Facebook, Foursquare, Groupon and… Joni Mitchell???

In the world of social networking, Facebook continues to be the dominant player, but two things happened rather quietly last week that show that the media coverage surrounding online is remarkably similar to the hysterical media that covers politics.

The advent of 24-hour television news has created a gaping maw that must be filled. Whether it gets filled by accurate information is not always a primary consideration. The competition for attention, and ratings, is vicious and the press that covers online and social media trends is no different. The clamor to be first can sometimes trump the responsibility to be right or, in this case, trump any inclination for trend analysis.

 

So, what am I talking about? About a year ago, Facebook went head-to-head with foursquare in the location-based  “check-in” space. The media spin was that foursquare, the scrappy start-up, would be eaten alive by the Facebook monster, especially considering fb had a gargantuan user base of 600 million subscribers. Funny thing- it didn’t happen that way. Facebook has scrapped the “Check in” feed from its mobile apps and interface.

 

Man bites dog.

 

Groupon, and other daily deals services that continue to pollute the Internet, was also in the crosshairs of the Facebook assassin when they rolled out “Facebook Deals” a little over four months ago in a few select cities. The media take was the same, and so was the outcome. “After testing Deals for four months, we’ve decided to end our Deals product in the coming weeks,” quoth the unnamed Facebook spokesperson.

 

Not exactly steamrolling the competition.

 

I have seen similar media hyperventilating over Google Plus in recent weeks, with the obligatory “Facebook killer” headlines all over the place. I am willing to bet that if you asked 100 non-tech people what Google Plus is, 99 of them would stare back at you blankly.

 

This post is not to critique facebook’s marketing choices or whether Google Plus will make Facebook look like Friendster in a few months (but their marketing sucks and Google Plus won’t). No, my real point is to counsel temperance when every shiny new things comes along. The online world is fueled by innovation and there are winners and losers, but it takes some time to shake out.

 

I’m reminded of the lyrics to “Black Crow” by Joni Mitchell:

 “Diving down to pick up on every shiny thing

Just like that black crow flying in a blue sky.”

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.