Monday, April 12, 2010

Intro to Geosocial Networking for Marketers

Introduction to Geosocial Networking Services

Geosocial networking services let users connect with friends and update their locations through web and mobile applications. Foursquare and Gowalla are among the most popular geosocial networking sites being discussed right now. Two other geosocial services include Loopt and Brightkite.

Online Buzz Trends for Top Geosocial Services

N = 812,634,206 total online messages from discussion communities, blogs, Usenet groups and Microblogs July 1, 2009 – February 28 2010
N = 74,463 for Foursquare; N = 9,859 for Gowalla; N = 5,590 for Loopt; N = 3,775 for Brightkite

Buzz Volume for Top Geosocial Services

Geosocial Services Overview

Foursquare receives the most discussion compared to alternative geosocial networking services. Consumers like Foursquare’s user interface compared to alternatives.

Gowalla’s location-based information is crowdsourced, which has allowed the app to gain traction quickly in places around the world. Gowalla is viewed positively for being available in more locations, but lacks the gameplay and conversationality available though Foursquare. Being able to “check in” is a central concept to most geosocial networking services, and some users feel that Gowalla’s forced reliance on GPS makes “check in” more difficult.
Despite Gowalla’s superior availability, Foursquare receives more website traffic and online discussion because of a better user interface and experience.

Brightkite receives less online discussion than Gowalla, but more website traffic. This is be due to Brightkite’s ease of use. Users may “check in” via text messaging or mobile application.
Similar to Gowalla, Loopt provides a cellphone-based GPS sharing system allowing users to visualize each other.

Loopt offers a unique Journal widget displaying a user’s updates, and photos visually. Loopt has encountered some recent problems with SMS invitation issues.

Limited social interaction is a moot point for most geosocial networking services at this time.

Website Traffic for Top Geosocial Networking Services

Source: Nielsen Net Ratings

Service Comparisons

Snapshot: Foursquare vs. Gowalla


Points are awarded for “checking in” at specific locations. Users can have their Twitter and Facebook accounts updated every time they “check in”. Users can earn badges by “checking in” at locations frequently. Users may be crowned “Mayor” of a place if they
“check in” more times than anyone else. Foursquare users are able to create “To Do” lists for their private use and add “Tips” for places visited.


Similar to Foursquare, users “check in” from places in their local vicinity. Visitors are rewarded by receiving awards from a “check in”. Items may be developed to for promotional use.
A key feature of Gowalla is being able to track “Spots” and “Trips” (e.g., Nature Hikes or Pub Crawls). Certain users receive an elevated status level, Street Team Elite (STE). Members of STE are given special access to additional features.

Consumer Perceptions toward Geosocial Networking Sites

Geosocial sites are gaining popularity, but consumers feel there is room to grow. Sites such as Foursquare and Gowalla are deemed to be more appropriate for displaying personal information than blogs. However, consumers are looking for easier ways to communicate their whereabouts and personal thoughts on geosocial networks (e.g., SMS). Additionally, consumers are looking for more social interaction.

A small number of consumers express safety concerns associated with geosocial networking. These concerns arise from fear of constantly letting too many people knowing their whereabouts.

Despite Gowalla’s superior technology, consumers currently prefer Foursquare. Consumers’ tendencies to use Foursquare over alternatives are based on ease of use and perceptions that Foursquare is simply more well-known.

Sample Verbatim

"Thanks! I wish there was a way to check in on line or via sms", 2010-01-28

“However, automatically blogging all my tweets each week picks up a lot of content that isn’t really relevant to readers of my blog e.g. foursquare updates, personal updates about my life and a lot of retweets (which are fine within Twitter but they feel less appropriate in a blog post).”, 2010-01-04

“I’m using both and Foursquare has a lot more users, has better info for the places I go (admittedly mostly in SF or surrounding areas, which is one of the cities that it has in it) and is more fun to play.
Gowalla has more cities, forces you to use GPS (made it tough to check in in a few places where GPS wasn’t available) and I don’t like the UI as much (although I admit there are probably some who like it better).
Who will win long term? I think Foursquare will. Why? The gameplay and conversationality of the game are superior. I see people on Twitter talking about Foursquare all the time. “Just became ‘mayor’ of xxxxxx.” I rarely see people talk about Gowalla. The virality just isn’t there.”, 2009-10-15

“Being playing around with the Foursquare the social “location tagging” service and I’ve been loving it…..BUT!
Nobody seems to know what the hell they are doing with it. Other than clocking points and becoming the mayor of your most visited locations I have seen very little sign of social interaction.”, 2010-01-20

Marketing Insights

Several companies have been able to leverage the growing popularity of geosocial networking sites. For instance, Pepsi sponsored a cause-related campaign that awarded $0.04 to Camp Interactive for every point New York City users added to the Foursquare points leaderboard.

Tapping into the potential of geosocial networking sites is very easy. Some companies already use geosocial sites to remind consumers about products or engage customers.
The Wynn Las Vegas uses Foursquare by engaging with “checked in” guests. Wynn is using Foursquare to help improve the customer experience (Mashable, 2010). Other companies offer special “brand badges” to loyal customers. In fact, Starbucks awards a barista badge to customers who “check in” often. Additional ways companies can leverage geosocial networking sites are listed below.

Marketing Recommendations

• Engage customers who frequently “check in” through a particular geosocial networking service
• Create cause-related campaigns that encourage consumers to participate by “checking in” at certain locations
• Offer recommendations to customers “checking in.” For example, a local restaurant chain may communicate special promotions through Foursquare to customers as they arrive
• Communicate with customers who frequently “check in”; Offer discounts, or coupons to loyal customers
• Sponsor a leaderboard
• Make Facebook pages associated with “check in” locations or special events
• Award customers with special “brand” badges for “checking in”
• Reward frequent customers participating in current loyalty programs (e.g., Kroger Plus Card) with additional value for “checking in”


Geosocial networking sites are relatively new, but gaining popularity. They are becoming an important tool for businesses. Geosocial networking services may prove most useful in building and maintaining customer relationships and brand loyalty.