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Marketing Lessons from Foursquare

Foursquare is a location-based social networking application that’s been described “Twitter for locations.”  It lets users subscribe to each other and the information shared is about where you are rather than what you are doing.  It’s been rolling out on a city by city basis over the past few months.  I finally got a chance to try it and I think there are some interesting things that marketers can learn from foursquare.

Winning is Fun – unlike Twitter, foursquare has been designed as a game. Users earn points for checking in and foursquare publishes a leaderboard for your friends and your city.  Users win badges for things like checking in a set number of times in a month or consecutive nights in a week that get displayed on their profiles.  Users who have checked into a given location the most number of times in a month become the “Mayor” of that location.  Competing for the Mayorship of a given location is another fun aspect of the game and further encourages use.  OK, as games go, it isn’t the funnest one I’ve ever played but nonetheless the idea of surprise rewards or bragging rights for desired behavior is one that marketers should think about.

People Like to Show Off – Anyone on FaceBook can tell you that folks like to show off.  Foursquare has an element of that (look, I’m the mayor of a hot new restaurant!) without it being the only reason to use the application.  Product marketers need to think about how to let users brag about their experience or expertise with their products.

Users Will Work for You (If There’s Something in it for Them) – After using foursquare for about a week I received an email congratulating me for becoming a “level 1 Superuser!” which gives me the ability to edit venue information.  They also let me know that the more I edited, the more “Superuser power” I could unlock.  When I talk about this with non-foursquare users they can’t believe that anyone would actually bother to clean up foursquare’s data for free.  In fact, people do, mainly because bad data is annoying.  I fixed a duplicate record for my gym because it bugged me whenever I checked in there.  The lesson here for product folks is that users are happy to fix minor annoyances and correct bad data if you give them the tools to do it.

Have Use Cases But Don’t Discourage Unexpected Uses – At the time it launched, Twitter treated use cases like a blank sheet of paper and waited for folks to figure out what they wanted to use it for.  Any product person can tell the risk in that is that people can’t guess a use for your product and don’t use it at all.  This isn’t the case for foursquare and the application clearly shows its assumptions in terms of usage.  The points system is heavily biased toward evening activity.  Badges with names like “Bender” (checking in 4 nights in a row) and “Crunked” (for checking into 4 different locations in one evening) would indicate that the folks at foursquare don’t think I’m at the library in the evenings.  At the same time, the foursquare gang aren’t making any moves to stop people from doing things like checking into subway stations or their own homes and are open about the fact that the rules and rewards for foursquare change as they get more input from users.  My personal favorite use of foursquare is that when I’m attending an event, I can see which of my friends is there- that’s an activity there certainly isn’t a badge for today.  The lesson for product folks here is that some initial assumptions about how people might use a product are helpful to get things started but where possible, don’t discourage unintended uses as those might become your future use cases.

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  1. Foursquare has one of the worst logos in the history of logos. I also find the check-in interface to be too clumsyclunky. They also need to consider user-defined badges.
    If they can figure out how to scale (frankly I can’t imagine getting updates from 100 people a day), the mobile marketing revenue opportunities will be huge.
    There’s no reason you can turn a mayor into a ‘Monarch’ who can hand out coupons to his ‘court’. Or something like that.

  2. Hi Trevor – thanks for the comment!
    There’s a reason I didn’t include the logo with the gal on it. For folks that don’t know about the Dodgeball history of the founders, the graphic is um, confusing…
    The web app is awful but I quite like the iPhone app and I don’t get updates from anyone – I just check when I feel like it.
    I agree with you on the last point. I’d certainly be motivated to check in a lot more if there were real rewards for doing so (if you’re listening Starbucks I’m the mayor around here and I like Via).

  3. I liked your point about unexpected use cases. At my company I think we get too hung up on sticking to the use cases at the expense of flexibility in the product for people to play around a bit.
    Great post!

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