Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ragan.com about the untapped potential of Foursquare:

Published: 4/26/2010

Can Foursquare capitalize on its marketing potential?
By Ari B. Adler

Function must supersede frivolity and deliver pertinent information when the consumer wants it

There’s a love-hate relationship going on with Foursquare the likes of which we haven’t seen since Crocs tried to make brightly colored shoes with holes in them a major fashion statement.

The mobile check-in started as a game and quickly turned into a way to keep up with friends and their favorite hangouts. For some, that’s enough to keep them coming back. Others try it and lose interest.

Still, it’s the folks thinking not about what Foursquare can do, but what Foursquare could be doing that will probably continue to drive the company’s success.

“It took me a while to figure out what the thing is about—not what everybody uses it for, but what function does it play?” said Ike Pigott, a communication consultant and blogger from Birmingham, Ala.

Pigott noted how Twitter expanded the world so people can know what any of the people they follow are doing. The problem with Twitter, Pigott said, is the information, “falls off the radar due to sheer volume.”

Transcending time

“If I go to a sandwich shop in an unfamiliar town and have a life-changing sandwich and tweet about it, [and] if you’re there while traveling for a conference four months later, that won’t mean anything to you,” Pigott said. “What Foursquare does at its core is connect everyone over time instead of just space.”

According to Pigott’s theory, Twitter is about the here and now, whereas Foursquare is more about the here when you need it.

“I may not see your noisy tweet from four months ago, but with Foursquare, I’ll see it when I’m in the exact place where that information is relevant to me,” Pigott said.

It’s that type of relevance to travelers that prompted The History Channel to engage Foursquare for its campaign to bring visitors more information when they check in at historical sites.

Foursquare’s real strength, therefore, may be its ability to connect people with relevant information.

“One of the things that has intrigued me about Foursquare is its potential in event planning and attendance,” said Ryan Knott, manager of communications for the Michigan Osteopathic Association. “An event like Lansing’s ‘Be a Tourist in Your Own Town’ could use Foursquare to track people’s movements and special prizes could be given out to those with the most check-ins. I also was impressed with Foursquare’s partnership withIgnite Week. When I checked in at Ignite Lansing 3.0, I was given the Ignite Badge. Not a huge deal, but it was a nice way to bond with other attendees around Lansing and around the world.”

Conference call

Knott said he thinks this kind of Foursquare connection could expand to bring more life to industry conferences, as well.

“I could see using Foursquare for competitions at our annual convention—our member physicians could receive additional raffle tickets or something for checking into specific rooms or events,” Knott said. “Unfortunately, our members aren’t quite wired into Foursquare yet, but with some prodding, we might be able to get them there.”

It may not take much prodding if folks start to see the value of the giant database of useful information people are building via Foursquare, even without realizing it. Connecting with people is important, but connecting with and getting information from your “friends,” is even more important.

“Five years ago, what you asked Google or Ask.com, we now go to Facebook for, because our friends give us more relevant information that means something to us,” Pigott said. “In three years, people won’t be fighting it out to be mayor of Starbucks. If Foursquare is done right, it eliminates the noise, because it only delivers the information when it’s relevant to me at the moment I can act on it.”

It’s time to end the rage and hate forums

Reader comments. Story comments. Rage and hate forums. Call them what you want, but the comments section at the end of every Lansing State Journal story posted at its web site have gone from crazy and laughable to pointless and stupid.

When will the publishers of the State Journal realize that their reader comments section destroys the paper’s credibility as a beacon of truth and leadership in the community? Allowing unmoderated comments from hurtful people focused only on their own agendas of hate is the last thing this region needs and making it an official record by hosting it at the LSJ web site is a disservice.

I don’t mean to single out the State Journal, because they certainly are not alone in this age of anonymous rage. I just happen to be exposed to that newspaper more than others because it’s my local paper. I posted a question on Twitter today about this subject:

Reader comments at (the Lansing State Journal) are filled with rage & hate. Do all local papers have that problem?

It was disheartening to have so many people reply in the affirmative:

Yes. It’s the anonymity that allows for it. Newspapers rushed to add the comments, but didn’t know how to build a community. ~ Ike Pigott, Birmingham, Ala.

The (Detroit Free Press) and (Detroit News) reader comments are also filled with rage and hate, and most discussions turn to race in no time at all. ~ Maureen Francis, Birmingham, Mich.

I’ve seen the same on Detroit and other news websites. Kinda makes you lose faith in your fellow (hu)man. 😦  ~ Kate Sumbler, Michigan

Yes, they do. I think it’s bad on news sites because there’s an anonymity in ranting about something you don’t agree with on web. ~ Valerie Morgan, Lansing, Mich.

And it’s more than just nonsense — it’s a problem for journalists and their sources. As Louise Knott Ahern pointed out, “Negative comments actually scare off sources from talking to the media.” There’s an interesting piece about this phenomenon involving the Washington Post here.

It was awesome to get a much more positive response from Derek Wallbank, a reporter for MinnPost. As Derek explained, “We moderate comments & require real names to post anything. Keeps it more civil.”

Hallelujah — a newspaper with a conscience! I looked up MinnPost’s terms of service about comments:

MinnPost does not permit the use of foul language, personal attacks or the use of language that may be libelous or interpreted as inciting hate or sexual harassment. User comments are reviewed by moderators to ensure that comments meet these standards and adhere to MinnPost’s terms of use and privacy policy. We intend for this area to be used by our readers as a place for civil, thought-provoking and high-quality public discussion. In order to achieve this, MinnPost requires that all commenters register and post comments with their actual names and place of residence.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to have a hometown newspaper with a solid terms of service that required real names to be used in a forum moderated for civility. The Lansing State Journal’s terms of service make promises, but the paper falls short of enforcing them every day. The LSJ’s terms read:

(Readers agree not to)…Engage in personal attacks, harass or threaten, question the motives behind others’ posts or comments, deliberately inflame or disrupt the conversation, or air personal grievances about other users.

And, of course, it doesn’t help that many newspapers don’t require the use of someone’s real name when posting comments. It’s interesting that they require name, address and phone number when you submit a letter to the editor, but online they let hate and rage run unchecked. As Nate Erickson, a recent Michigan State University graduate now living in New York, noted: “Anonymity or perceived anonymity breeds idiocy.”

Idiocy. Rage. Hate. Call it what you want. It’s time for real names, personal responsibility and common civility to replace it all. This is my public challenge to the Lansing State Journal publishers to lead the way. Claim your place as a leader in building a positive online community by reviewing your policies, improving them and enforcing them. If you build it, we will come.