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How does Foursquare affect our relationship with places and brands?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been using the Foursquare application on my iPhone, “checking in” at each location once I arrive. This geo-locator application now has a following of over 3 million, but I hadn’t given much thought to using it until I heard you get could get coupons. I’m all about a good deal.

As an electronic media and app junkie, I have found it moderately interesting. Although I’m not interested in sharing my status with online friends because of privacy concerns, I can still see who else around me is using Foursquare, or if I’m at a location that is popular with other Foursquare users. I’ve also been rewarded with my first coupon, a Gap offer for 25% off. Foursquare was also quick to reward me with “Badges” for my accomplishments as a newbie. Facebook has also recently launched a “Places” feature with the same functionality, but I’m going to stay away from it due to privacy concerns and the lack of existing rewards (at least so far).

But what does this mean to my connection to a place? I think that first of all, it helps to build loyalty. I’m more likely to go to a place repeated times in hopes of becoming a “mayor” (the user who has checked in at a place more than any other) or at least to improve my points rating. The points system currently has no practical application, but I’m hoping that I will be rewarded for my status as an early adopter at some point in time.

I think that it also encourages exploration. I’m usually motivated enough by curiosity or buzz to try a new restaurant, store, or bar, but now I’m also curious about what Foursquare will bring when I check in. Are there other Foursquare users there? Will there be coupons? Can I unseat someone as mayor? Can I be the first mayor? These are all questions that help me to get out there and try someplace new.

Right now I have one friend on Foursquare. It’s very possible that I have other friends who are using it, but so far I haven’t asked and we probably already know way too much about what’s going from Facebook that we don’t need more information. However, I can see greater potential with this application once one has a greater network, especially if you’re trying to manage a complicated evening out/expedition with a lot of friends and keep track of them. It may make managing a challenging physical space more easy on the virtual front.

For now, I’m just going to stay focused on becoming the mayor of my apartment building. Five days to go!

Emily Carr is a former project manager and brand strategist in Gensler’s Washington, DC office. Trained as a writer and graphic designer, she has spent much of her career in web and interactive design and continues to focus on how digital strategies can be integrated into spatial projects. Emily is a LEED-accredited professional and a regular author and speaker for AIGA, the professional association for design.

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Reader Comments (3)

I never thought about it being a motivator to try new places...figured it was more about where you are already frequenting, so that is interesting.

Do you think that companies can only build loyalty through Foursquare rewards or is there a "buzz by association" that overrides freebies (or cheapies)?
09.28.2010 | Unregistered CommenterKEK
I love Foursquare. I think it's bringing the interactive and social elements back to the brick and mortar establishments and creating a bit of community on the street level.
09.28.2010 | Unregistered CommenterRachel
Foursquare is an great place to start the geo-location based marketing discussion as it was one of the biggest before Facebook Places came along. But there are plenty of other options with their own wrinkle in capturing — and retaining — users. Foursquare takes the competition angle. Gowalla allows you to see the history of items you collect and trade with others as you travel and check-in to new places. Yelp! concentrates more on providing "word of mouth" recommendations that are public to all. Places has the biggest user base, but hasn't made a point yet. Here's a graphic that gives some context to the amount of people in these communities: http://jess3.com/geosocial-universe/

But more to your point (and that of the first commenter) about exploration and loyalty... I think marketers have to start thinking more in terms of tying brand experience, physical experience (architectural and cultural expression) and rewards together to be successful in using Foursquare (or any other geo-location app). It's the difference between a local Golden Corral's slight blip of success and Full Circle Bar's boom. (More on that here: http://ar.gy/2Z9)

Just like you are experimenting with your own motivations for using the app, marketers are — and need to do a lot more — experimenting with what will continually motivate people to participate and, more important, get people to bring others into the geo-location user fold. But it is still an x factor. One that's got me checking in via 5 or 6 different apps everywhere I go just to see who is using which, where.

Thanks for starting the conversation!

09.28.2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Lane

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