The Role of Foursquare

While reading various lists of the top trends of 2011, and those which will likely continue into 2012, I’ve found location-based check-ins to be a popular topic. While Facebook Places made a decent effort at it, no company has succeeded in marketing check-in services as well as Foursquare. Combining various location-based services with Facebook and Twitter integration, Foursquare has established a significantly large base of users and is expected to continue improving.

Despite its popularity, Foursquare does still have much growing to do, and still isn’t living up to its full potential. However, the blame does not fall solely on the company; Foursquare is simply suffering from the same issue as many other social media services: despite a large base of users, the functions thrive off of user activity. This same problem is currently being connected with Google+, which is finally seeing surges in usage. Social sites simply aren’t serving their full potential if users aren’t being social enough. Foursquare has managed quite well, but will need to see some change to keep up. For example, better advertising of various features; many users, myself included, fail to make the effort to discover and utilize features other than simply checking in. Also, many businesses have not worked with Foursquare to offer incentives for checking in.

Check-ins have been debated in the past, with many not appreciating the value of such services. Some businesses, however, have embraced the potential. Many users still see check-ins as a way of somehow connecting with friends out in the world, sort of a bridge between technology and real-life meeting. This has proven to be problematic in practice, as it is rare for two people to happen to be in the same place at the same time. This has been solved with the use of services which allow you to plan a check-in in advance so that your friends can see where you will be. While this idea may bring up new features in the future, it isn’t something that Foursquare has introduced at this point.

Perhaps most valuable to a business using Foursquare is the idea that checking in is essentially free advertising. If I go to a store and check in, I’m telling all of my Foursquare friends, as well as my Facebook friends and Twitter followers if I have my accounts linked, that I am shopping at this store. If I check in there frequently, it is almost a sort of silent recommendation that I enjoy visiting this store. Or a not-so-silent recommendation, if I include a positive message along with my check-in. With incentives such as check-in specials and badges, users are even more likely to check in and even go out of their way to visit a business with some sort of special. Using to-do lists, users can also save specials as a reminder, and using the new radar feature, your phone can even alert you when you are near something on your to-do list.

Finally, I want to touch on some interesting features that rely on user activity to really make a difference. When checking in, users have the ability to upload pictures and suggest tips for those who check in later and anyone searching for a place to visit. Unfortunately, many venues lack pictures or tips, especially those outside of large cities. These features offer the potential for users to search for possible destinations during trips or even when exploring their own town. Businesses can also include their own pictures and tips; for example, restaurants may show off dinner specials, or stores may advertise sales and new fashions. Entertainment venues especially benefit from this, allowing potential customers to decide where they want to hang out based on pictures. The lists feature, which I admittedly failed to use as often as I should have after moving to Boston, allows users to create a list of their favorite locations with a certain theme for other users to use to explore a city. For example, “Favorite Nightlife Spots,” “Best Restaurants,” or “Historical Tours” may guide users through a tour of a new city from the eyes of other visitors or locals. Organizations, or even city officials, may find huge potential in this feature, guiding visitors through the best spots in the city or various related businesses.

While Foursquare has enjoyed huge success, check-in services still have a long way to go in improving user experience and raising activity. The future remains bright, however, as new ideas and technologies continue to allow for improved experiences.

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