Twitter was quite silly the first time I signed up. A client of mine I was training in social media started swearing by it, and I reluctantly signed up to make sure I knew about it (ironic that someone I trained found it - either a good trainee or good training). As I played with it, my numbers started growing, and over the first year, it became a useful tool for marketing, branding and recruiting.
Yes I thought it was silly. Many people still do. Many more use it to drive information and report on stories long before any news organization or company can react.
When I started using Facebook, I was annoyed. The walls and restrictions made it useless for recruiting anyone but college kids, and even once the search was operative, the information was paltry. That all changed pretty fast, and I'm confident in saying that Facebook will be the most important platform in the 2012 election, not because of what the campaigns will do, but because Facebook is now an information sharing platform built of weak links.
Which brings me to Foursquare. I signed on to Foursquare reluctantly when Craig Fisher talked about it at a DFW-TRN meeting in February. My second check-in didn't happen until SXSW. I've played with Gowalla and Whrrl and SCVNGR, but Foursquare is my main focus. I check in and post the results to Facebook and Twitter, first to get mayorships, but also to tell people where I think I've been that's cool.
I especially relish it as small businesses, believing I might bring a customer or two to the location, but something weird has been happening. The more I use it, the more I want to tell the world about my experiences. The act of checking-in has led me to want to do more, which includes leaving tips, reading tips, suggesting food and beverage, complimenting waiters, and recently, talking about service.
Last night, I was buying shelving at Home Depot. As I stood in the lumber aisle, looking around for someone to help me, I inwardly started complaining how Home Depot just isn't as friendly as it used to be. My first thought, was to share it, on Foursquare. The connections that were made were organic - I had noticed that Best Buy Locations had lots of complaints for the Geek Squad, and it made sense that tagging it to the location was a useful way of creating a database of information for other people. So when a specific location failed me at customer service, it made sense to penalize that location, and not the entire brand.
That, my friends, is when I realized that location based marketing is just like Facebook and Twitter. Continued use of the platform alters our expectations, gives us a voice, and leads to new behaviors. While recent research (I read on Twitter, can't find it now) shows that social media is used far more for expressing positive information then negative, what's more important is the idea that we are actively expressing our emotions about what we're doing, while we're doing it. Twitter is good for that to some extent, but tying it through a location based service allows companies to track that information to the source.
And my friends, from past experience, I can tell you that what early adopters are doing now, the rest of the public will be doing soon.
So what can you do? One, is to figure out how to use the service yourself. If you have privacy concerns, consider checking in to places as you leave, or putting up a name that doesn't have identifying information (so for me, it shouldn't say smheadhunter or jim durbin). Practive checking in and start reading what other people say. Think about what checking in wants to make you do, in addition to thinking about what it makes you fearful of doing (and how that changes over time). You don't have to build a location based marketing program to do that, but if you can learn how the services work, you'll be able to understand their effect on your business (think hiring, retail, customer retention, and small business sales leads).
Like Twitter and Facebook, location based marketing seemed foolish when it started. I'm now starting to understand its applications. Isn't it about time you did the same?