I’ve written about the locative media service called Foursquare and used it for awhile. Today Jeff Turner, a renowned non-Foursquarer ignited a fascinating discussion by people way smarter than me about how Foursquare is or is not useful. Here are my current thoughts on the topic.
Mayorship is not the opportunity in Foursquare.
One of the most well-known features of Foursquare is about becoming “Mayor” of a venue or location. If you use Foursquare to check in to a place the most, you become Mayor. Everyone who checks in sees who the mayor is.
People get excited about becoming Mayor in the same way that they used to get excited about getting on TV. It’s fun to know that other people will see your name and your face associated with something cool, like your favorite coffee shop.
But from a marketing standpoint, mayorship really isn’t that much of an opportunity. Here’s why:
Mayorship limits your interactions with people.
Becoming mayor requires many visits to a single location. Since you’re more likely to meet the same people or the same type of people at a specific location, you’re limiting the diversity of people you meet. In most businesses, growing involves meeting more people and hearing a diversity of problems. The activities involved in becoming mayor on Foursquare don’t support this.
Mayorship puts you in competition with your audience.
Lots of people want to be mayor of any given location. It’s their favorite hangout, they want to be mayor. When people look at who the mayor of a location is, they are just as likely to be looking at that person as a competitive threat or someone to be beaten, not as someone to be admired.
And when you’re the mayor of multiple locations, you start to be that obnoxious dude at the party with the perfect teeth.
Mayorship is not scalable.
To become mayor requires checking in many times. To become mayor of many locations requires checking in to many locations several times. To maintain mayorship requires continually checking in to locations many times.
The more popular a location is (aka the greater the reach of your mayorship) the more often you’ll need to check in. This makes competitive Foursquare fairly time consuming if you’re trying to use mayorship to extend your reach.
Mayorship is useful for venue owners, not so much for players.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being the mayor of a few places. But I don’t think that this gives me any sort of real or imagined competitive marketing advantage. Certainly, I do get a little emotional about my local coffeeshop and wanting to be mayor there. But that’s mostly to tweak all my tech-head friends who also work in the Burlington VT Pine Street Geekzone. I’m not generating business from being mayor of Speeder & Earl’s.
From a marketing perspective, mayorship is not useful for the player. It’s great for the location though as it causes people to check in over and over, tapping into their competitive instincts. Be sure you know which side of the game you’re on.
The real opportunity in Foursquare is to be helpful.
There’s another feature of Foursquare that sometimes goes unnoticed. It’s called the tip.
For a bit more about how Corcoran Group uses Foursquare see this short interview by Katie Lance.
You can leave tips about every venue you check in to on Foursquare. Typical tips include what’s good about the menu, where the power outlets are located in airports, when the light is perfect for photographs. All sorts of stuff. Stuff that’s helpful to anyone who wants to fully enjoy a venue.
Leaving tips is the primary opportunity in Foursquare, here’s why:
- By leaving tips, you’re helping visitors instead of competing with them.
- By focusing on tips instead of mayorships, you don’t have to continually check in to the same venue.
- With the competitive pressure of mayorship removed, Foursquare becomes a relatively passive activity and scales with your activity.
- Leaving a variety of useful tips at various locations demonstrates your knowledge of an area or neighborhood in a way that is helpful for other people.
Foursquare and listening strategy
Once you’ve left mayorship behind and begun to focus on tips, Foursquare becomes useful again. It’s useful because tips are where the real value resides for locative media. By reading other people’s tips you can start to use Foursquare as part of a strategy based on listening.
- People are telling you what they like and admire.
- People are telling you what they wish was better.
- People are using their own words to describe things.
As a business person, I’m sure you see the value of knowing these kinds of things. People on Foursquare are telling you their aspirations, their loves and their hopes for making things better.
Use Foursquare to listen. Mayorship is for chuckleheads.