Judging from the number of invites I'm getting for FourSquare these days, its slope of new users must be getting more vertical every day. (If you're not familiar with the service, read their overview.) After using FourSquare for a while, I've been thinking about its implications for business - and they're deeper than you might think, extending far beyond happy hours and local advertising opportunities.
At initial consideration, this may seem ridiculous. I'm not going to tell you that FourSquare is the next Twitter - it's not. It's different. But just like so many people were initially dismissive of Twitter, the same can be said for FourSquare. After all, the driving concept behind the application is "a leaderboard for Saturday night." The second time I heard about FourSquare, I was told that it was popular among New York moms and nannies for setting up impromptu playdates. Not exactly the FriendFeed crowd...I signed up immediately.
To understand FourSquare's emergent business value, you've got to think of it as a social business application, the backbone of which is measurement. Even more than other social apps, game mechanics drive the FourSquare experience. Based on the single activity of "checking in," all five elements exist:
- Collecting badges and mayorships.
- Earning points throughout the week.
- Feedback though the leaderboard and a personal stats page.
- Value exchanges from keeping tabs on your connections.
- Customization of your profile and check-in messages. Anyone who uses the app knows all this.
When I consider FourSquare through the lens of Social Business Design, the value jumps off the page. The service:
- Relies on content generated by personal profiles and places, which come together in time-sensitive relationships. It also utilizes emerging technologies reaching critical mass. We call this an ecosystem.
- Motivates participants to broadcast their whereabouts with an implicit invitation to meet up. You become part of a relevant community based on geographic check-ins. This is hivemindedness.
- Allows users to send implicit messages about their status - on multiple levels - based on time and location. Others can respond in kind. These are dynamic signals.
- Permits control of messaging to personal preferences. Where and when a person checks in has meaning; some people check in "off the grid"/in private, whereas users can mute pings from others who are found to be irrelevant. This is a metafilter.
Think about these characteristics applied as a white-labeled enterprise application. Twitter : Yammer :: FourSquare : [a new "GrandCentral"?]
- Connects employees of distributed organizations when in geographic proximity.
- Lowers cost of coordination, handled today by many fragmented applications.
- Increases content production. Game mechanics spur participation and encourage collaboration.
- Allows colleagues to vet locations and set alerts for one another.
Applying these ideas in a marketing context address three hot B2C interests: mobile, social, and local. However, I think brands will find that scalability ends quickly. There are much bigger opportunities in the B2B context.
Are you seeing it? Or do you still think FourSquare just a waste of time?