Foursquare Perspectives and the future of marketing

Back in May in my Network World Backspin column I briefly discussed the social geo-location service Foursquare:

"In case you've missed the tsunami of excitement over Foursquare, it mashes up geolocation with social networking and smartphones to provide a service that, should you be enormously gregarious and feel a pressing need to know where your friends and acquaintances are all the time, will be, literally, right up your street.

Foursquare wraps this up with "badges" awarded for incredibly trivial achievements along with "mayorships" for repeated attendance of one or more locations (I find this particularly silly). The service also reveals your stats: Number of nights out, number of places you've checked in from, and other, even less interesting, things."

I concluded: "In short, Foursquare is not my kind of thing. I don't give rat's #$$ where people might be unless I actually want to see them or they owe me money."

Quite obviously how compelling a social networking service might be is a matter of personal taste or, as Abraham Lincoln commented of a book he reviewed, "People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like."

And there's no doubt that people find Foursquare very compelling; the service has achieved 1.8 million users in just over a year of operation and is getting about 15,000 new signups and one million "check-ins" per day!

With this enormous and dynamic market there's a tremendous amount of market intelligence to be gained from the usage data. This data is different from that of most of the other social networking services in that it combines the online world with the real world.

Capitalizing on this opportunity is a recently launched free service, Foursquare Perspectives, published by Awareness, that allows organizations to search database of Foursquare venues to identify trends and explore user behavior.

The results of this service are fascinating. I tried a search for "mcdonalds" and the service reported a staggering total of 20,336 venues with 290,847 check-ins, 168,617 unique visitors, and 9,240 mayors (in Foursquare parlance, "mayors" are high frequency repeat visitors). The report also displays a pie chart of " % of Venues with Specific Quantities of Checkins" (for this search there were 3,671 locations with one or less check-ins, 9,451 with two to 10, 6,122 with 11 to 50, 1,051 with 50 to 250, and 32 with 250 to 500).

The report goes on to list the aliases of the top 50 mayors and how many "mayorships" they have which provides a fascinating insight into the most socially active users who would be worth targeting by brands to encourage the users brand loyalty.

The next section of the report "Top 50 Venues by Unique Visitors" gives a snapshot of the audience broadness. In the case of my "mcdonalds" search the top of the list is dominated by, of all things, with locations in Indonesia taking not only the top three spots but also eight out of the top 15!

Why would this be? Maybe McDonalds is doing heavy promotion over there or maybe they are establishing lots of new franchises … whatever is going on needs some serious research to make sense of the data (a Google search for "mcdonalds Indonesia" turns up nothing relevant and the McDonalds Indonesia LinkedIn Activity page has no entries at all let alone anything illuminating the Foursquare insight).

The rest of the report sections are " Top 50 Venues by Total Checkins" (again, Indonesia takes the top two spots) and " Top 50 Venues by Repeats Ratio". This latter section is described as "Checkins/Uniques and shows high number of checkins by the same users. The data is limited to venues with >10 unique visitors. Otherwise venues with one unique user that checks in over and over skew the results." … curiously Indonesia drops off this list with the No. 1 spot going to, oddly enough, "Noord-Holland" (who would have guessed?).

The trick to getting value from this data is being able to analyze in context. If you were McDonalds you'd (hopefully) have an understanding of what programs and market forces are in play to drive these results or be able to work backwards from the results to relate them to corporate tactics and strategies.

Now, mash this real world data on user behavior with data from other social networking services, add in engagement with the revealed movers and shakers, tie the insights into advertising and promotion programs, and you've got a whole new way of analyzing and strategizing your products and services. Welcome to the future of marketing.

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