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Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

Check in Apps - Silly Fad or Hidden Opportunity?

By: Jeremy Morgan






You stroll into a restaurant, get seated at your table, chatting with friends. You bring up your mobile phone and load up Foursquare, GoWalla, or Facebook Places and “Check in”. Now all your contacts on these networks and/or your Facebook friends know you are enjoying a nice orange chicken at P.F. Chang’s. But does anyone really care? And as a marketer, do you really care about the people who are doing this?

Location Based Services are popping up all over, and gaining in popularity. Foursquare is rumored to  be adding 100,000 users a week. Gowalla, a close second, is planning some major changes in it’s next release that could lead to them catching up rather quickly.  And of course Facebook Places has made a huge splash due to the popularity of Facebook in general, something people are already on with their mobile phone anyway. So is this the next big thing, or a silly fad? Nobody truly knows the answer, but people are certainly giving it a try.

Location Based Services are Fun, and Useful

I use both Foursquare and Facebook Places to “check in” to certain spots. Even though I know a significant amount of my social network couldn’t care less, there are some that do. I’ll give you some examples.

At work: I work from home frequently. But when I’m in the office, it’s helpful for my coworkers to know I’m there, on site. When I “check in” those coworkers who are Facebook friends (a significant amount) know I’m there and know they can go looking around the office to find me for a face to face question, or just to say hi.

At the Fire Department: I’m a volunteer firefighter, so I can answer calls at my own whim, but nobody really knows for sure whether I’ll be there for the next call. However, if I happen to be hanging out at the fire station, and I check in, my fellow firefighters who are on my Facebook know I’m there and will be available if there is a call. Most of my Lieutenants are on Facebook and it’s helpful for them to know this information in case something happens. They also know if I’m far out of town and won’t be available if a call comes in.

Socially: When I check in at a restaurant or a local pub, it’s an announcement that I’m there, but also an invitation for my buddies to join me. It’s a good way to start an informal gathering. Also, it’s a conversation piece and a chance to tell them about a place they haven’t been. “Hey Jeremy, I saw you were at _____ the other day, is that place any good?” As someone who loves to visit ethnic restaurants and sports bars, it’s a good chance to introduce my friends to something new.

What’s the point?

So if you’re asking yourself, “what’s the point of these check-in services?” I just gave a few personal examples of why I use it. And many people use them for similar reasons and more. My point: there are some actual useful reasons for using services like this other than pointless “what I’m having for breakfast” type of thing. That’s why these services are catching on.

Ironically the “next big thing” in social networking seems to be real life networking as opposed to friends that exist purely on the internet. Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and other services expanded your circle of friends nationally and internationally, and these services are bringing your circle back to your local area. It’s a bit of a concept shift, but not a big surprise things have come full circle like this.

How can you take advantage of these?

If I know my audience well enough, I would say that only about 20% of you can really take advantage of these services as a marketer (directly). In my research I’ve found that 20% of my readers are affiliated with a brick and mortar type business. And out of that 20% most of them are not “walk in” type places that would even be registered on Foursquare or Facebook places. That doesn’t mean you should ignore these services however. You should still sign up, register your business and use it to see what your customers are doing. See what they like, where they like to go and what they like to do. This may give you some insight into how you can make YOUR product or service better meet their needs.

For those businesses who would likely be featured on a LBS, such as Restaurants, Bars, Dance Clubs, Pool Halls and the like you have an excellent opportunity to reach out to new and existing customers now. The idea is simple: offer rewards to those who check in frequently. I’ll give you an example: Ballad Town Billiards, a pool hall in Forest Grove has a special offer: Free pool for the mayor. This simple offer serves two purposes: people show up often so they can become mayor, and people check in frequently which is essentially an advertisement for their venue. The more people they have checking in trying to become mayor, the more people are seeing their name plastered on Foursquare and Facebook, which is free advertising. Do you really think giving someone free pool is a high price to pay for that much exposure? Hardly.

Conclusion

Whether or not this “check in” thing is a fad that will go away, or the next big step in social life is unclear at this point. But you can capitalize on it as a marketer in a few ways:

  • See what your customer base or niche is interested in, where they are going and what they’re doing

  • Interact with your customers, see what they’re saying and how you’re perceived through reviews

  • Use incentives to get people to talk about your business and get them come in

Sounds like a lot of opportunity from a free service. Think about it.

Some useful links:

Foursquare

Gowalla

Facebook Places

List of Location Based Network Sites

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