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Summertime meditations on social media (part 3): Foursquare (unvarnished) PR musings, Social media

Last time, I shared opinions about and advice for effectively using Twitter—and lamented its misuse by some who #fail to share compelling content.

Speaking of non-compelling content … there’s Foursquare.

I cautioned in part 1 that opinions would be direct and occasionally contrarian. I recognize that people use social media with many different goals in mind. And I know that some people like Foursquare.

I’m not one of them.

But what’s it to me if others want to waste their time? Well, you see, they’re also wasting my time by clogging my Twitter feed with their trivial Foursquare “check ins.”

Any socially redeeming value in Foursquare ‘mayors’?
Until the entire world population—or at least a critical mass—uses it, Foursquare is pretty useless (with one possible exception*).

Of course, the whole world will never be entirely on board (and at about 10 million current users, it’s a long way off). So we’re left with Foursquare updates that pretty much all read the same—something to the effect of:

“I’m at [place] w/ three others.”

There’s very little of substance in that statement. It doesn’t suggest to me it’s a place where I should go because it’s popular … or avoid because it’s too crowded. Rather, it tells me not very many people use Foursquare.

And that makes it fairly worthless.

Foursquare updates also tend toward the narcissistic side (like we should really care where someone is at every moment?).

“Check ins” to somewhere special—a conference or party, for instance—are one thing (some people might actually care—though even those might be better suited for Facebook). But “check ins” to places where you go all the time—like work? Spare us, please. It’s non-compelling content.

‘Mayor McCheese’: More clout than most Foursquare ‘mayors’?

Of course, I know the reason why some people persist in doing it….

But being designated as “mayor” of one place or another?

Frivolous nonsense.

*The one possible exception to all the inanity: I see potential value to businesses that can capitalize on geolocation technology by “pinging” users with deals when they’re “checked in” nearby. For example, if I’m “checked in” at Global Village, and Salsarita’s “pings” me with a deal for $1 off a burrito if I come in now, that has real value—to Salsarita’s and me.

Meantime, keep “checking in,” if you must. I’m sure you’ll eventually get bored with it, too.

Next time: Social media—all the rest

  1. Marie D. Lang
    Aug 09

    I will continue to check in every time I come to work*, and then I'm going to direct message you with my check-in. :) But seriously, Foursquare has value to your friends—and I mean the actual people you are friends with, not the hundreds of people you are Facebook friends with or follow on Twitter. I want to know my friend is at the same concert as me. I want to know why my brother just checked into the emergency room. I want to know that Paul is already at work so I can prepare a good excuse as to why I'm late.

    Foursquare is its own thing. Users choose to link it to Twitter and Facebook. You don't have to have your check-ins appear in your Twitter feed or Facebook status, but lots of people like to mainstream their social media. Your tweeps are global and for many their Facebook friends are global, but for personal users of Foursquare, it should be about the actual people. Which for some, that's a hard concept to grasp.

    *I pretty much only check in to work because I don't have a smartphone. I need WiFi to check in with my iPod, so that significantly limits my check-ins.

  2. Asher S
    Aug 09

    I check in at work mostly out of habit, but also as a way to show my friends where I am. I genuinely use Foursquare as one method of seeing where my friends are and what they are up to. Of course, I don't share my check-ins on Twitter or Facebook—I figure the people who I contact who want to see this information will join Foursquare themselves. It's not necessarily compelling content for everyone, but I enjoy seeing a stream of my friend's daily travels—sometimes it sparks conversation!

  3. Erika Lee
    Aug 09

    Is this a News website or opinion website? This is obviously the writers opinion....

    [Editor’s note: This comment has been edited to comply with The Tiger Beat Blog’s civility standards.]

  4. Nicholas Livada
    Aug 09

    I agree with everything Marie said and just followed her on Twitter because of it!

  5. Mike Saffran
    Aug 09

    Erika: It’s a blog. And it’s definitely opinion. But thanks for reading.

  6. Joanna Bartlett
    Aug 09

    I check in at work every day. I'm the major! ;) I do, however, uncheck the Facebook and Twitter notifications. For the other folks that also check in here, it's a fun game to see who is mayor and who can retain mayorship.

    At other places, sometimes I get specials. Sometimes I do it for sheer amusement value. Sometimes I want to share my location with friends of Facebook or followers on Twitter. If I do send the notification to Twitter, I make sure to say something useful and relevant along with it.

    Mike, perhaps it's not Foursquare you don't like, but rather its misuse. Just like not using Twitter effectively is annoying to others. Just like any online medium, I think Foursquare has its application, when used correctly.

  7. Mike Johansson
    Aug 09

    Mike – as promised, you delivered your unvarnished opinion of Foursquare.

    I'd have to say your biggest issue may not be with Foursquare but the people you choose to follow on Twitter. If their Foursquare checkins show up on Twitter and that annoys or bothers you, unfollow them!

    As to why I and others "waste time" checking in: Here are just a few things it does for RIT:

    - Each checkin at an RIT location is shared on a network of hundreds to thousands on each person's network. That is real exposure of RIT to people who may otherwise never hear of this fine institution.

    - The simple rewards of checking in (such as badges) encourage people who would have no other reason to stop by the campus to check it out if they are in the area. Again this exposes RIT to people who otherwise would have no reason to come here.

    - The “mayorships” are a simple, competitive way to encourage people to keep checking in and spreading the word (see the top point here).

    - When people take the time to leave a Tip at an RIT location that shows up for anyone checking it at that location and, in some cases, to locations close by. Again, this helps with the first point.

    - The brand “RIT” is getting bandied around at a greater velocity thanks to Foursquare (and other social media) … all of which contributes to the likelihood that we show up at the top or very high in Google searches.

    On top of all this—it’s a game. No one is forced to play.

    While I appreciate the courage it takes on your part to post these thoughts I can’t agree with them.

    Thanks for giving me a reason to explain Foursquare! :-)

  8. Mike Saffran
    Aug 09

    Absolutely, Jo—I think you (and Asher) have nailed it (it’s the misuse). That’s pretty much what I was getting at.

    Incidentally, this whole discussion reminds me somewhat of an earlier “provocative” blog post—from more than five years ago—about blog-post writing (there’s nothing like “ruffling a few feathers” to generate some comments ;-)

    Great to hear from you—especially on this blog! (For those who don’t know, Jo is The Tiger Beat Blog’s “founder.”)

  9. Mike Saffran
    Aug 09

    Mike: Always appreciate your insight. You highlight some valuable benefits of Foursquare “check ins”—to RIT (particularly its marketing—which, although a nice side benefit to the university, I doubt whether it’s something most people checking in are terribly concerned about; rather, I think most care more about their own “mayorships”).

    Regarding the tips: Does it help with your first point—RIT marketing—when it’s a negative opinion? It seems it would work both ways (as well it should).

    As for unfollowing Foursquare/Twitter abusers: Yes, I most certainly can unfollow them. However, the spirit behind this blog series on social media was not to highlight only what I might find annoying, but to offer advice (and, yes, opinions) to help other users not be unfollowed. See part 2 (about “F-bombers”):

    “Sure, we can unfollow the narcissist—but unless your goal is to be unfollowed, don’t be inappropriate, and try not to be inanely mundane.”

    I completely agree with some of the other commenters here about their Foursquare use: It can be great for keeping up with the whereabouts of family and friends—other users specifically on Foursquare. But keep it off Twitter.

  10. Mike Johansson
    Aug 09

    Mike – You are, of course, right in thinking many people checking in at RIT venues may not be motivated to help RIT with marketing. But regardless of their motivation the end result is the same. :-)

    And as to negative opinions: If those negatives on Foursquare are not heavily outweighed by positive opinions then it might suggest some aspect of RIT has far more serious problems than was previously known... and I somehow that would not be the case :-)

    And again, I do greatly appreciate the discussion you've triggered here!

  11. Matt
    Aug 09

    I only use 4sq to get 15% or BOGO deals :P

  12. Jen Palumbo
    Aug 09

    I agree with Mike S. on this one. I don't like my Twitter feed being clogged up with Foursquare checkins, either.

    It's great to keep those who are on Foursquare who "follow" you up to date on where you are—that's why they use it. But not all of your Twitter followers use or care about Foresquare. I use Twitter for communication, but also for consumption of valuable/interesting information. Foursquare checkins on Twitter are neither valuable or interesting, in my opinion. I'm not on Foursquare though...

    I understand Mike J's point about all of those checkins being great exposure for RIT. But I feel like Twitter posts about RIT with a little more substance go farther. "I'm at RIT's SAU with 4 others" isn't as interesting as "My old @RIT program, PTC is hosting a Social Media and Communication Symposium! Lots of cool speakers!" I feel like the 4 square posts would get lost in the mix, especially for those who've never heard of RIT.

    It would be interesting to see how well Foursquare generates traffic to a website. You could use Google Analytics to see if many of your hits come from Foursquare. That would be one measureable way of finding out just how useful it is, from a marketing perspective at least. Although, I'm sure RIT already does this. :)

  13. Mike Saffran
    Aug 09

    Thanks, Jen.

    Your comment leads me to this follow-up thought:

    Not to equate tweeting and Foursquare updates with traditional journalism ... but, for the sake of argument, let’s look at two of journalism’s venerable “5 Ws and H”...

    Foursquare answers “Where?"

    Twitter answers “What?”—as in what are you doing ... thinking ... believing?

    I think this is the “valuable/interesting information” of which you speak ... and in many instances, the “where” is largely inconsequential. (Yet, when pushed to Twitter, it’s the “lead.”)

  14. Richard
    Aug 09

    I find Google Latitude to be more interesting. I don't find much meaning in showing where I am to so many people, but knowing where I have been and looking at that history does interest me. And sometimes there is overuse of foursquare. For instance, one of my friends will check into his place of work every morning and it clogs my news feed. I like my news feed to be dynamic.

  15. Bob Finnerty
    Aug 10

    Great discussion folks. Thanks for sparking this Mike. I felt the same way about Twitter a few years ago, and now I am addicted. Twitter is my No. 1 News feed. I am on 4 Square but don't use it yet; but maybe I will come to love it. I say give people choices.

    Checking in from my den in Greece, NY. And yes, I am the mayor of this household :-)

  16. mike
    Aug 10

    Not everyone has an endless amount of blabber and can make Facebook and Twitter posts that they feel anyone want to read. Foursquare makes a simple statement that at times spark comments from followers. I can tweet that I'm at Wegmans (does anybody care?) or I can let 4sq do it for me.

  17. John Follaco
    Aug 10

    Wow. Who knew The Tiger Beat had become so popular? Great post, Mike.

    I started using Foursquare early on, just to see what it was about. But my use of it has declined substantially. I think there's a tremendous opportunity for marketers to harness the power of this medium—but that has yet to happen on a large-scale.

    I agree with Mike J. that there's great value to a place like RIT to have people 'checking in' on campus. But there's little value to me. If a wide range of businesses begin offering value (specials, coupons, etc) then I'll re-evaluate.

    In the mean time, I'll only check in when I'm doing something interesting or unusual, like checking in to Citi Field or Notre Dame Stadium.

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