The primary goal of most social networking sites is to explore the connections between people, thoughts, and ideas. In addition to this, some users emphasize the competitive aspects of these connections; who has the most followers/friends, who makes the most comments, etc. Additions like Facebook and Twitter mobile apps have expanded on the competitive and interactive nature of social networking, but have yet to incentivize its users. Foursquare.com a newish social networking site encourages the competitive nature of its users, but instead of focusing on the mass of connections like the aforementioned, it has a more social goal by asking the question, “Where are you right now?”
Foursquare is a combination of a couple of simple functions. First, users update by “checking in,” indicating where they are and what they are doing. This allows people to find their friends, but also to find and learn about their friend’s favorite spots. Second, it tracks specific user’s use of the service. Here’s where the competitive aspect comes into play; if a user goes to a specific place more than anyone else within a two month period, the user is deemed “Mayor” of that location. Furthermore, it doles out “points” to users for posting on the site and bringing friends to locations. These points allow users to receive “badges.” Each badge represents a different completed feat, such as going to new places with new people, traveling long distances, or repeatedly checking in from a particular location many times. Third, it allows businesses to offer the “mayor” free (or nearly free) stuff in return for checking in from that business so many times.
From a business standpoint, it offers small business owners (and corporate businesses for that matter) who may struggle to find ways to effectively advertise or market, capitalization on free and effective publicity. The promotional freebie idea elevates the marketing to a new level: “Come to my store, tell everyone you’re there (perhaps your friends will follow and buy more of my stuff). Do this enough times and I’ll give you freebies.” Many companies, such as Sporty’s Pub and Grill in Minneapolis and Sweet Republic in Scottsdale are embracing this. Businesses in cities around the world including London, Amsterdam, New York, Los Angeles and Vancouver are offering freebies or steeply discounted items for Mayors.
From the user standpoint, in addition to assisting social interaction, the services rendered will consistently attract new users. In order to receive free stuff, users are required to demonstrate their commitment by going to businesses, checking in, and bringing friends. Furthermore, the competitive nature of the network allows for a more active web aspect than just “this is where I am, and this is how I feel about it.” All of these components keep users coming back for more.
This reconciliation of the social web, human contact, and consumerism is revolutionary. Instead of “Hey, Check out these great pics’ from the bar last night!” It’s, “We’re [insert specific destination here], come meet us!” Within 24 hours the pics’ will likely still end up on Flickr, Photobucket or at the very least Facebook or TwitPic; thus strengthening the connection between what we do in person and what we do on the web. Plus there’s the added benefit of maybe getting a free somthin’ somthin’ out of the whole thing.
Foursquare is indeed another relevant piece in the jigsaw puzzle of the modern social makeup, a new force that brings consumers and commerce together in mutually beneficial ways.