Nov 05

Fortune-Telling and the Future of Foursquare

Fortune-Telling and the Future of Foursquare

Recently around the Zoke, we’ve been discussing the New York Times article that proclaimed location-based mobile services like Foursquare “have not caught on.” As Leah wrote yesterday:

“[...]many marketers are including location-based Web services into their strategic planning for brands, but with such a low user base, I find this strangely humorous. Speaking as a marketer myself, I find it interesting that in efforts to stay competitive, we’ve missed the mark completely. 
Or, are we simply preparing for what many feel will be a mainstream adoption of yet another social networking tool and technology?”
First, let’s take a look at the Pew Research Center’s numbers…
According to the study, 4% of online adults use location-based services. But usually, effective use of these services requires a smartphone or mobile device with GPS capabilities. PC Magazine reports this week, per Nielsen, that only about 28% of wireless users in the U.S. own smartphones. A more illuminating statistic to examine would be the percentage of online adults who have the technology to meaningfully use location-based services, and use them. This insight, tracked over time, might provide a better indication of whether or not location-based services are “catching on.” Unfortunately, the Pew study doesn’t measure this.
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Regardless, the business of predicting the future of technology adoption is incredibly difficult, and relies on analysis of many interacting factors that are themselves fairly unpredictable. I don’t think we can say for sure whether Foursquare (or Twitter, or augmented reality, or whatever technology we’re discussing tomorrow) is the “next big thing” or “just a fad” – and I tend to think that those two phrases miss the point entirely. 
While we should be periodically looking forward and making intelligent guesses about where technology is headed, our job today is to consider the tools and channels available and determine specifically, for this client, or for this program:
  • Who is using it? Are these people our customers? Do we want them to be?
  • How are they using it? Does this channel play a different role in people’s lives than other channels?
  • What value can we create for people through this channel? What action can we inspire? How is this tied solidly and measurably to our objectives?
Those are the questions asked by marketers, not fortune-tellers… and they apply whether the technology in question is being used by 4% of people, or 94%.
Fortune-teller image from thebestofdiy.com.