Monday, November 15, 2010

Checking you out when you check in

The New York Times recently explored the gap between businesses and consumers when it comes to the use of location-based social media services, which have been embraced by the former but largely ignored by the latter:

Data about a person’s physical location would be immensely valuable to marketers and retailers, say analysts. But sharing information about where you are can seem creepy or, worse, dangerous, as the Web site Please Rob Me showed earlier this year when it demonstrated how easy it would be for potential thieves to use social networks to find homes whose occupants were away.

Meanwhile, the upside of the transaction is unclear to many people, said Melissa Parrish, an analyst at Forrester Research. None of the efforts so far have reached the “sweet spot of coolness and utility” that will get people to share their data, she said. (link)

I have a few thoughts. Yes, the creepiness factor is one problem. I'm a fairly avid user of Foursquare, but I don't often link my activity there to Facebook and Twitter, because I don't necessarily want to share my location, particularly when I'm out with my family, with the whole world. Recently I vacationed at Disney World, where I checked in a few times. I soon had friend requests on Foursquare from total strangers. That's fine on Twitter, where I share little personal information and don't often use the location feature. On Foursquare it is off-putting.

Also, as the article notes, there doesn't appear to yet be enough value to checking in on Foursquare and its rivals. I actually think too few businesses are making use of Foursquare to offer specials and reward customer loyalty. Often, I only check in to see if such benefits are available, and the fewer I find, the less likely I become to make regular use of the service.

Finally, I think social media burnout may be at play. There's only so much time in the day to fiddle around with social media, even if it is to briefly check in somewhere with your mobile device. How many services can people keep up with? That may be where Facebook Places has an advantage over stand-alone services, since legions of people and organizations already use Facebook. (Though privacy concerns give people pause here.) To entice customers tired of keeping track of their profiles on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., business and social media services are going to have to offer a real return on users' time -- besides the thrill of being mayor of the mall.*

*All that said, we are active on Foursquare at Robert Morris University, where I work, but alas we are ahead of our students at this point.

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