At this point Foursquare is practically a classic application, emerging from the SXSW dust in March of ’09, (essentially the location based content of your Facebook or Twitter feed, with a hearty assist from Google maps). The oh-so-hipster, self-referential, meta articles have been written and the software pedigrees have been suss-ed. Enough time for the coolest social media geeks to be checked in and Mayor of roughly 3,465 places. Enough time for the rest of us to have caught on and the naysayers to have taken notice, protesting the culling of information!, the free market research for greedy companies!, and *dramatic inhale* what if they are tracking us!
Never fear, Foursquare is legitimately WASP-y and embodies most of Gladwell’s principles. Most importantly, Foursquare itself has reached Gladwell’s “tipping point” in the progression of true word of mouth epidemics and is poised to cause another in the world of advertisement and marketing. Aside from Foursquare’s original intended use as a real time social media device connecting club goers out for the night with each other, it has the potential to harness the dark matter of marketing, true vetting and “word of mouth”.
Like Gladwell’s unlikely gold box in the corner of an ad, Foursquare has used the concept of badges to leverage the “stickiness’ factor into downloads, i.e. sales. Foursquare has phoenixed its way from the ashes of Dodgeball to the storied halls of acquisition rumor, with mysterious algorithms that grant the user digital badges of dubious distinction. A brilliant strategy that, like so many other games, recognizes that the devil is in the silly titles, whether its Mayer John Smith of Sunshine Car Detailers, 1770 Longhill Rd, or Impervious Stormreaver, we all just want to be someone. Emotional investment in gaining that badge of honor is a strangely computed calculus not based on the area under the coolness curve. You know you wince a little when you check into some obscure place you thought you’d be first at and you see that someone else is already the Mayor. Heartache aside, not only may you strive to usurp the current Mayor, you just might get a deal on that pricey detailing service.
Gladwell points out that a word of mouth epidemic “tipping point” is often facilitated by three types of people; Mavens, Salespeople and Connectors. Exactly the types of people who will now take Foursquare and make it into a value added proposition for busy people everywhere, and not just a follow the leader from nightclub to nightclub type of game. The “mavens” essentially the best vetting system there is, will give a shout out – best fried chicken in town! – the “salespeople” will know that buckets are half price on Wednesdays, a “connector” can take all of that info and disseminate it to disparate circles of friends, and suddenly Charlie’s Chicken Palace is your new favorite Wednesday night haunt, your marvelously vetted chicken is half price and all you have left to do is burn off the calories.
Yet, has even one of the slithering tentacles of our fantastical “market research” perversions found their mark? Long has the collection of our personal information been protested by the tweeting classes, and yet still we are inundated daily with ads for things we do not need, want or will ever buy. For crying out loud (!), all we really want is to get a totally sweet, buy-one get-one at Starbucks.
Every time you swipe your club card at a supermarket you are letting retailers and manufacturers know exactly how much of what you are buying. Gladly you trade this information to get two cans of Campbell’s for $5. Many internet phenoms have long culled our information, and yet NO ONE has found a more effective way to market products and none of our invasion of privacy fears have come to pass. Culling random words from profiles and emails to generate ads doesn’t work, there is no vetting of information and the often silly ads are ignored. In the past certain other social networks have tried to harness the power of word of mouth, but you have to combine “like” with an added value. Can Foursquare close the gap? Frankly, I for one will welcome the day that I can check in at my favorite spot and get an instant coupon or tip for something I actually want, and will trade information on my location for it. Better still if I meet up with or make a new friend while I am at it!
Let us, neither the salespeople, mavens, connectors or average Joes, fear the repercussions of location based social media. I believe that while that coveted BoGo is finally within our grasp, our addiction of dolce, pumpkin, triple whipped, caramel macchiatos can never be quantified.
And when that occasional uncomfortably close to home (Still Single at 30??!!! Meet real men here!) ad does pop up, just remember, its not you, it’s the Google.