I used the past week to experiment with Foursquare, the location-based social network that’s caught fire this summer. Last fall, Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, predicted Foursquare would be this year’s Twitter. Its two million users fall short of Facebook’s 500 million, but Foursquare has taken the early lead in location-based service mixed with commerce.
Think of Foursquare as a real-life game. For those who aren’t users, one receives points by “checking in” whenever they’re at a place of business. The service also allows you to see who else is at or has been at a certain place; to share tips about a place; and, most importantly, users compete to become mayor by checking in at a place more than anyone else.
In last week’s Adweek, Brian Morrissey reported Foursquare has struggled to keep up with the influx of business opportunities:
“Adweek spoke with several agencies that report frustrating experiences with Foursquare. Some have found it both hard to contact and unwilling to come up with marketing ideas. One agency representing a major package-goods client said the company put the onus on the brand and agency to find the best way to use the service.
‘They’re not responsive and extremely hard to work with,’ said a digital agency exec who asked not to be named. ‘It’s hard to bring campaigns to life. Nobody knows how to create a badge or ask [Foursquare how] to enable behavior. It’s black magic.’ In general, he said, ‘it’s pretty much unworkable.'”
Here’s the flaw with Foursquare: Right now, it’s sort of this inconsequential game among friends to see who can accumulate the most points. So, considering the cost of going place to place, it’s a really expensive version of FarmVille. For it to remain a viable social network, their needs to be more user rewards. As Dave McClure so eloquently stated on his blog:
‘They’re not responsive and extremely hard to work with,’ said a digital agency exec who asked not to be named. ‘It’s hard to bring campaigns to life. Nobody knows how to create a badge or ask [Foursquare how] to enable behavior. It’s black magic.’ In general, he said, ‘it’s pretty much unworkable.’ HELLO, MAINSTREAM CONSUMER MARKET!”
In summary: Few businesses offer rewards for becoming mayor and their can be only one mayor at a time. The cost to become mayor — visit after visit to one place — isn’t worth the free drink or free T-shirt. Foursquare isn’t doing enough to reward those who discover and visit new places as the site intends. A badge won’t cut it. That’s where the $20 million investment and (hopefully) additional staffing need to focus.