Foursquare just doesn’t make sense. And yet…

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FoursquareAt first glance, it’s easy to dismiss Foursquare. I mean, what’s the real point of checking-in, if you’re a Foursquare user?

Is it to win badges or points? If so, what can you do with them?

Is it to tell your friends where you’re at or where you’ve been recently? If so, couldn’t that be done one-to-one? Like through a live conversation or a text message? Or tweets? And if you have to update your posse, text-messaging and tweets would still work, right? And they’re faster than pulling up an app on your iPhone or Droid phone, tapping on Places, finding the place you’re at in the list (or searching for it), then tapping it again and adding a status before tapping Check In Here.

I know there’s more to it than that. But it’s this clumsy process and not-yet-obvious end-user benefit that puts business owners into a stupor of thought when someone tells them they need to get started marketing their business via Foursquare. “Why would I want to allow people to check-in here? Why would they go through the effort of DOING that? I wouldn’t!” they say.

Not only that, but Foursquare just isn’t everywhere yet. In fact, firms like Forrester are telling small businesses to cool their jets and forgo jumping on the Foursquare bandwagon.

Reportedly, only four percent of U.S. online adults have ever used ANY location-based mobile app. The problem with using merely percentages, of course, is that you don’t get a feel for the raw numbers. Smart people looking at business opportunities don’t merely look at these types of statistics. They look at the total addressable market (the raw number) and the total market potential (the spend if they were 100% penetrated).

If I told you this — four percent of adults worldwide use cannabis — that number wouldn’t mean much until you consider this: Four percent of the adult population worldwide equals at least 170 million people (using the Census tables for 2006, when the cannabis estimate was made.) It’s the raw numbers that put things into perspective. On the other hand, if I told you four out of five dentists recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum, that data wouldn’t mean anything if only five dentists had been polled.

Similarly, four percent of U.S. online adults may not mean much to some. Foursquare is pretty bleeding-edge still. But four percent of the U.S. adult population is eight million people. That’s approximately the population of New York City. I get that the percent of U.S. adults is not the same as the percent of U.S. online adults. But just work with me for now: eight million people. And it’s growing.

That’s why I appreciate the rebuttal by Sarah Hoftstetter, also in Advertising Age, in which she encourages brands to use Foursquare. The time to use a low-cost, low-labor marketing vehicle like Foursquare, particularly if you’re a retail brand, is not only when it’s finally hit the masses.

And though Foursquare is difficult for those masses to understand, remember how much difficulty many of them had understanding Facebook just two years ago? For example, multiple sources are now suggesting that the fastest growing demographics on Facebook are those over 55, and 37% of Facebook users are over 35. Think Zynga should have waited until all those people were on Facebook before starting to develop Farmville?

Nor should you wait on Foursquare. I’m not alone in saying that. But there are still plenty of people saying you SHOULD wait.

I say trust that Facebook is rapidly becoming very business-friendly. I agree with Christine Gallagher that small businesses can leverage location apps, Foursquare in particular, very well. And John Jantsch, as usual, has a nice roundup of reasons why you should get engaged with Foursquare.

It’s time for you to figure this thing out and start rewarding the people who DO go through that process of checking-in at YOUR business. Think of what they’ve just done. They’ve just gone through a complex process to broadcast a message that says they’re one of your customers. Hello? Earth to YOU? Is this thing on? REWARD THEM for doing this. It’s easy to setup and 100% measurable, unlike plenty of other marketing you currently do.

It should matter to downtown San Diego business owners that 246 people have checked-in at Jolt’n Joes, while 536 have checked-in at Gaslamp Tavern, while 709 have checked-in at East Village Tavern & Bowl, and while 892 have checked-in at Fluxx. If you want to get the word out about your business, you can either: a) spend a lot of money advertising, b) provide a great experience and hope people spread the word, or c) provide a great experience and reward people for spreading the word.

You can’t stand on the sidelines and wait until “the mainstream” starts getting it. In an upcoming post I’ll share an easy-to-understand framework for putting Foursquare to more creative use.

3 thoughts on “Foursquare just doesn’t make sense. And yet…

  1. I say, just know what its for. I stopped using it because I no longer want to share my location with competitors when I travel. For example, today I am in (well I can't tell you now can I?) and don't really want anyone to know where I am. It's a small niche market and giving away that information is giving away more than I care to. At home do I use it. Sure sometimes, but it's less fun being able to checkin the far away and fun places I travel to. – Just a user perspective. (and yes I know I can not share my location…again takes the fun out of the “game”)

  2. Good thoughts, Jim. I think it adds to my point that if the user doesn't have a compelling reason to check-in someplace, they won't do it and THAT is why businesses aren't yet jumping on the Foursquare bandwagon, or at least why that stupor of thought exists.

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