I Finally Understand The Power Of Mobile Social Applications

I have mentioned on this blog that I was not a fan of the mobile location network applications like BrightKite, FourSquare, Gowalla and others. My thinking was that posting my location to various services had no purpose. The highly connected early adopters love these applications because they never know who may be near by to grab a drink with. I am not highly connected, and I do not live near a lot of early adopters, so there was no real benefit for people like me, or consumers either. Another part of this was the typical Twitter integration they all seem to have. Why would I broadcast my location to a bunch of people that are not likely located anywhere near me.

Fast forward to about two weeks ago, and take a look at Caleb Elston’s post regarding why Facebook should acquire FourSquare. In the comments I even mentioned that FourSquare as a feature of a social network is a really good idea, and even mentioned Twitter as a potential acquirer. Based on something I read yesterday, I am taking back the Twitter idea and sticking with the Facebook concept, but not as an acquirer.

To understand where I am going, read Jeremiah Owyang’s post How Local Businesses Can Benefit From Mobile Social Networks. He goes over a lot of points, but one turned on the lightbulb for me:

Using FourSquare, a location based social network, I ‘checked in’ to the movie theatre indicator to my friends my location.  Immediately after the application identified my approximate location it offered a ’special offer’ which I clicked.  The Savvy Cellar Wine Bar offered me 50% off a wine flight to a store 2 blocks away.

Like many people, I can be stubborn, but when I see a fantastic idea I will change my mind. There are a few things that can make a mobile location application get adopted by mass consumers:

  1. Use my existing social networks. If I need to build another social network I may start getting violent. I will gladly add new people to my networks, but building another is just far too time consuming. If you hook into the user’s accounts on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn, you have more networking information than you could ever want.
  2. Make the application interesting and fun. Checking into the application needs to have a point, not just a way of saying hello to anyone that happens to be near by. FourSquare nailed this one by making it a game. People love games, and I give you the mobs, zombies and farm animals of Facebook to prove it.
  3. Give me some local benefit. What does checking in to a location give me? Social media is about the consumer. So if I am just giving you data and not getting anything back I will likely not use the application very long. Showing a “special offer” for a store 2 blocks away is fantastic, especially if it is only for a limited time.
  4. Let me make my updates private or only on specific networks. If I have hooked up all of my social networks, then I probably want to selectively update my location sometimes. Maybe I post all of my updates to Facebook, but only a select few to Twitter. If people use these networks for different reasons, they will not want to update them equally.

My lightbulb moment came from the quote from Jeremiah’s post. FourSquare just nailed requirement number 3. It is an amazing feature for consumers, and the advertising benefits for local businesses are huge. There is probably a very big return on those types of advertisements compared to more generic ad platforms. This also proves that there is a very solid business model for the mobile location applications.

So, I am now on the bandwagon. I signed up for FourSquare. Now I just need to go somewhere besides work and home.

7 thoughts on “I Finally Understand The Power Of Mobile Social Applications

  1. Jeremiah,

    Sometimes you need to see something in action before you really understand. I have been trying to find a way that the mass consumer would really adopt mobile apps. This could be a big winner.


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