The world of social media is still dominated by powerhouse platforms and many competitors are attempting to replicate those sites’ successes. Despite the apparent monopoly, hundreds have popped up over the years and many of them carry enough weight to be considered valid for the social media marketer. However, judging this multitude of sites is difficult, if for no other reason than determining variables that can easily apply to the full gamut of social platforms. Regardless, I have tackled the challenge and come up with general criteria that should define any social site from the marketer’s point of view.
I never made it through Webelo. I had the uniform, the walking stick, even a handful of beads, but I never got enough merit badges to breach that final level. I think that may explain how easily Foursquare ensnared me. I found myself making extra trips out of my way to gather a few more check-ins, hoping to unlock the next badge on my list. Like so many other Americans, my first instinct at any new restaurant or club was to whip out my phone and check-in as soon as the Wi-Fi kicked in. Alas, much like my Boy Scout days, I would find nothing but failure. I do not live in New York City, and my Facebook friends are scattered far and wide across the country, so many of Foursquare’s achievements are forever blocked to me. Through giving up, however, I found insight.
Foursquare is the current leading entity in what are collectively referred to as “check-in” apps. Popularized back when “app store” referred only to Apple products, these apps were designed to show your friends what you have been up to, where to meet up with you, and when the best time to rob your apartment is. However, what I quickly realized is that these are not “social” apps as much as they are “look how cool I am” apps. The functionality of this first wave of programs was essentially limited to three steps.
1. Arrive at a location.
2. Check In at that location.
3. Post to Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter.
The actual “social” aspect of this platform is questionable. Like Yelp! or UrbanSpoon (both of which I far prefer), a user can share tips or warnings with others, but this is a passive experience. There is no method of conversing with — or replying to — other users in real time.
As you may have picked up in my last post, I place a lot of emphasis on the efficiency and function of social media. My gut reaction to Foursquare when I first discovered it in late 2009 was, “Why bother?” I reasoned that I already had a Facebook account; why would I bother signing up for a second social site that wasn’t going to do anything other than post things on my Facebook? I can just write my plans directly on my profile. Though I was eventually won over (mostly due to a need to put everything I possibly could on my new phone), I still don’t see much use for Foursquare outside of a personal setting.
There are other location-based apps, however, that offer a lot more to the social marketer. Yelp! and UrbanSpoon, as I mentioned earlier, are absolutely essential for any small business. Both of these sites are already well-known to most demographics, and both allow a business to easily appeal to local sentimentality. Yelp! comes with a very well-designed mobile app that allows your customers to upload reviews, ratings, and tips directly from your store. Both of these apps were designed with restaurants in mind, and they work best for those purposes, but anything from diners to shoe outlets can benefit from what Yelp! has to offer.
Another app, Ditto, seeks to add the immediate social interaction that Foursquare lacks. Where Foursquare fails, Ditto excels, and vice versa. Ditto is a relatively new platform, and is limited to Apple products. This effectively cuts off a significant portion of the smart phone market, and those of us with Android or Blackberry phones are out of luck. As a result, it is unlikely that Ditto will reach the saturation that Foursquare has already achieved. It may be hard to sell a business on a platform that they haven’t heard of, and Ditto is almost certainly in that category. For those that are willing to give the app a chance, Ditto has something great to offer.
The main feature separating Ditto from all of the other location-based platforms is that it is written in future-tense. Foursquare is about where you are, Yelp! is about where you have been, and Ditto is about where you are going to be. For a marketer, this makes all the difference in the world. Let’s assume that you are a small business with a personal profile on Foursquare and Ditto, and you have fifty friends on each. If a few friends on Ditto say that they are planning on going to a competitor’s shoe store, it may be a great time to broadcast that “BOGO” coupon you’ve been sitting on. On Foursquare, you won’t know about your customer’s betrayal until they’re already trying on those cute pumps. If several Ditto users are posting that they want a great place to go for Chinese food, you can share a link to the local paper’s review of your award-winning Lo Mein. On Foursquare, you wouldn’t even know that these potential customers existed.
When it is all said and done, Ditto may be the new kid on the block, but it has nowhere to go but up. The smart phone market is exploding. Though studies have described location-based apps as low on the social media scale, around half of the people that don’t use them cite lacking a smart phone as the reason. These check-in apps are going to be around for a while, and I predict that Ditto may end up being one of the best.
Tim Howell holds two mayorships and eight badges, and is a content manager for Make Me Social. He studied fine art, psychology, and international pop culture at Bowling Green State University. In his spare time, he is a blogger, bartender, and social activist with a passion for cooking.