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The Real Deal on Foursquare and Geosocial Apps

Are geo-location services like Foursquare and Gowalla really here to stay? Or are they just embraced by early adopters who are itching to use new shiny tools? After SXSW, Frogloop reported that geosocial apps were deemed the breakout technology of the year. We also profiled some nonprofits like Big Love Little Hearts and Boston Medical Center who had some degree of success raising money, doing advocacy and organizing volunteers. Since this Frogloop series though, usage has gone down from 5% to 4%, according to a recent study by Pew.

On any given day, 1% of internet users are using these apps to check-in and claim mayorships. Is this statistically significant? It depends on who you ask. On one hand, Twitter only had 6% of internet users on its platform after two years. Look at them now. On the other hand, does anyone other than the 4% of current Foursquare users really care that you checked into Starbucks or that you are the Mayor of your office bathroom?

So what’s the real deal? Should nonprofits take a more serious look at investing staff and time in Foursquare as a marketing and fundraising tool? In its current format my gut says no - unless you are a visitor based nonprofit such as a museum, aquarium, zoo, etc who can really take advantage of some of the current marketing perks to determine if the ROI is worth it.

My hunch is that Foursquare and Gowalla and similar services are going to need to adapt to survive. Why? Because most of the world does not really care about mapping their check-ins to let their friends know that they are grabbing coffee down the street. What people do care about though is getting local discounts and scoring a good deal on purchases. People want value, especially in this economy. Twitter is taking a serious look at a local ad model too. In the next few months, they plan to roll out local promoted tweets and trends. Groupon and LivingSocial - sites that provide discounts and promotional packages via geographic targeting is a growing trend. I think that this is the direction that Foursquare and Gowalla will head into in the next year to grow their base. If my prediction is right, will more advocacy organizations like the American Heart Association or soup kitchens be able to take advantage of this type of model? Perhaps. I think the key to a decent ROI will be for nonprofits to engage in more cause-related marketing partnerships where local businesses offer deals that also raise money for charities. Of course, cause marketing partnerships comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles, but that’s another blog post.

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Reader Comments (4)

I think your analysis is right on, Allyson.
November 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBritt Bravo
I must say that our office has been using Foursquare check-ins for the last few months and we have seen an increase in website traffic directly related to our use of this tool. For us, it's most important that we identify ourselves as proud members of a team who choose to check into the office. Even if others don't necessarily care that we are in the office every week-day, it tells others that we are all happy to be here -- and that has created interest. Otherwise, your article is on point -- Thanks!
November 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMathew Heggem
Location stuff is going to be huge! Massive! Someday.

Could be pretty soon. Could be the current players will be the ones to make it big. Could take a few years, and be different players completely. This is an experiementation phase for sure.

So, basically agree with your analysis.

Am playing with it, not investing in it right now.

(Note: Some people are already using it too good effect. ex. Ushahidi type stuff.)
November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Davies
Interesting piece - wish I'd read this post in preparation for my own in The Guardian http://bit.ly/dUWiro. I'd welcome you to post your opinion on the G blog. While I advocate non-profits embracing location social media - it clearly has to remain the ideas and creativity (and not potentially flash-in-the-pan brands) that are the driver.

Best, Rob
November 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRob Dyson

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