FourSquare and Social Business Design

by Peter Kim 11 Nov 2009 Blog Post

Foursquare | Local Social: Experience Management Blog

Judging from the number of invites I’m getting for FourSquare these days, its slope of new users must be getting more vertical every day. (If you’re not familiar with the service, read their overview.) After using FourSquare for a while, I’ve been thinking about its implications for business – and they’re deeper than you might think, extending far beyond happy hours and local advertising opportunities.

At initial consideration, this may seem ridiculous. I’m not going to tell you that FourSquare is the next Twitter – it’s not. It’s different. But just like so many people were initially dismissive of Twitter, the same can be said for FourSquare. After all, the driving concept behind the application is “a leaderboard for Saturday night.” The second time I heard about FourSquare, I was told that it was popular among New York moms and nannies for setting up impromptu playdates. Not exactly the FriendFeed crowd…I signed up immediately.

To understand FourSquare’s emergent business value, you’ve got to think of it as a social business application, the backbone of which is measurement. Even more than other social apps, game mechanics drive the FourSquare experience. Based on the single activity of “checking in,” all five elements exist:

  1. Collecting badges and mayorships.
  2. Earning points throughout the week.
  3. Feedback though the leaderboard and a personal stats page.
  4. Value exchanges from keeping tabs on your connections.
  5. Customization of your profile and check-in messages. Anyone who uses the app knows all this.

When I consider FourSquare through the lens of Social Business Design, the value jumps off the page. The service:

  • Relies on content generated by personal profiles and places, which come together in time-sensitive relationships. It also utilizes emerging technologies reaching critical mass. We call this an ecosystem.
  • Motivates participants to broadcast their whereabouts with an implicit invitation to meet up. You become part of a relevant community based on geographic check-ins. This is hivemindedness.
  • Allows users to send implicit messages about their status – on multiple levels – based on time and location. Others can respond in kind. These are dynamic signals.
  • Permits control of messaging to personal preferences. Where and when a person checks in has meaning; some people check in “off the grid”/in private, whereas users can mute pings from others who are found to be irrelevant. This is a metafilter.

Think about these characteristics applied as a white-labeled enterprise application. Twitter : Yammer :: FourSquare : [a new "GrandCentral"?]

  • Connects employees of distributed organizations when in geographic proximity.
  • Lowers cost of coordination, handled today by many fragmented applications.
  • Increases content production. Game mechanics spur participation and encourage collaboration.
  • Allows colleagues to vet locations and set alerts for one another.

Applying these ideas in a marketing context address three hot B2C interests: mobile, social, and local. However, I think brands will find that scalability ends quickly. There are much bigger opportunities in the B2B context.

Are you seeing it? Or do you still think FourSquare just a waste of time?

  • Rick Mans

    Nice read Peter, I fully agree with. I wrote a somewhere likewise piece last month about how location information within Twitter would create new markets and new businesses. Foursquare is one of the applications that instantly shows great value for businesses:

    The article:

  • Lee Provoost

    Exactly, to add to Rick’s comment (Hi Rick! :-) ), check this Mashable article:

  • Sam Eder

    I think that FourSquare embodies the promise of social business by not only enticing members to participate (whether to merely communicate or to pursue a prize) but also seamlessly and unobtrusively working in a revenue stream.

    Now I’ll go back to work, trying to become the Mayor of Annie’s.

  • Andrea McLaughlin

    As a small business owner and intrepid early-adopter of all things tech, I started with the gut feeling that Foursquare could be not only fun and social but also its location based check-in will be useful to small local business in both the B2B and B2C realms. For my B2C uses it needs critical mass and we’re not there yet for my retail photo business. I”m still the mayor and only check in to my Berkeley location. As soon as I start seeing customers checking in from my location I’ll implement a flash sale: “check-in and get 20% off on a canvas wrap (or whatever)”

    I also see B2B exchanges between businesses that share customers : “check in 10 times at the photo lab and get 2 free passes to the photo exhibit at SFMOMA”

  • David Gehring

    I drank the coolaid on this one already, and am someone who was slow to start using Twitter; still have a Blackberry instead of an iPhone and really don’t go pub crawling anymore now with a wife and two kids. The value of this sort of app to the stroller class is huge. And that class buys most of what’s sold in the US today!

  • Duane Brown

    Great post Peter. I see where you’re going with this and there is an opportunity but scaling will be a major issue as you mentioned. If we can find a way around that…. and I’m sure we could. This could be a really fun white label app for company’s the size of Google, Apple, Pixar… that have people spread out across the globe or country.

  • Don Gaines

    I totally see it. I just wish Foursquare had less kitschy design. It’s kind of ugly to me, personal pet peeve. I’ve often pondered if we couldn’t use this type of system as a ‘clock-in’ type of system. Say the big boss wants to know when everyone’s getting in and we just check-in whenever we get somewhere. That’s a little big brother-ish and would require a lot of trust, but is there a potential for it to have more of an employee monitoring effect? More than facebook or twitter have already?

  • Marla Erwin

    I agree that Foursquare has enormous *promise* to change the way businesses interact with their customers. However, the service seems to be stagnating, and I am seeing just as many people abandon it as new ones sign up.

    There are currently two reasons to join: communicate your whereabouts to meet up with your friends, or play the game to get points and mayorships. For younger, single, urban users, both are powerful draws. For others (married people with kids, for example, like me) the appeal is thinner: we’re not out at night looking for friends to meet up with, so mayorships and badges are all that’s left — and with no payoff in sight, that loses its thrill pretty quickly. In the end, checking in became just another chore.

    Everyone seems to have great ideas about the potential of Foursquare, except Foursquare themselves. They must convince more businesses, especially nationwide chains, to adopt a loyalty rewards program tied to checkins and/or mayorships. Until then, people will drop it as soon as they realize there’s no reward.

    • Paul Rosenfeld

      I agree completely with Maria. The appeal is currently limited to young, tech savvy urban dwellers. With the spread of info so quick these days, the media and gurus are intent to crown any website that starts to grow.

      Until these guys figure out a more mainstream model, their inactive rate will remain sky high and they’ll consign themselves to nichedom. I’m sure they’re trying.

      In fact, all LBS services need to find more mainstream needs to satisfy. LBS is a feature of other people’s apps and destined to help other apps be more useful.