Unveiled in 2009, Foursquare quickly became the darling of the SXSW festival, with usership spreading through the ranks of early adopters and social media addicts alike. 8 months ago, Mashable drew parallels between the location-based mobile application and Twitter, which might be seen as its predecessor. Twitter itself was a hit at SXSW 2007, drawing much attention early on from both supporters and naysayers, the latter of which have gradually warmed to the platform as it became more widespread and understood.
This year, SXSW festival-goers were fanatical about Foursquare, clocking record numbers of check-ins (over 100,000 in less than 1 week in Austin, TX) and the addition of over 100,000 users in 10 days – a staggering number considering the 500,000 initial user base.
People seem to be flocking to the platform; is it festival hype driven by technophiles or will widespread adoption occur as it did in the case of Twitter?
Foursquare provides a bevy of new features, leveraging its location-based information and micro-blogging platform; however it does present many obstacles to widespread adoption. The core premise of the technology, sharing your location at any given moment in real time, is a sticking point for many users. The site Please Rob Me was started by a young Dutch media technology student to highlight the possible security issues and is testament to this fact.
Social media expert Scott Stratten (@Unmarketing) came to this conclusion as well, explaining that Foursquare is effectively “reverse stalking.” “Women dominate social media,” explains Stratten, “and they are the one’s hesitant to have you know where you are.” One can opt out of ‘broadcasting’ their location, but this defeats the purpose of the platform; without engaging the community by joining a two-way discussion, there is no contribution and no growth.
For marketers, the value of Foursquare is highly targeted location-based offers. Kevin Nakao of WhitePages claims that these advertisements are ten times more effective than non-targeted ad networks; it’s a marketer’s dream. Now, with more companies jumping on the Foursquare bandwagon, the medium is also driving creative campaign creation, such as the Marc Jacob’s nation-wide ‘Fashion Victim’ badge competition.
For businesses, the platform comes as a mixed blessing. On one hand, the marketing opportunities are clear. However, as Stratten points out, there is a more ominous side to Foursquare as often the power is taken out of the hands of businesses and corporations. Users can establish profiles for businesses and provide tags, reviews and tips to fellow customers that are untouchable to the business. This presents a serious concern in the case of negative and damaging comments. Rather than aiming to control the conversation, Stratten advises for companies join in on it.
Pete Cashmore of Masable sees two major trends driving the social media market: location-based services and real-time information – both of which go hand-and-hand with Foursquare. With the recent success at SXSW, one can clearly see the truth of this statement. Not to be outdone, Facebook has also entered the fray, slating the launch of their own location-based services in the near future. Nonetheless, Facebook does not intend to cannibalize on Foursquare’s market; rather, the social media giant aims to work in parallel, aiming to nip any location based services planned by Google in the bud.
Time will tell whether Foursquare truly is the next social media phenom. Will the platform become a part of the average user’s daily routine, a must for social media technologies, or will it be another passing trend. I, myself, haven’t been entirely sold on the application yet, but with the user base growing and location-based offers sweetening the deal, I might be warming to the idea.