To Foursquare or Not to Foursquare?

July 21, 2010 | by Jill Kurtz | Posted in Social Media

While preparing for Balance’s Trends in Online Technology seminar in May, I wanted an illustration of the idea of social media that makes use of geo-location. A more location-sensitive web has long been held to be a hallmark of “Web 3.0,” and I see greater sensitivity to location as a trend in social media as well.

Thus began my journey with foursquare.

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is a web and mobile application that allows its users to share where they are – down to the specific building, park, business, etc. – with their friends. Users earn points and badges for locations that they frequent, and can even become the foursquare mayor if they have "checked in" to that spot the most. (Moment to brag – tongue in cheek – I am the mayor of Balance, my church, and even a lighthouse.)

Do You Care?

What does foursquare mean to you?

If you are a business that wants to attract more customers to your location, this social media tool is for you. You can claim your business with foursquare, which allows you categorize yourself and add tags. This makes you visible to any foursquare users who may just use the site to find a nearby restaurant or dry cleaner. (Caveat here – I have been trying since May to get this level of access to the Balance entry on foursquare with no luck so far. Their FAQ says there is a backlog of processing requests, but gives no sense of how much time it will take.)

Businesses can also offer coupons and specials. Starbucks does this. Become the mayor of any of their locations and you get a drink on the house.

For non-profits and associations, foursquare offers great, free visibility. And users can see when people in their networks support you by stopping by to drop off donated goods, showing up for a volunteer shift, or otherwise making use of your organization's services.

The Privacy Thing

You can't look at location-based social media without addressing privacy. With foursquare and tools like it, users announce where they are and therefore where they are not. The extent to which this happens depends on the user, his or her privacy settings and the other social sites he or she chooses to integrate with foursquare.

While security concerns are regularly raised, the number of users is steadily growing. We are definitely wary and curious at the same time. The data shows that user behavior is still being defined.

Webroot, a company that specializes in Internet security software, conducted a survey of 1,500 social network users who own mobile devices with geo-location capabilities in June.

  • 39% were already using location-based tools
  • 55% said they were worried about privacy concerns related to services that identify your location
  • 27% of males ages 18-29 share their location with friends every day
  • 10% check in daily at specific locations
  • 45% of geo-location users said they were concerned about alerting burglars to potential windows of opportunity when they're away from home  
  • 29% said they have shared their location with people other than their friends
  • 11% have used a geo-location service to meet a stranger, digitally or in person
  • Women are more likely to express concern about the potential threat posed by geo-location services, with 49% saying they're very worried about a stalker using their information, compared to 32% of men.  

Bottom Line

While the creators of foursquare and social media like it wrestle with the meaning of the data and security concerns for the future of their networks, businesses found here and other social media need to look at the value for their marketing and relationship building efforts. Certainly, this is a great opportunity to create awareness among users who are geographically close to you.


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