Foursquare launched in 2009 at SXSW amidst much fanfare. It was all the rage, with predictions galore that it was going to be “the next Twitter” or “the mobile proof-point.” Users dove in and began “checking in” everywhere they could. Prime destinations quickly became a badge of honor. The office. The best bar in town. The favorite restaurant. There was a battle to claim Mayorship.
Ah, the Mayor badge. Foursquare users took pride in the battles, and happily showed off their winnings, until the next few hours or days went by and someone else claimed the prize. Seeking Mayor status, Foursquare users began posting their check-ins on Facebook or Twitter every time. Avid users loved the gamification and the ability to gloat. “Look where I am” took on new meaning.
But as Facebook’s news feed has become more and more cluttered, and our Twitter stream flies by faster and faster, check-ins are becoming increasingly annoying. That check-in at the resort in the Caribbean, while we’re up here in a snowstorm? Annoying. Checking in at work? Why? At home? Why are you sharing that? The coffee shop? I don’t care. The car wash? Ditto. Checking in at the airport, when you go through security, when you arrive at the airline club and when you are finally at the gate? Annoying, all of them. And did you really hope to stand out by checking in at the general SXSW check-in?
Foursquare reports that it has over 30 million users, and 3.5 billion check-ins, and over 1 million merchants who are Foursquare partners (“Foursquare by the Numbers”, January 2013). A small percentage get targeted discounts, and the promise is there to integrate more closely with brands like American Express and Visa, and expand their Yelp-like ratings to fuel ad retargeting for more and more brands.
This is where we have a problem. The value exchange is fundamentally flawed. Foursquare users are checking in to earn points, but the offers aren’t there. Retailers want a more targeted advertising base, but the customers are not immersed enough to be a highly valued “eyeball.” And the masses are left with an increasing percentage of the “noise” being filled by largely useless check-ins.
There is a way to change this dynamic. Flip the value exchange on its head. Fuel more automatic check-ins, or methods to provide immediate value to the user. I’m a Starbucks lover, and I love their iPhone mobile app. Combine this with a check-in to receive free drinks, free merchandise, or even have my drink waiting for me when I walk through the door? Now we’re talking. Expand this mindset to hotels and airlines upon arrival and throughout the journey. Take it one step further and integrate the check-ins into the loyalty programs for immediate and longer-term value.
Individuals will engage if they see the value and a positive trade-off, and brands will hop on board if it’s a way to differentially treat their best customers. Foursquare will finally be immersed into a sweet spot, vs. trying to be part-Yelp, part-LevelUp, and part-Instagram.
When brands and Foursquare users begin to share this value exchange, the story becomes more appealing to everybody else. And perhaps that news feed starts to have less noise, and more usefulness.