Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

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What Happened to Foursquare?

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Whilst considering approaches for our clients Social Media strategies, I was doing the usual thing of wondering what platforms would suit their customer base and of course the objectives of their activity.  At one point last year people were heralding the dawn on a new era.  Social Media was finally finding its feet and earning its commercial water wings. Not in a traditional digital marketing sense, but in a multi-channel sense.  What was driving this, the advent of Foursquare.

Foursquare Logo

Foursquare was the new thing we all needed to get excited about.  Taking people’s passions and love for social media and melding itwith their new found love with smartphones and a pinch of real-world and the ingredients were there for a winning combo.  Or so we thought.  This view was backed up by the decision in August 2010, at Facebook to launch their Foursquare killer, Facebook Places.

Easy to say it now, but I remember sitting in the offices at Best Buy and being quite cynical about the whole thing, while others were raving.  Whilst I didn’t doubt the concept of blurring social with real world, my belief was that this would have to be simplified to the extent the user wouldn’t have to do a thing and there was a sufficent reward for them doing so.

For a while I did doubt my own wisdom.  I signed up to Foursquare, after all, if you’re in the industry thats whay you do.  I had Google Wave, Google Buzz, Bebo, MySpace etc etc log-ins but no idea what they are now.  More and more contacts started popping up.  Note I used the word contacts.  It seemed to get quite noisy and then ther integration with Twitter came about and my timeline got loaded with people checking in to shops, sports grounds and fast food outlets.  Frankly it got a little annoying.  The point of the word contact was, most of the interactions were by people I knew in digital or technology, with a few friends who were early adopters.  None of my proper friends could be bothered.

The rewards on offer at the likes of Foursquare just aren’t interesting. Pretty juvenile really becoming the mayor of HMV in Oxford Street.  Apologies to all the various Foursquare mayors I have just offended.  I read with interest the fact that Facebook was closing its Places service, whilst it isn’t completely backing out of geo services it does show that its not the Xanadu some thought it would be.

Maybe Facebook just got it wrong and Foursquare demolished Facebook places.  Ironically the biggest boost Foursquare got to its numbers was when Facebook announced its Places service.  In terms of people looking for Foursquare on Google it would appear that the search volume has already peaked.  The August 2010 Facebook announcement got it mainstream and created the big boost, the numbers levelled but still at a higher than pre-announcement.  Foursquare also had a second boost around April this year when Amazon announced its servers had taken out both Foursquare and Reddit.

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

The light for Foursquare is that although things haven’t really sparked for them in the UK or Europe in general, they are big on technology advanced Asia and the population of Indonesia seem to be searching in their droves.  Some would say we need to treat Google data such as this with some scepticism.  Whilst I wouldn’t pass comment on that, even if you don’t believe the core numbers, the trend is still there.  Backed further by a quick search on Alexa.com where a similar story can be found.

Alexa ranking of Foursquare

The same pattern is true in terms of reach according to Alexa.  The April spike exists in April, but after that, the traffic drops back.  For me this demonstrates a lack of engagement with Foursquare.  Not complete lack of engagement, but low engagement on a relative base to the likes of Twitter and Facebook, its not to say it can’t happen.

My view is that there could still be a place for Foursquare or an equivalent service.  However they need to offer real value to users, something that makes users want to engage or embrace mobile technology to its fullest and minimise the engagement and actions needed in the physical world.  Foursquare and other services such as Gowalla still have a long way to go.  Once somebody has cracked it, the sector could ignite and present great currency for users and no-brainer commercial options for multichannel brands.

Remember the key to all of these platforms is mobile.  With this in mind we need to keep a watching eye on Google, with the rise of G+ and obviously the Android operating system gaining momentum, they could be in a good place to crack it.  If the minds at Google can work out what “it” is.

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