disconnects. 1. People can game the system and corrupt the data. 2. There’s no tool available at this time that would adequately measure the trends in behavior. 3. It’s still not that easy to create a badge on Foursquare from a process standpoint.

  6. I use Foursquare, though not terribly frequently. One reason is I don’t go out to bars or shops much, and I don’t check in to my house or my office for safety reasons.
    Still, there is value in toting Foursquare with me on my phone. When I travel, it is a great guide book. I can learn things like where the outlets are in an airport or where the good bars are.
    To reply to the “I don’t want to be an unwilling stalker” comment, I consciously use Foursquare as a part of my online personal branding. For example, I don’t check in at a bar at 2 am. I do check in at the American Marketing Association luncheons. Personal branding is another use of the geolocation services no one’s mentioned yet.

  7. Valeria – great post. As you’re aware, I just did a similar post myself. My take was that FourSquare and Gowalla (or Loopt, MyTown or Brightkite) may or may not be the ultimate winners in the location-based services war but irrespective of that, I do believe that there is some “there” there.
    Yes, overcoming privacy is a big deal but realistically, most normal people (I fall outside this category) have 150-200 friends on Facebook and if they are on Twitter, something in that same neighborhood. They likely know most if not all of those friends and if they decide to cross-post their location to one of these networks, they don’t care if the public sees the checkin.
    Realistically, the biggest key is for businesses AND people to continue to provide value in order for location-based services to take off. For businesses, I agree that it’s mostly a coupon, discount or freebie (although recognition may also work in many cases). As @Jeremy points out, creating layers of augmented reality can also be hugely helful (think of them as virtual post it notes pinned up by your friends).
    Thanks once again for making me think.
    Aaron | @aaronstrout

  8. @Nate – data needs context to be useful. Also, we still live in the Marketing 1.0 era of not collecting the right data on people and then sneaking around on them because of it. It’s going to be interesting to see how mobile marketing develops… for now, I’m still getting spam calls to my “do not call” registered mobile phone from a company contracted by Comcast, a company that could have a good relationship with me through Frank and its customer support team. Never mind badges and behavioral data 😉
    @Kate – I’m thinking we all do that to some extent, we cast ourselves in a good light when in the public eye. Good thinking on the branding side.
    @Ike – you have such a way with words! This is a really good way of putting it “Foursquare provides a way to sort through everything that has happened in the where”. Thank you for sharing the link, I’m already seeing plenty of applications from your examples.
    @Aaron – the more I think about it, the more I see the opportunities laid out by Ike. And yes, integrating something with the event will make it special. Glad you posted this comment today, it made me go back to all of the comments and my post and rethink some of the assumptions.

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