What’s the big deal about Foursquare?

There has been lots of talk in the press lately about location-based applications and Foursquare seems to be earning the lion’s share of the coverage, even though there are others in the space, like Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite, with similar offerings.

So what is Foursquare, anyway?

Foursquare is a location based service with a bit of goofy competition thrown in for good measure. You load up the Foursquare app on your iPhone, Blackberry or whatever you carry around that is GPS-enabled. When you arrive at a destination that has a “hang out” quality to it (think bar, restaurant, book store, museum, clothing store or anyplace you might be awhile) you “check in” at that place. If you don’t find the place already listed within Foursquare, you can add in the name, address, phone, etc., of the place, and THEN check in. All of this activity earns you points and helps you unlock different badges (this is the goofy competition part). Additionally, you might find that your other Foursquare friends are hanging out in the same place or, perhaps, they are somewhere nearby in the neighborhood. There are literally dozens of badges and the more times you visit a particular place, you end up becoming the “mayor” of that place. Here is where Foursquare gets interesting for businesses. (Click here to see what Foursquare is doing to help businesses take advantage of their service. They make it VERY easy.)

Every successful business has regular customers. Now, via Foursquare, you can reward those loyal customers and their friends. 10% off an item of clothing if you’re the mayor of a local clothing retailer. Bring in 3 other friends and your meal is free. You get the idea. It’s a new twist on loyalty programs, but in a much more public forum. Your Foursquare updates can be tied to your twitter feed and posted to your facebook page, letting people know about the places you like to eat, shop or hang out. Why is this significant? Because people trust the recommendations of their friends and peers more than they do celebrity endorsers or commercials. And if you are a local business, you’re not going to have a celebrity endorser anyhow. (I love this Jimmy Choo treasure hunt around London using Foursquare.) Foursquare also allows users to leave tips about different businesses in sometimes clever ways. I was recently having lunch and when I checked in, someone had left a tip that automatically popped up that said “Make sure you try the ice cream across the street at Miss Mooie’s.”

Location based apps have a certain creepiness factor, but I see them as a huge boon to businesses of all sizes. Foursquare does allow for advanced privacy settings, so you don’t have to broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world. Maintaining connections to customers is so critical for the survival of ANY business, and Foursquare enables those connections, and also helps with the important work of having your customers act as your marketing street team. As Twitter and facebook continue to integrate location into their services, Foursquare is a logical complement. For business owners, it is not a silver bullet, but IS a clever and effective way to engage and reward your most loyal customers, and steadily build a new customer base.

TV is still King, and the Internet is an enabling Prince

I have written in this space (too many times to link to) about the absurd and reductive tendency on the part of the media and others to anoint “killers” every time a new piece of technology or social media platform comes out: iPhone killers, Kindle killers, TV killers, and on it goes.

 

Despite cratering ratings of many TV shows, TV still rules the roost and social media and the Internet actually enable and help to grow audiences, rather than be the oft-predicted TV killer. The 70,000 twitter posts per hour during last week’s Oscars telecast probably had something to do with its strong ratings showing.

Just as social media can help level the playing field allowing smaller brands, retail outlets, restaurants or mom & pop stores to have a fighting chance against household names, the same holds true for TV. David Carr’s March 15 piece in the NY Times quoted the GM of Oxygen Network who credited the popularity of “Bad Girls Club” to social media. The show “is knit so tightly into the social media system that on nights it is on, its characters and plot make up 5 of the top 10 topics on Twitter.” (We will leave out any discussion of the relative quality of programming for now.) For live programming, such as the Oscars, social media can be an even bigger boon. New services such as Hot Potato offer a foursquare-style ability to “check in” to a particular live TV program (think the NCAA basketball tournament or CNN) and let friends socialize and comment in real time.

All of these trends help stanch the ratings hemorrhaging that has been afflicting TV for some time now.

Methinks the web-fearing TV exec doth protest too much.

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On privacy, or Why facebook is not your friend

I have long believed that privacy is an illusion, a sort of opiate for the masses. “Trusted” companies have collected our  credit/debit card records, telephone calls and text messages for years. Now it’s the archiving of facebook, twitter and foursquare updates, blogs posts and comments…and on it goes.

On the one hand we expect a certain degree of privacy, on another hand we willfully give it up and on a third hand (warning: this post is not anatomically correct), we cry “foul” when we feel our privacy has been violated. Like 99.9% of all matters internet related, none of this is new. Ma Bell always knew who you called and Visa always knew what you bought and where and when you bought it. The magnetic stripe on the back of your driver’s license probably knows who you took to the prom, for God’s sake.

Living your life online brings the fear (hysteria?) of privacy loss into sharper focus even though, in many cases, we ourselves are to blame for that loss. I would argue that “they” have long known lots more about you than you probably want to think about. Haven’t you ever watched “Law and Order”? Cell records, swiped ID cards, 7-11 debit card receipts- that’s how Jerry Orbach poked holes in your lame alibi and Sam Waterston put you away in the second act.

facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently, in a very offhanded and arrogant  manner, declared that the new default (non) privacy settings on facebook reflected new “social norms” and so “we just went for it.” Let me translate that for you:  a service that is used by 350 million people worldwide just made a profound change, a complete 180,  in how your information, posts, pictures, comments, videos, etc. are protected and they didn’t even bother to check with you first. They just “went for it.” (Read more here)

Awesome, dude.

Of course, you can go into your privacy settings at the top of your page and revert back to the way things were. But how many of you reading my little blog are hearing about this change for the first time? Further, one of the founding principles of facebook that kept us all coming back was that you could rightly assume that your updates, pictures and stuff were only being seen by your “friends” (another word that facebook has rendered meaningless, but that is another blog post).

This is not an anti-facebook rant, regardless of the what is contained in the previous paragraphs. I will say, however, facebook is dead wrong about this policy and may suffer the consequences. Their misguided and tin eared policy shift is akin to positing “if you don’t want someone to see you doing something bad, maybe you shouldn’t do it.” Uh huh. This illogical rejoinder is most often utilized by governments in the former Soviet Union, North Korea and more than once by the previous crew in Washington (and probably the current one, too). Privacy does not just mean secrecy, but that reductive logic is part of the price we pay in these anti-intellecutal times we live in. This “argument” in defense of “openness” renders context meaningless.

As regular readers of this blog already know, I am big fan of the author Chuck Klosterman. I read something the other day in his book “Eating the Dinosaur” that encapsulated the current state of affairs and maybe, just maybe, helps share the blame for this so-called “loss of privacy.”

“…I’m not sure that we aren’t seeing the emergence of a society in which almost everyone who isn’t famous considers themselves cruelly and unfairly unheard. As though being famous, and the subject of wide attention, is considered to be a fulfilled human being’s natural state- and so, as a corollary, the cruelly unheard millions are perpetually primed and fired up to answer any and all questions in order to redress this awful imbalance.

I fear that most contemporary people are answering questions not because they’re flattered by the attention; they’re answering questions because they feel as though they deserve to be asked. About everything. Their opinions are special, so they are entitled to a public forum. Their voice is supposed to be heard, lest their life become empty.

This, in one paragraph (minus technology), explains the rise of New Media.

Tivo did not kill TV. Anyone surprised?

I am a big sports fan, but the one thing I have never been able to watch are pre-game shows. They always struck me as such a monumental waste of time in crystal ball gazing and trenchant insights such as,  “If this happens, then this will happen…but, we still need to watch out for THAT, because it will change the course of THIS, meaning everything I just said might go the other way.” Really? Well, good thing we have a panel of “experts.”

The pre-game show is the high water mark in hedging. Why? Because what makes the future the future is that no one can predict it. (I know, I know. You needed me to tell you that.) Sure, you can make  educated guesses based on experience- the Detroit Lions will probably lose this Sunday. Miami will be hot in July. The coupon for the free quart of ice cream will expire before I remember to use it.

But in most other things, predictions are way off. Here’s another great example.

When the DVR, or Tivo, hit the market, there was all sorts of hand wringing among network executives and advertisers that it was going to kill television. If you give people the chance to skip past the commercials, the thinking went, of course they will.

Well, folks, a July blizzard just hit Miami. According to Nielsen, 46% of viewers 18-49 for all four major broadcast networks are watching the commercials during playback. And that number is up a bit from 2008. Why? Because watching TV is the epitome of a passive activity. The habit ingrained in all of us since youth of plopping down on the couch and letting it wash over us is, apparently, a tough one to break.

“It’s completely counter-intuitive,” observed Alan Wurtzel, the president of research for NBC. Now THERE’S a good observation.

All I can say is, research like this puts the kibosh on all the rosy predictions of interactive TV. Viewers choosing the direction of a show from among several different endings? Nah. Clicking on the screen to buy the shirt that Oprah has on? Mmmm…not so much. We all just sit down, watch, and leave it to the programmers to tell us what we want. The other way is just too much work.

The Lions just won the Super Bowl.

Current trends in social media use

This past week I came across two interesting items while getting ready to deliver a presentation on social networking to a marketing group. According to a report from Nielsen, time spent on social media sites has tripled when you compare user numbers from August 2008 to August 2009. 17% of all time spent on the internet is being spent on social networking sites.

 

This echoes another trend that I find fascinating: Six years ago, the primary use of the internet was communication. Today, people spend over 40% of their time online consuming content. The internet facilitates our innate desire to connect with others and share.

So, having said that, where does your company or brand fit in? Are you listening to your customers? Are you giving them what they want? Are you engaging with them where they are congregating?

Have you seen yourself online through someone else’s eyes?

As regular readers of this blog know, I devote a lot of time to talking about how social networks are shaping our kids and that we, as parents, need to keep ourselves apprised of what’s going on out there in facebook-twitter-flickrland. The assumption tends to be that we need to keep an eye on our kids because they might do (or post) something dumb that might haunt them forever.

Even President Obama, in his back-to-school speech, explicitly warned kids about posting the wrong kind of stuff on facebook.Young people, the thinking goes, don’t have the benefit of life experience nor do they show sufficient discretion in terms of the things they choose to share online.

Perhaps. But I would argue that the real enemy of discretion is complacency. After you’ve spent a little time and you get comfortable on social networks, there is sometimes a tendency to let your guard down. As the economy continues its jobless recovery, did you know that 45% of HR professionals used social networks to research candidates occasionally? (Google, facebook and LinkedIn being the top three resources they checked, surprising no one.)

So if you were sitting in a job interview right now and the HR person asked, “Hey, mind if we pull up your facebook page real quick?” What would you say?

Now, because I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy, I should mention that the converse is also true: HR pros admitted to hiring because of what they saw on a candidate’s profile, citing “a positive look into the individual’s personality” or because the profile was professional, creative or “showed off the candidate’s skills.”

If you’re looking for a job, make sure you’re in that second group. It’s not just kids who post dumb stuff.

A (perhaps not so) obvious word about social networking

I noticed something in today’s paper that cell phone coverage in the US was now approaching 100%. (It’s already at something like 96.7%). The number of active social network users as a percentage of all Internet users is equally dumbfounding. Pretty soon it will not be hyperbolic to say “EVERYONE” is on fill-in-the-blank social network.

But what is that doing for us?

I think it’s important to remember that social networks are not new. Instant messaging and e-mail can probably vie for the title of “First Social Network.” facebook, twitter and all of today’s updated versions enhance and enrich our online experiences. For me, the intrinsic value of being networked online is to enhance my life offline. (Otherwise known as “real life.”)  My presence on the different social networks has brought immeasurable value, for reasons grand and trivial, business and personal.

It’s been said that facebook is for connecting with people you know and twitter is for connecting with those you’d like to know. I think there is a kernel of truth to that, but they’re certainly not the only two networks out there. (Although when I watch my local Fox sports channel and they tag their promos with “follow us on facebook and twitter,” I know we have crossed some invisible mass acceptance barrier.)

To those who complain of social network overload or to those who have been reluctant to jump in, I would ask if you have considered what your goals might be in joining or not joining. Social networks merely facilitate the primal need we all have to connect, share and interact.

Think of it that way.

Who uses social networks anyway?

Anderson Analytics has recently confirmed what many of us already knew about the most popular social networks out there, namely facebook, MySpace, twitter and LinkedIn. For marketers looking for good demographic and psychographic information about buying habits and areas of interest broken down by which social network they use, there is some good stuff here.

110 million Americans, which represents about 60% of the total online population, use social networks. That number might be low as the study only counted people who used a social network in the past month. The average social networker spends a LOT of time on them: 5 days a week, 4 times a day for at least an hour each day. 9% stay logged in all day keeping tabs on what’s new.

For brands considering a facebook page or twitter presence, 52% of users had friended or become a fan of a brand, illustrating that people are receptive to this type of engagement. Not surprisingly, 45% say they link only to family and friends, and another 18% saying they will only link to people they had met in person.

A quick breakdown by service:

facebook:

  • 77 million users
  • 40% married
  • 80% white
  • Average income $61,000
  • Average number of connections: 121

facebook showed a tremendous level of loyalty with 75% of users saying it was their favorite site and another 59% saying that had increased their use of the site in the past 6 months.

twitter:

  • Interests skew more towards news, restaurants, sports, politics, personal finance and religion.
  • More likely to use twitter to promote their blogs or their businesses
  • Average income $58,000
  • Average number of followers: 28; average number they follow: 32
  • 43% said they could live without twitter

MySpace:

  • Young, fun, but disappearing. Most said they had used the site much less in the last 6 months.
  • 67 million active uses (nothing to sneeze at)
  • Most joined for fun and are into humor, comedy and video games
  • Not big on exercising but, unexpectedly, they seek out parenting advice more than any other group.
  • Average income: $44,000
  • More likely to be black or hispanic, and 60% are single
  • 23% are students

LinkedIn:

Surprising no one, LinkedIn is all about business. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right? It’s also the only service that skews more male than female (57%-43%).

  • Average income: $89,000
  • Interests skew towards news, employment info, sports and politics
  • More likely to to be into going to the gym, spas, yoga, golf and tennis
  • They are also into gadgets, although not too much gaming. Digital cameras, High-def TVs, DVRs and Blu-ray players. (So THEY’RE the 16 people who have bought a Blu-ray!)
  • They unwind by gambling online and, wait for it…., going online for soap opera content. (OK, I have NO idea what the significance of that is.)

The full report is supposed to be out now, so check their site for more details.

Social Media is STILL Stupid

About one year ago, I wrote a tongue in cheek post entitled Social Media is Stupid. (Click the link to refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait…it was a short post.)

The inspiration for the post was from the inimitable Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb back in May 2008 where she outlined how social media could be used to support social causes such as the victims of the Chinese earthquake, tornado victims in Corvida, charities, social causes, news gathering and social good.

Well, the stupidity of social media is rearing its head once again, this time in Iran. Iranians inside the country, and millions around the world who support those who challenge the recent elections, are blogging, posting to facebook and using twitter to coordinate their protests.  By using the hashtag #iranelection, all tweets on this topic can be organized and searched on a moment’s notice. (Go to search.twitter.com and enter #iranelection to see how it works.) Even though the government has attempted to shut down texting and internet access, enterprising citizens have figured out a way around the roadblocks.

The next time you hear someone who has never used twitter, or any other new media tool for that matter, but who has a fully formed opinion peppered with such enlightened observations like, “Why do I care what you had for lunch today?”, fill them in on what I’ve written about here.

We are in the middle of a worldwide communications revolution, folks. facebook and twitter may not be the standard bearers on into the future, but how much more proof do you need that things have changed forever?

What do women want?

I don’t know. This is not that kind of a blog.

But I CAN tell you what women are doing online: the same thing as everyone else.

According to a study released recently from BlogHer, iVillage and Compass Partners, women are turning to blogs and social networks in ever increasing numbers as their primary source of information, community interaction and entertainment.

This shift is taking time away from reading newspapers and magazines, watching TV and  talking on the phone. Of the women surveyed who participated in some kind of social media activity, over half either read or wrote blogs, 75% were on Facebook or some other community-based site and 20% were using Twitter. Not surprisingly, women bloggers were at the leading edge of social media participation.

The thing is, I read studies like this and I kind of scratch my head a little bit. First of all, it’s not immediately clear if this news represents a shift in behavior among women, or if internet uptake has been the same among the sexes. It seems to me that the Internet is there for all of us and we all pretty much use it the same way: educate ourselves about the things we are interested in, interact with friends or network for business, and research reviews and opinions before we make purchases.

Findings like these ought to be titled “Women Are People, Too.” Make of them what you will. (This just in: Women use computers. Film at 11.)