Is this Foursquare or Bore-square?

I think I “get” Foursquare.  I really do.

I understand there could be significant business benefits and opportunities to build customer loyalty.

But I really wonder if Foursquare can reach critical mass to be a widespread consumer social media platform. To find out, I conducted  …

The World’s Greatest Foursquare Experiment.

In fact, it might be the world’s only Foursquare experiment : )

The much-hyped Foursquare is similar to Twitter in that you provide short status reports based on your geographic location.  As you visit more businesses and “check-in,” you can earn virtual “badges” and become “mayor” of a location.  You can also find friends, see reviews, ads, and coupons from nearby businesses.

I decided to give it a rigorous test by trying it in a village (Abingdon, VA) a small city (Knoxville, TN) and a metroplex (New York City) over a period of six weeks. I’ll provide my bias upfront: I’m concerned that people are becoming de-sensitized to the information they are feeding into “the machine” and should draw the line at reporting personal location and behavior patterns.  However, I’m starting to get Foursquare questions from my students and realized I needed to give it a fair shot. So I did…

Early buzz

The interface was easy to figure out.  Pulling out my smart phone became habitual as I was eager to earn badges and see what the hype was about.

The first problem was that it became annoying to me, and whoever I was with, when I fumbled around connecting to Foursquare at each location. The app doesn’t always know precisely where you are. In a “medium” town like Knoxville, I usually received a list of 10 nearby businesses and could easily select my location. However in the small village, about half of the businesses did not exist on the grid so I had to manually enter my spot. In NYC I had just the opposite problem. Can you imagine the number of suggested spots I had to scroll through while standing on a corner of Park Ave.?

Umm… Who the hell are you?

When I joined Foursquare, I started getting friend requests from dozens of random people including the city of Reading, PA.  Not knowing any better, I accepted them. Now, if I report where I am, I’m letting a lot of complete strangers know my whereabouts. In hindsight, I was not too bright with this move.

Call me Mr. Mayor

One part of the experiment was becoming a mayor. I wanted to see what happened when you were crowned king of a location.  This happened fairly quickly when I was the first Foursquare visitor to a local barbecue joint. “How sad. This location has no mayor” it reported.  So the next day I went back and became the mayor. Great for the restaurant but what did I get out of it? An electronic award. Hmmm.

Gaming the system

Did you know if you walk down the street you can check-in at every location you pass?

True value

I had heard some cool stories about people getting instant coupons upon entering a location. This never happened to me.

I did get a few on-the-spot restaurant menu recommendations but they were from strangers so it didn’t mean too much.

Finally near the end of the month I actually saw that a Foursquare friend (and somebody I knew!) was in the same location as me. That was pretty cool but since I was at a family celebration, I really didn’t want to interact and hoped they wouldn’t come by.

I think the biggest benefit of this service could be finding friends at a conference in a big city. I saw the app used this way extensively at SXSW and it makes sense.

The balance of cost versus reward

During the experiment, I had tweeted out some of my experiences and concerns, especially about privacy. One friend suggested that I simply turn-off the online reporting function … meaning I wouldn’t connect with friends, wouldn’t be alerted to deals, but still could earn badges. Huh?

Am I really doing this to earn electronic badges? Is that enough reward for me to continue using this application? No, I don’t think so.

While Foursquare could be a potential goldmine for businesses, it holds very little tangible value to consumers right now … at least in my experience. But that will undoubtedly change. In fact it HAS to change.   For this to really take off beyond the geek circles, it has to offer much more value to consumers than the silliness being delivered now.

I’ll continue to use this selectively so I can stay on top of continued innovations and benefits but I don’t see it becoming part of my regular social media diet.

And by the way …

I still have my concern.  Why are we helping the crooks do their jobs by providing our location and teaching them our buying behaviors?

I guess people will do anything for a coupon?

{grow} community alert: Gregg Morris did a great job expanding on these Foursquare ideas in his blog post

Three new social media myths that MUST STOP NOW

A few months ago I wrote a post about  The Five Social Media Myths that called out some of the mis-guided “rules” of the social web:

  • To be effective in social media, you must give up control of the conversation
  • It’s all about engagement.
  • Never sell.
  • Emphasize quality over quantity.
  • Social media is all about authenticity.

Some time has gone by and three more myths have creeped into the dialogue.  Humbly, may I suggest we also need to stop them too!

1) You can, and must, measure the ROI of social media programs.

This cracks me up. We have come full circle!

A year ago many A-List bloggers were suggesting that it was a waste of time measuring social media marketing campaigns because it would be tantamount to measuring the ROI of email. Now, some of them suggest that not only is it desirable, it is possible and necessary to measure the ROI of every social media initiative.

For these folks, I have to ask: “Have you ever really worked in a company that has a BUDGET?”

Let me state emphatically that it is critical to measure the results of marketing initiatives in some manner and that you must tie your efforts to the creation of shareholder value.  But many times it’s not practical to drive measurement all the way down to ROI because it may be too time-consuming and expensive to do so.  Many times a leading indicator such as sales leads or downloads can be a reasonable and cost-effective proxy, especially for small companies.  Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Sometimes simple measurements will do just fine — spend most of your time on the actual doing!

2) Your number of friends/followers don’t matter.

I recently observed this ridiculous Twitter conversation – celebrity-grade tweeters arguing over which of them cared less about the number of followers they had.

Last week Mari Smith left this comment on my post: “I’m with Guy Kawasaki on the two types of people on Twitter:  Those who say they want more followers and liars.”  That sums it up for me, too.  Chris Brogan also had the guts to write a blog post about the practical advantages of large number of followers.

If you’ve built your meaningful and relevant audience carefully, why wouldn’t bigger be better?  Why not learn more, make more friends, build more connections?

And if you’re on here to sell, developmental sales and marketing is usually a numbers game.  You connect with lots of people.  A small number of those become business leads. An even smaller number result in real business.

It’s an honor that a lot of great people care enough to follow you. Why be cavalier about it?

3) Every business needs to be on the social web.

Here is the most pompous tweet I’ve seen in a while: “If you don’t use the social web for your business, it’s not that you don’t understand the social web. You don’t understand your business.”

Excuse me?  The successful business owners I know are very smart, highly in tune with their customers, and have an extraordinarily good sense of what it takes to succeed.  While many businesses may realize tremendous benefits from the social web, I think we have to respect the fact that it might not be the wisest place to focus precious time and resources in every case.

  • If you’re selling Depends adult diapers, you should probably spend most of your marketing dollars elsewhere.
  • If you’re selling coal to electric utilities, you’re probably not going to tweet your way to success.
  • If you’re in a down and dirty business like buying and re-selling scrap metal, neither suppliers nor customers typically even have computers.
  • In some nations and cultures, marketing through the social web may be less effective than in Western business models.

Let’s use common sense and resist the temptation to force-feed any communication channel on anybody.  And if we’re in a consultative role, we need to respect the inherent wisdom that resides in experienced business owners and listen more than preach.

So that’s a take on the latest mythologies on the social web. What’s your view?  Any I missed?

Guy Kawasaki is the devil

Before I convince you that Guy Kawasaki is the devil, let’s look at his secret identity as described in his “official” bio.

Guy Kawasaki is a managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine. Previously, he was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. Guy is the author of nine books including Reality Check, The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries, How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, Selling the Dream, and The Macintosh Way. He has a BA from Stanford University and an MBA from UCLA as well as an honorary doctorate from Babson College.

Impressive.

The man could probably get a job anywhere.  And yet his chosen occupation is Twitter Tormentor as he pays a staff of people to blanket us with tweets like:

Guy Kawasaki GuyKawasaki

The wild and rampant sex of flowers http://u.nu/8c578

How to sell socks http://idek.net/1Qlh

How can sugar explode? http://idek.net/1Rav

How to make a shrimp from a bendy straw http://idek.net/1OuI

How to reprogram your brain in 5 days http://idek.net/1OVl

Booty-popping frogs. Eat your heart out Beyonce http://u.nu/6k28b

Guy’s content is like a never-ending game of Trivial Pursuit and he somehow lured 253,758 people into his private world of tweet hell.  Why Guy, why?

The truth!  Do you have a plant sex fetish?

Why is it so important to teach us how to sell socks?

Shouldn’t you be doing something more important than bending straws into crustaceans?

While this constant barking on my Twitter stream is somewhere between annoying and obsessive, I can’t look away.  I’m under his spell.  Is he REALLY re-programming our brains? Is it that impish, Bieber-like smile? Could it be the frog booty?  I don’t know, but damn you Guy Kawasaki!!  Damn you for being the most eclectic and confounding personality on the tweet stream!

Social media strategies businesses should learn from politicians

Guest blogger and political pundit Jenci Spradlin reveals why business should take a marketing lesson from the politicians:

Maybe it’s because I’m a political junkie and spend most of my time discussing politics on the social web, but I think the business world would do well to try to translate lessons from politics into strategy.

1)  Capture passion. What is politics really about any way?  Capturing the passion people have to tell their story and connecting with people who can possibly influence their lives.  Politics brings out the tribal feelings engendered by sharing something larger than yourself with like-minded individuals.

There are people who get passionate about a brand, but by far politics wins the passion prize, particularly with the stakes so high. Successful campaigns tap into that passion … whether in politics or business.

2) Use the right tools for the right message. Let’s think about how politicians use the social web and how it might relate to business, too.  I used to do a lot of political blogging, but I have practically abandoned it due to the more immediate nature of Twitter and Facebook. Blogging by a politician might be a good way to convey a detailed overview of some complex policy matter, but in terms of engagement with voters, it is like putting an op-ed in the newspaper versus going door to door talking directly to voters.  Probably the same with businesses?

3) Go meet the people. Another analogy is that politicians have to go where their constituents are. If they are on Twitter or Facebook, that is where they must go and be as comfortable engaging directly as they would in person. Politicians are still trying to figure out the right mix in terms of direct engagement versus broadcasting and not all of them do this well.   If you want to look at some people really doing this right, look at common-cause issues such as the Teaparty Movement.

4) Show genuine interest. There is no one issue that brings people to the political table, and businesses should think like that too.  Businesses would do well to not limit themselves or their brand to one specific area, but again, allow their “raving fans” to intertwine the brand within their lives, and allow real people working on behalf of the brand to engage directly as people, and not as a generic brand account. Even if the person isn’t identified by name, it is easy to tell when the company takes a larger interest in its customers beyond “buy what I am selling.”

5) The authenticity issue. And then there is that all-important authenticity issue. There are plenty of politicians who do embrace Twitter, and certainly there are those who have staff members do it on their behalf.   I find that the more local you get, the more likely you are to have the individual do their own posts. That might be something for businesses to consider to. The closer you get to the rubber meeting the road, the more real you better be!

6) Get personal. Here’s something that makes politicians seem authentic on the social web: Real life “stuff.”  People like to make fun of the “what-I-had-for-lunch” posts, but I find those to be an invaluable way to connect in a non-threatening way (assuming they post some meat with their meat!)  Some of the greatest connections I have made with people have started through the “what I’m eating” post. We all have to eat – whether you are a famous politician, a stay-at-home mom, or a CEO.

In the same manner, there are plenty of brands / businesses who are being told to jump into social media because “everyone is doing it.” It seems scary to them and something that should be handed off to an outside firm to manage. So they do and some PR intern is handed the job of posing as the brand/business online. This is just the same as the politician who abdicates their use of social media to a staffer. For me, whether it is a brand or a politician, I am not interested in carrying on a conversation with a ventriloquist’s dummy. The insanity is that they honestly think that we won’t know the difference; that we won’t see the arm of staffers stuck up under their collective shirts.

Heck, as long as it’s real, it would even be OK to tweet about meat. : )

Jenci Spradlin is a wonderful political blogger at http://moderatelymarvelous.wordpress.com/  She can also be found on twitter at @jencitn

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