I’m the mayor! So what?

Are you on Foursquare, Gowalla or any other check-in services? I use Foursquare and like many of my friends, I’m beginning to wonder “What’s the point?” So far, they’re great in theory, but not in practice. Gowalla boasts that you’ll “find inspiration to explore the world around you while picking up rewards from local eateries, venues, and retail stores.” Similarly, Foursquare says that it’s “a mobile application that makes cities easier to use and more interesting to explore. It is a friend-finder, a social city guide and a game that challenges users to experience new things, and rewards them for doing so.”

Instead of the original intent of rewards and explorations of new venues, what I usually find random non-businesses, like “My Couch” or “Goldie Lock’s Castle” (true venues within check-in distance from my apartment) and a mayorship that boasts no rewards other than a badge and proverbial pat on the back.

So, the obvious questions and thoughts arise:

  • Who cares when I’m grocery shopping at my Whole Foods?
  • Why do people need to know that I’m shopping at the mall?
  • I don’t want people to know that this is my third trip to 7-11 today. Hostess cupcakes, coffee, diet coke does not a nutritious diet make, but that is my dirty little secret.
  • I swear that this fourth check-in at the liquor store is for yet another Yankee swap.
  • What’s the point of being mayor if there’s nothing in it for me or my friends?

So on and so forth. These questions seem rather silly to me, as I’m an active Twitter persona (for  my personal account and also oversee the social media for Compete and am the former social media person behind Bliss Spa) and have somehow accumulated about 25,000 random updates about nothing on my personal account alone. But where could I possibly check-in that people would care? Justin Beiber’s house? Antoine Dodson’s (whom I would only visit by invite-only for fear of being the next autotuned sensation).

Although Foursquare and Gowalla are best used on mobile devices, their web traffic is seeing a steady decline.

I have yet to have the great question answered-what’s the point? I was out with friends a couple of weeks ago at a restaurant I regularly frequent and happened to run into a bunch of people I knew, the staff knew my name, and we got a dessert on the house. A friend looked at me and said “You’re the mayor of this place,” which prompted me to whip out my phone check-in on Foursquare. Not surprisingly, I was not the mayor, as I rarely remember to check-in when I’m out somewhere and I am guilty of the post-visit check-in. But if I were the mayor, the question (as a good American Consumer) is “What’s in it for me?” Badges are cute and nice (I have 20+), but they have a very flare-like feel a la Office Space. Mayorships are generally useless (with a few exceptions I’ll discuss in a minute). I fear the day that I’m out and the new pickup line is “Hey, baby, can I buy you a discounted drink?  I’m the mayor here.” I may have to flee the country and abandon all social media if that happens.

Most businesses haven’t figured that piece of the puzzle out and with so many websites promoting deals and exclusive offers, how many more offers can a business provide to customers before damaging their profitability? Marketing geniuses (and personal friends) Mike Schneider (@schneidermike on twitter) from Allen & Gerritsen and Aaron Strout, CMO of Powered, Inc (@aaronstrout on twitter) recently announced that they will be collaborating on “Location Based Marketing for Dummies,” which will hopefully change the check-in world as we know it, focusing on topics including: Choosing the right platforms, building a LBS campaign, creating relevant offers, integrating LBS with other marketing efforts, Developing a monitoring strategy, KPI’s and measurement

I have great faith in Aaron and Mike to shed some light on location based marketing. Location based marketing, you’re about to get a GPS and find your way to profitability to businesses and value to users. Looking forward to the book launch next year. Stay tuned

About Karen Costa:
As the Online Marketing Specialist at Compete, Karen Costa specializes in the day-to-day online marketing functions for Compete.com-paid search, email marketing, social media, affiliate, etc. Before Karen joined the Compete team she was an online marketing coordinator for Bliss Spa and then worked for a couple of start ups. Karen says, "I'm not sure what I want to be when I grow up!" Find Karen on Twitter as vanillabean45 or connect with her on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/karencosta

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  1. Schneidermike

    * Who cares when I’m grocery shopping at my Whole Foods?
    Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Hannaford, Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, Publix, Winn Dixie, Target, WalMart, every other business in the universe that wants you as a customer

    * Why do people need to know that I’m shopping at the mall?
    So that they can cater to your every whim.

    * I don’t want people to know that this is my third trip to 7-11 today. Hostess cupcakes, coffee, diet coke does not a nutritious diet make, but that is my dirty little secret.
    So don’t tell them. Make your check in private.

    * I swear that this fourth check-in at the liquor store is for yet another Yankee swap.
    I’m the Mayor of Marty’s Liquors. I’ve checked in over 70 times.

    * What’s the point of being mayor if there’s nothing in it for me or my friends?
    There isn’t one unless you think it’s amusing, but the novelty of it did get a lot of people to use foursquare.

    I am calling 2011 the year of #give2get. You should start to see companies leveraging your social graph to learn more about you and personalize your offers. If we don’t, people are going to stop caring and it will not go mainstream.


  2. Zach Cole

    Karen, as a fellow social media nerd and avid LBS user, I find myself confronted with questions like these constantly. Perhaps I can offer some insight.

    The fact of the matter is, many of these same questions were asked right before Twitter took off. People asked, “Who cares what I’m eating for lunch?” Well, the fact of the matter is that people care more about why we do things and not so much what we’re doing. On Twitter one might talk about how they’re enjoying some hot chocolate on a cold winter day – pretty mundane until you realize that thousands of people can relate to the way that feels, and snippets like that give a little glimpse into each of our lives.

    The same holds true for the LBS market. It’s not so much about where you are as it is about why you are there. Simply checking in at the grocery store might not supply anyone with useful information, but noting that the grocery store is playing your favorite band, or that there is an outrageous sale on delicious baked goods adds a layer to the check-in that can really excited people. It’s about sharing experiences, because other people can relate to experiences.

    As for mayorships and badges – unless gaining rewards (which come around once in a while, but not frequently enough), these provide a very basic function, which is that of a simple reward. One might collect mayorships or badges similar to the way we collected things and played games when we were children. You never got any real reward from winning a game of Monopoly, but you had fun while playing, right?

    Still, mayorships and badges can be improved upon once LBS providers figure out how to cross the bridge from virtual goods to real-world goods. Gowalla has been doing a great job with this, as has GetGlue.

    Lastly, one more area of improvement I’d like to mention is that of the recommendation. Services like Foursquare, Gowalla, and SCVNGR could take data from your previous check-ins and your friends check-ins to recommend venues for you. You never know, you might just discover an awesome hole-in-the-wall pizza shop that rocks your world.

    Hope that I can inspire you to give this market another chance. It’s an innovative space that has yet to realize its full potential, and therefore has a lot of space to grow.



    • Dan

      Actually this market has had plenty of chances and is really just running its course like any other bit trend with the technology in play. Checkins never spawned because people craved them in the first place, they spawned because the tech allowed you to do it. From there LBS firms have been fighting feverishly to find ways to make them stick, and checkins alone just aren’t sticky. Next was badges, then deals, soon more deals and then who knows what.

      It does sound nice when you roll it all out Zach, give those apps a chance, expose all your patterns to them so that they can potentially help you discover that new bad ass hole in the wall pizzera eh? But at what cost? All your data going into the machine to find that one pattern just for you? Thats a nice fairy tale, more like all that data going to machine to understand you oh yeah and give you that pizza you always wanted.

      LBS has a ways to go to get sticky on a mass scale. FB has decent odds with their upcoming deals’ness, we’ll see how that turns out next. Other than that, local niches will have fun and hopefully they’ll all use gowalla and foursquare API’s to build their apps.


    • Aaron Strout

      Zach – love your response. And particularly, your two comments: 1) LBS being analogous to the early days of Twitter and 2) that it’s much more interesting when you provide the “why” vs. just the checkin.


    • Alex

      Recommendation algorithms are the dumbest form of artificial intelligence. They never work, because there are always moods involved. Today I hate Lady Gaga music, tomorrow i love it. Plus, there is “free will” and randomness that NO math can pre-calculate. As to the “Monopoly” factor — yes, winning feels good, but the true winner will bridge the virtual and the real worlds. Will it be GetGlue? Not sure. If FB wasn’t as stubborn with the singularity of sentiment (aka “Like” or nothing), they’d buy GetGlue. Personally, I don’t care for an coupons, stickers or mayorships — to me the most fun is IMPACT. I like (fill in the blank) — and my followers take notice. I hate (fill in the blank) — and they do the same.


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  5. Mike Proulx

    I’ll just add to Zach’s (and Michael’s) comments three attributes that I’m finding to be the real power behind Location-Based Social Networks (and as someone who prefers Foursquare):

    1. Serendipity: I’ve heard a number of accounts of people meeting up with each other because they were mutually checked into the same location. Our curiosity fuels us to see who else is checked-in (admit it), what’s trending, and knowing where our friends are.

    2. Utility: Foursquare often says that it’s not about the check-in but about the post check-in experience. Location-specific tips are just the beginning of providing value post-check-in but there is a lot more potential to get contextually relevant and useful information that’s “triggered” by the check-in.

    3. Loyalty: Whether or not a given location gives a tangible reward for being “mayor” (some do), it still feels good when one becomes mayor of a location that’s an important part of their life. It’s a badge of pride and our competitive nature fuels us to defend it. I’ve talked with many people who say they’ve gone to the gym more because they didn’t want to lose their mayorship.

    And it is the 3rd one which is one of the biggest opportunity for brands to integrate LBSNs into their customer loyalty programs and/or design loyalty programs around them.

    LBSNs are simply tools that enable our existing (and fundamental) human behaviors and, over time, they will continue to grow in their value. I couldn’t agree more with Zach that it is a bit of déjà vu with what people said about Twitter.


  6. Marshall Kirkpatrick

    I use these services to remember my own travels and to learn more about the areas I visit. ReadWriteWeb interviewed a number of users of these services earlier this year and wrote this post about Why People Check In http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/why_use_location_checkin_apps.php

    The widespread “what’s the point” attitude makes me sad and I wish Foursquare and Gowalla would do a better job enriching the experience. Not just with stupid coupons either.


  7. David Weigner

    Karen, my impression of Foursquare have been similar to yours except you have managed to stick with it longer! Thanks for the post.

    @Schneidermike – Do you see this playing out much differently from a digital version of those little customer ID cards stores currently use? Companies have always been willing to pay for customer data, it will be interesting to see if the value to consumers is such that they will be willing to give it a way in this context.

    @Zach – I’m always willing to give it another chance (oh look – Facebook Places!), but your thoughts didn’t really sell it for me at least. Of the four points you make in your reply: 1. Customers need to add context, 2. Rewards work well as is 3. Rewards can be extended and 4. Recommendations might come about someday; numbers 1 and 2 don’t really appeal to me, and for 3 see my question above.

    I agree that there’s lots of room to grow, especially if users coordinate to invent new uses, like the example of Twitter you brought up.


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  9. Dave Scalera

    I agree with just about all of the points made so far. I think at this point, we’d pretty much all agree that RIGHT NOW there isn’t much tangible that’s in it for us. However, I strong believe that once marketers realize how to do this right, it will be a win-win for both marketers and consumers alike – at least those of us consumers who like personalized ads.

    So until then, all of us who are “checking-in” can just consider ourselves pioneers and early adopters when LBS really does take off! 🙂


  10. Atanas Entchev

    For the last 19 years I have been implementing Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which are the grandfather of today’s LBSs. Many of my geo-geek friends are avid Foursquare users, but I never saw the point or utility. Indeed there is none, at least for consumers.

    The only beneficiaries of these systems are the owners of their vast user-compiled consumer databases.


  11. Jonas

    Work to become the major of a few of your favorite restaurants or bars. When someone out-visits you as mayor, I have a feeling the person who cares most will be you. There may be no monetary incentive to check-in services but there’s certainly a sizable body of users who find it entertaining enough to use it on a daily basis.

    Also, I’d include Facebook’s Places in the mix. Places could be a contributing factors to Foursquare’s decline in unique visitors in July. A restaurant near me will give everyone who checks in via Places a free pint glass.


  12. joe the coder

    LBS? Meh! I really don’t want to deal with all that stuff. What a nuisance. I use a smartphone a lot but I really don’t want some marketeer tracking me and making special offers. I don’t go to the Mall to be enticed, I go to buy something specific. I really don’t want coupons tapping me on the shoulder.

    You LBS wonks seem to think that consumers are just waiting to get a “special offer”. No we aren’t. We’re trying to live our lives with out being bothered by every idiot with something to sell. Don’t bug me, I know what i want to do.


    • ludditescum


      The hilarious bit is their defense here is the mythical ‘rock your world’ pizza place. I have discovered every awesome thing I have grown to love the analog way…with my eyes. Becuase I wasn’t staring at a cell phone screen at an intersection I noticed an awesome cajun place I had never been.

      a foursquare visit or a facebook like just dilutes the real world experience. I haven’t discovered anything I have enjoyed through either service.

      And I’ve seen a ton of businesses disappear by relying on social media advertising rather than focusing on every customer that comes in. facebook pages won’t help you survive at all and you should only create one after you are sure a community actually needs your services.


  13. Wil

    Foursquare has de-emphasized the points aspect, and there are very few badges for “advanced” users, so the game aspect of the service disappears after about 100 checkins. Notably, the “top tier” badge for # of checkins is “super star,” for 50 checkins.

    Seems like if Foursquare wanted to motivate regular users, they would have badges for e.g. 500 or 1000 checkins. Either they expect you to use the service for completely different reasons as you use it more, or their economic incentives don’t value committed users (i.e. there’s more dollars to be had from drive-by newbies).


  14. Gubatron

    I was where you are now around June. There’s no point, it’s just a slaving game and eventually you get bored and you couldn’t care less months after not using it.

    They need to come up with more, maybe stuff like “Locals” and coupons for all the locals, not just the mayors…

    In any case, it’s not that a good idea to let everyone know where you are.


  15. OlleNordin

    I’m with joe the coder on this one. Stop trying to sell me stuff I neither want nor need – Live simply. Work less. Do more.


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  19. Keith

    It’s interesting that some early adopters are now asking the same question that people just discovering 4sq/Gowalla are asking.

    What’s the point?

    In short, its the ability to discover people and places. I call it “insider trading in the real world”. My participation in both of these services have made me more connected and informed.

    Where’s the value in geosocial apps? That’s the question I tackle here http://netkno.ws/geovalue


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  22. Rick Calvert

    I admit it, I thought Twitter was stupid when I first heard of it. In my defense a lot of people a lot smarter and geekier than me thought it was stupid too. Eventually I did find tremendous value in it personally and professionally.

    LBS services on the other hand, still seem pretty stupid to me. I am willing to be convinced otherwise but it hasn’t happened yet.


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  24. Fkdev

    Going somewhere take time, so when I am looking for a place, I want to do the right choice.
    I want tips and photos of places so I can make a choice.
    I don’t care who is the mayor, where my friends are or where they have been.
    I need tips about places That me and my friends don’t know.


  25. Bobbie Carlton

    Last week I noticed that many interested parties were still awaiting a map of handicapped parking spots from the powers that be. I wrote a blog post about it because it seemed like a perfect use for something like FourSquare or SCVNGR. I use both services for the fun of it, the serendipitous meetings (“Are you @BobbieC who runs Mass Innovation Nights?) and the occasional rewards (Free Chowder at SummerShack) although I have run into the “Reward No One Knows Anything About” (B&N, I’m talking to you.) I’ve also used Foursquare for inspiration — I’m still trying to earn back my long held mayorship at Gold’s Gym (No Marty’s Mayor here, Mike.)



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  29. Nataly Kogan

    I think we’re seeing V1 of the various check-in apps and as Dennis @Foursquare has said, the check-in is a commodity and it’s all about the value post check-in. I think about it similarly to Facebook.

    When I post a status update, just posting it in and of itself is fine, but not extremely valuable. It’s pretty ephemeral and just lets me share what’s on my mind for a minute. What’s valuable are comments from friends which make me feel good. Being able to see my status posts as my digital history — which FB doesn’t do well but apps like Momento (iPhone) make possible. Learning what my friends are up to (yes, some posts are boring, but some are interesting.) That’s the valuable pieces – the post-status update.

    I think V2+ of the various check-in services will need to add tons more value to the post check-in to keep users engaged. If I’m the mayor of a restaurant, I don’t just want coupons, I want off the menu dishes and special tips from the chef, available just to me. If I check into a place, tell me something interesting about it (tips from friends are great start on Foursquare). If I am sharing my check-in history publicly I want deals from places that I’ve not been but will likely enjoy based on my previous history.

    At WHERE we’re focused on the pre-check in space – helping people discover new favorite places and stay connected to places they go to often or want to check out. And in this space also we’re constantly thinking about how to enrich their experience so that they share info with us – instead of a check-in, in the WHERE app it’s saving a place to a been here, fave or wanna go list. Today we provide personalized recommendations based on places you’ve saved, but we have to do much more. Deals based on your implicit preferences. Special rewards from places you love and go to often. And so on.

    I’m psyched for the V2+ of location based services as a user and as someone in the space — and fairly optimistic that there will be lots of ways to reward users for participating.


  30. Aaron Strout

    Karen – as I mentioned in my tweet yesterday, this is a great post and amen to you for asking the question that many in social media don’t want to ask. I think Mike, Zach, Mike and Val have addressed many of the question that you bring up in your post, however, I’ll add one more note. For LBS to REALLY take off, businesses need to sweeten the pot AND move toward a passive checkin model. Take a look at what @Whrrl is doing right now with their current USA WEEKEND Society give aways that include a pair of free tickets to the movies, a $50 grocery card, a free Norelco razor among other things. It’s these types of rewards that will get more and more people checking in (combined with key acknowledgements and experiential programs).

    BTW, thank you for the shout out and I can tell you that Mike and I DO look forward to addressing many of the excellent questions you bring up here in your post.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout


  31. John Wall's Ghost

    Aside from the population deciding it doesn’t care, the main flaw in the LBS model as I see it is that the core users and target of the marketers that would pay for the information is primarily composed of urban singles under the age of 30. I certainly don’t disparage that demographic, it hasn’t been that long since I was one, but generally they make numerous but small purchases at establishments that don’t or can’t compete on scale. For example, let’s take a young man or woman living in a small apartment in Boston. They might have some money to spend, but their living space is too small to fit much. Plus there are no kids to generate thousands upon thousands of small but profitable impulse purchases (trust me). The young single is only willing to go so far out of their way for their purchase so restaurants and liquor stores are only going to go so far to lure you away from the competitors in the very immediate area. Most of the businesses that cater to young singles in urban area are not large, so the scaleability of drawing in consumers is really inefficient as compared to, for example, marketing to a suburban mom in Kansas City.
    The LBS model generally depends on face-to-face purchases, which this user base is clearly willing to do, but what’s in it for the liquor store on the corner or the burrito restaurant down the street to lure you in when you generally make purchases there anyway because it’s close to where you live? The real marketing dollars and opportunities for deals are in large ticket items like cars, furniture, etc., which don’t translate well on LBS. I see a small opportunity in things like clothing and accessories, but not much else. The market with purchasing power and dollars and the power to leverage that into real benefits is not using LBS.


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  33. Anonymous

    Foursquare seems pretty stupid.


  34. "Here to stay"

    Facebook killed Foursquare and GoWalla. The Checkin shall live on.




  35. Becky Carroll

    In my opinion, part of the issue with LBS is that either 1) businesses are ignoring them by not engaging with those who are “raising their hands” to be recognized in this way or 2) businesses are only thinking about new customers and aren’t seeing this as an opportunity to really connect with their existing customers. Or both.

    I am hopeful that more businesses will do something for their loyal customers in 2011, and LBS could be a great tool for making this happen.

    Thanks for the post!


  36. Claudio Schapsis

    As I wrote in an article a few weeks ago the first and main problem from the business perspective is that in regular loyalty programs the customer is rewarded when there is an exchange in value, most commonly known as “customers paying for something”. While it’s true that the first step to have a sale is having the customer there, rewarding them just for showing up without following up on a sale doesn’t make much sense in the long run; neither for the customer – ask yourself “Who should be the mayor? The guy that show-up once a week and buy $150 worth of breakfast for the office or the one that checks in every day and buys a coffee for $4.5?

    The emphasis in Location Based Marketing in general and Geo-Social Marketing apps in particular shouldn’t be on Location or Social, it should be on Marketing. Location is an extremely useful tool, and geo-social games are only a part of it. Location Based Strategies should be incorporated AS PART of the marketing mix and with the overall marketing strategy in perspective.  When and where are more logistic oriented; who, what, and why are the ones you should focus on, and the combination of the five makes a killing solution.

    Check my article and recommendations on Check-in and Location Based Marketing – Lessons from the future

    I’ll appreciate your comments.



  37. Jennifer Marquez

    In my opinion, part of the issue with LBS is that either 1) businesses are ignoring them by not engaging with those who are “raising their hands” to be recognized in this way or 2) businesses are only thinking about new customers and aren’t seeing this as an opportunity to really connect with their existing customers. Or both. I am hopeful that more businesses will do something for their loyal customers in 2011, and LBS could be a great tool for making this happen. Thanks for the post!


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  43. Hiren Patel

    LBS is still gaining momentum. Ever increasing penetration of smart phones along with chance to save a buck or two will drive the growth. There are plenty of people who want to save a buck or two.

    Businesses will have to come up with creative ways to engage with customers on LBS infused with social media. This will help retention hence increase business.

    Great post Karen.


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  47. Jon

    There’s no more “point” to Foursquare than there is to Facebook or Twitter, or the very first telephone (no-one else has one, who can I call!). The reason to use it only becomes clear when… everyone uses it. If it gains traction it will be massive. I also agree with Alex that “the true winner will bridge the virtual and the real worlds”. Look at how successful lifetokens.com is/was – will people want real, non-virtual Foursquare pins and badges to wear, or cards or tokens to collect or trade?


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