Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why should I use Foursquare?

A friend of mine and super-user of social-media platforms, like Twitter and facebook, asked me to explain the value of having a foursquare account. Being a Graphics Designer with a social media influence of Klout 50, he’s above the average South African social-media user. I'm therefore assuming that a similar question or concern will hit me again from some of my friends a couple of months from now, as Foursquare popularity picks up locally. Hence I felt the need to blog about it in non-techie lingo and direct them here. Please note that I too am not an early adopter of the tool and am speaking in the South African context. If you already know what Foursquare is all about you can skip to the values section (Why use Foursquare?).

What is Foursquare?

Co-founder and CEO Dennis Crowley, has mentioned that his company is misinterpreted for just a check-in game. On their website, Foursquare is described as a location-based mobile platform that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. By “checking in” via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while collecting points and virtual badges. Foursquare guides real-world experiences by allowing users to bookmark information about venues that they want to visit and surfacing relevant suggestions about nearby venues.

I suppose that's as simple as they can put it. Let's look at a typical use-case:
My friend, AllNation, arrives at Wandie's Place (Restaurant in Soweto) and logs into Foursquare. Using GPS technology, Foursquare determines AllNation's location and gives him a list of all the places in the surrounding area similar to the example in the figure above. No! Those are not places from Soweto!

If Wandie's Place appears in the list, AllNation can then select it and "check in". If not then he can search for it or add it as a new place if not found in the Foursquare database.

When doing this, AllNation is given a chance to publish his "check-in" with a custom message. It is here that he can describe the place, experience or reason for being there.

This is then shared with his friends on Foursquare and he's also given the option to post it to his Twitter or facebook account. Below is a dump of his check-in as seen from my Foursquare account.

Why use foursquare?

Currently there is more value to using Foursquare for merchants than consumers. I'll focus on the consumer values as there are plenty of sites explaining the value for businesses online.
  1. Recommendation Engine (recently added with version 3)
     AllNation can query for recommendations or tips on whatever interests him like restaurants, nightlife, shops and entertainment in that area. All this is provided by Foursquare, using others' recommendations or activity captured over time as input, ranked by what’s most interesting to the user.
  3. Rewards
    AllNation checks into Wandie's Place (Restaurant in Soweto for those who skipped the intro) and finds that, for that day, Wandie's Place is giving away meal discounts or free dessert to Foursquare users. I'm yet to find a South African merchant doing this but it's a reality in other developed countries. What's in it for Wandie's Place? AllNation is checking in and recommending the place to his friends. In no time I'll be there demanding my free dessert… provided it translates to good beer. I must admit it's not easy to see the value of this in SA at the moment, but I'm certain the situation will be different this time next year. If you're really interested you can check out the following latest and greatest example, or skip to value 3:

    Although it might take a long time to pick up in Africa, Foursquare has also introduced some monetary benefits for its users. Have a look at this new Loyalty Special. Together with American Express (AmEx), Foursqaure is offering their users "spend $5, save $5" rewards when they load the special at participating stores and swipe their AmEx cards.

    This pilot program offers cardholders automatic savings when they swipe their cards at 60 participating merchants in the Austin, Texas area. I foresee a lot of similar programs being setup and I hope when they come to South Africa it won’t only be the already well-off geeks like AllNation that benefit from it.

    “There will soon be seven special types available to merchants: Check-in Specials, Friend Specials, Flash Specials (e.g. the first 10 people to show up after 5 p.m. get a free drink), Swarm Specials, Newbie Specials, Mayor Specials and Loyalty Specials. Foursquare will reveal more details in the days ahead, but the startup is introducing these new special types to respond to merchant demand.”
     Quote from an article by Jennifer Van Grove, Associate Editor at Mashable.
  5. Staying Connected

    Some might argue that it’s not wise to tell the world where you are as we have a lot of people whose cheese has slid off their crackers. I suspect that is what my friend meant by "4square is creepy".

Like every social networking platform, you have a choice of when and to who your information should be published. Plus, only your friends can see your check-ins (or followers on Twitter & facebook if you chose to share it there). The following are some benefits we get from being connected via Foursquare.
  • I check into Capital (night-club) and AllNation is checked into The Bank (night-club), across the street. We’re friends on Foursquare, so we’d both see our check-ins and decide to merge the debauchery (free drinks for me!).
  • I see an unusual number of my friends checked into the same place around the same time. I then contact one of them and find out that I missed an important announcement on Twitter, that Khanyi Mbau is giving away a free squeeze of her silicone front-mounts to the quickest Tequilla downer! A clear win for me!
Like most social networking platforms, the more people you’re connected to, the more value you’ll start to see from Foursquare.

Of course it gets more interesting than this. There is a point system, unlocking badges and chances to be mayor of a place which can earn you extra benefits. Going into detail would qualify this post a failed soap-opera if not the case already.

Please post any other value-adds that I have missed in the comments section below. I just can't wait until the South African merchants really pick up on the business value and I start getting free "6-packs" at every night-club I visit… considering the yearly increase of sin-tax!

You can also follow the opinionated AllNation on Twitter for interesting and often very funny tweets :