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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Social Media in Education- Social Media Club South Florida

Social Media Club South Florida will address a topic very near and dear to my heart: Social Media in Education. We have a fantastic panel and a (ahem) great moderator. Please try and make it out this week. Here’s a link to the Eventbrite invite (admission, as always, is free) and here’s a link to the Social Media Club South Florida page.

The March meeting of

Tuesday, March 9, 2010
7pm -10pm
Johnson and Wales University, 1701 NE 127th St. N. Miami

This month’s meetup will explore the opportunities and challenges educational institutions face in terms of social media:

– How to use social media to reach and keep in touch with alumni?
– How to reach out to potential new students and their parents?
– How to integrate social media for classroom learning?
– How to teach about social media use and safety to students … and parents?
– What about cyberbullying, sexting, and other pitfalls of online communication?
– What about crisis communications (crime alerts, etc.) using social media?
– How to use social media for marketing and community relations?
– Should educational institutions engage their followers?
– How to build community through sporting events, research, and other campus news?

Panelists include:
– Luis Casas, Florida International University
– Maureen Lloyd James, Johnson & Wales University
– Christine Casas, University of Miami
– Rosanna Fiske, Florida International University

Moderated by Matthew Chamberlin

Hope to see you there.

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BarCamp Miami 2010

BarCamp Miami 2010 is on for this coming Sunday, February 21 from 9am-6pm. This year, it will be taking place in the heart of Miami’s Design District at 4141 NE 2nd Ave.Just a quick note to let you all know that

If you’ve never been to BarCamp, I urge you to come. It is a free unconference that in years past has attracted upwards of 500 attendees.

If you’re a start up looking for some feedback on your idea, if you’re an employer looking for talent, if you’re talent looking for work or if you’re an investor looking to find out more about the ever growing South Florida tech scene then you need to be there.

Of course, many think that the Geek Dinner is the highlight of BarCamp. This year’s offering comes from world-class restaurants Pacific Time and Maitardi. Registration is free, but please sign up so we can get a head count. If you’ve never been before, you will be pleasantly surprised and if you’ve come to past events, you know what you’re in for.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there is $3 valet parking all day in the Design District. Hope to see you there.

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.

Meet me in Doha

My last post was made from my hotel room in Doha, Qatar where I lamented having missed a local bloggers conference. Since I made that post, I have made amends and connected with several of the attendees and organizers.  I am pleased to be heading back to Doha for several days starting December 26 and I want to use this blog post to connect with even more of you.

I am working on a long term project in Doha that focuses on several interesting topics including food security, green and sustainability issues, solar energy and technology. I will be in Doha  from December 27-New Year’s Day and really want to connect with as many  local bloggers, tweeters, and podcasters as I can, so please feel free to connect with me via the blog or twitter. (#tweetupqa)

In the meantime, Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks so much for supporting the blog and podcast this past year.

All the best in 2010.

New social networking communities

Social media is obviously a huge part of my life. I write about, it’s a big part of my day to day life, I talk about it ad nauseam and my consulting business is devoted to it. Nevertheless, I am fully aware that its uptake is not nearly as ubiquitous as some of us addicts might like to think. There are huge segments of the population, (dare I say the majority?) who wouldn’t know foursquare from Times Square, facebook from Redbook.

I make this blog post on my last day of a 6-day trip to Doha, Qatar. (Sorry, no picture to post. I know-lame!) I was curious to know what the social media scene was like here, especially since I am trying to evaluate how best to use SM on behalf of a new “green” client here in Gulf. Lo and behold, there was an Arab bloggers meeting here in Doha just yesterday called Mudawanat: All ABout Blogging. (Here’s one review of the event. Jeremiah Owyang spoke to the conference and writes about it here.) Unfortunately, I found out about it too late (shame on me), and would have been unable to attend in any event since I was a little busy finishing up some work. But it was encouraging to see that social media uptake is continuing to grow steadily everywhere you turn.

I know that my personal and professional lives have been immeasurably enriched because of social media/social networking and I am glad to have found a new community, if I make it back to Qatar someday soon.

Is “good enough” good enough?

Long before I made the move into social media, most of my career has been spent in the entertainment business. I started in radio, moved to the music business (as both a performer and executive) and then onto TV (never as a performer, thank God).

I have always been fascinated by trends and how sometimes you can have two diametrically opposed trends developing simultaneously. I still produce, direct and write lots of video content (here’s a picture taken two days ago from a client shoot to prove it), and this has kept me thinking about one of these two-way trends a lot.

Quality. How important is it, as it pertains to audio or video content?

First let me identify the trends, as I see them. On the one hand, there is this breakneck race to the top in terms of HD televisions, HD video cameras, even HD radio. Everything needs to be as life like as possible, and we all want high quality HD monitors at home to watch the, arguably, low quality content on TV. (Hey, it’s my blog. I can editorialize all I want.) But, seriously, video production and delivery quality is going up up up while the prices of TVs and cameras keep coming down down down.

On the internet, however, high quality video delivery is still hampered by bandwidth issues, among other things. Flip cameras, iPhone 3GS and other low cost video cameras are gaining in popularity, and with good reason. You Tube, uStream, facebook and other outlets allow you to then share that content quickly. But that, in my view, is the disconnect. Online video and user generated content tends to be of very low quality. The video needs to be compressed in order to be uploaded, and good audio is almost always an afterthought, if it’s thought of at all. I have long maintained that the democratization of content creation and distribution is both the best thing and the worst thing about the internet. The great thing is, ANYONE can make a video. The bad thing is, ANYONE can make a video.

So, to restate it: We demand high quality audio and video at home, but we give online content a pass. I wonder how long will that trend last? And, more importantly, if your business chooses to use video, does the TECHNICAL quality of the content you put out there send a subconscious message to your audience? You might not realize it, but when people try and watch a video that has terrible sound, they make a LOT of judgments. You do, too. There is an old saying that “Video is easy. Sound is hard.” I understand that there are situations where a company might CHOOSE to go the UGC route, and there are tons of valid reasons for doing just that. But my question is a deeper one. Has expertise been devalued? Are all decisions coming down to dollars and cents? If so, is it penny wise and pound foolish? Something you post on the internet, as I say every day of my life, is there forever. There is no delete button on the internet. So is putting out content for content’s sake a sound decision?

Obviously, quality has always carried the day in all walks of life and in all endeavors. When both audio and video podcasting were new, there were zillions of podcasts being produced and thrown up onto iTunes or onto people’s blogs and websites. There is less of that now because people have realized that creating regularly scheduled, quality content is hard, and expensive work. Expensive in terms of the time investment and, yes, the dollar investment.

But here’s the question I have rolling around in my head that I don’t have an answer to: have we reached a point where “good enough” is good enough? Our attention spans are being vied for every minute we’re awake. So is “yeah,yeah, I get the gist of it” where we find ourselves today? And if the answer to either of those questions is “yes,” then where does that leave professional content creators?

My sense is that the quality of internet audio and video is improving because people are tired of wading through stuff shot with shaky cameras, bad sound, no edits, no titles, no opens or closes- no expertise. In other words, maybe the new way is trending and becoming more like the old way. For every uStream video, there is a Hulu video. I realize it is an unfair comparison to compare UGC with NBC, but I hope I make my point.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Has good enough become good enough? If so, do you think it will always be this way? Am I totally off base with this post? I’m really interested in your comments, so fire away in the comments section.

Using social media to find a job- HR, Social Media and you

One of my favorite things to do is speak in public about the real world applications of new media and social media, so I am very excited about sharing the stage at tonight’s meeting of the Social Media Club of Southwest Florida.


Tonight’s focus is on how both employers and prospective employees can use all the social media tools at their disposal for a mutually beneficial job search. Lori Burke, the Director of HR at Neighborhood America, will speak from the perspective of the employer and how they use social media in hiring.

I will be offering some tips to job seekers about burnishing their reputations online, and some of the pitfalls to avoid in our “always on” world. The meeting is at Florida Gulf Coast University and I am told that there will be lots of undergrads and recent grads in the audience, so I am doubly excited.

Here is more information about Social Media Club of Southwest Florida and a link to the event. Admission is free, but you do need to register beforehand. Hope to see you there.

What if somone says something bad?

Regular readers of this blog know that training young people to use social networking/social media effectively is something I am very passionate about. I also think that, used properly, it is an invaluable tool for admissions departments, alumni offices as well as a way for current students to chronicle student life.

There was an article in this morning’s NY Times (link)  focusing on the MIT Admissions Department’s embrace of social media by selecting student bloggers to write about what life is really like at the Cambridge geek factory. (And I say “geek” with love.) The powers-that-be at MIT have been able to get past the fear of “What if someone says something bad?” and given students, AND commenters it should be noted, an unedited forum to sell the school. Let’s face it- high school kids today know when they’re being BS’ed. Hell, my seven year old sees a commercial on TV and said to me, “Dad, it doesn’t really do that. This is just a commercial.” I honestly don’t think I was that savvy at 7, so imagine what kind of filters 17 and 18-year olds have.

But back to MIT bloggers: they are chosen by means of a contest that grades their writing samples. According to the Times article, once incoming students arrive on campus, “[T]he bloggers are sought out as celebrities during the annual ‘Meet the Bloggers’ session at Campus Preview Weekend.” One of the bloggers, for example,  wrote about her love of anime, something that would have little chance of making it into a slick brochure or marketing video. Yet a prospective student who was also loved anime saw the post and reacted, “I never would have guessed that people at MIT are interested in anime. Oh, well…+1 on my Why I should go to MIT list.”

STILL think current students are poor ambassadors for your school? My response to that is the same thing I say to companies who are unsure if they should let their employees blog, tweet or otherwise speak on behalf of the company. If you can’t trust your employees, you have a bigger problem than just deciding on your social media strategy. Further, if you have a sub-par product, maybe the key tenets of social media- transparency, openness, conversation and engagement- make you a poor candidate for a social media strategy. You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.

And in regard to the “what if someone says something bad?” fear, here’s an anecdote: One blogger complained about how the resident advising system was making it impossible for her to move out of her housing. The housing office requested that the admissions office remove the post, but they did not. Rather, they suggested that the housing office leave a comment or rebuttal on the blog. “Eventually, the system was changed.”

That, party people, is the essence of blogging, in particular, and social media, in general.