“Checking in” on Friday was good for me. I was one of the 10,000 folks who got a free pair of jeans at the Gap. No strings attached. I was just in the right place, at the right time, with the right tool - Facebook Places on my phone - to do so.
The resulting comments on my Facebook profile are typical of the sentiment around the promotion - that it was confusing, and that it was a counterpoint (nice or sarcastic, you choose) to the recent Gap logo debacle, fresh in consumers’ minds. (Regardless, it stirred up plenty of press - more than 1200 people have covered it in the past three days.)
What is the deal?
Checking in to stores and restaurants is probably a new phenomenon for most people. But it’s easy as finding the place you’re in, and clicking a button on your phone. Once you’ve checked in, you can see who else is there, leave tips for others, or simply share the fact that you’re out and about with your family and friends.
To do so, you either download a little application to your phone - like Foursquare or Gowalla - or you play around with Facebook’s new Places feature. Facebook’s Places was launched in mid-August, and will probably cause location-based programs (which is what these are called) to be adopted more quickly, by virtue of Facebook’s sheer scale, and in their ability to forge partnerships with marketers like the Gap.
Location-based social media programs are only being used by about 4% of all online users today, according to recent research from the Pew Research Center. But just because we’re in a minority today, don’t think our numbers won’t grow exponentially. The 4% who are playing around with location-based programs is about as the same percentage of folks were blogging six years ago. And early adopters of social media tend to be highly vocal and have lots of online connections.
What is the deal for brands?
Just like in the rest of the social media landscape, brands need to know people are broadcasting about them when they’re “in the moment” with the brand. This can be good or bad for consumers - sometimes you can win goods (thanks, Gap!), sometimes you can unlock coupons (Starbucks has been very actively offering special “coupon deals” for check ins for months), and sometimes you can find excellent information in tips left by others.
Like the guy who said to sit on the right side of the plane as you fly out of Reagan airport - or the left side as you fly in for the best view. I’m still grateful for his advice!
The History Channel has created a ton of tips for Foursquare users around the country, which always add to my check in experience. Thank you.
The brands who are actively participating today are doing so with a highly engaged and vocal audience.
Because when we “win/unlock/share tips” the applications themselves can help us communicate our observations to our Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIN communities without lifting another finger to do so.
I’m going to repeat that.
The applications can amplify our observations to (potentially) all of our social connections without lifting another finger. That’s word of mouth.
The sad thing is, most businesses have no clue that we’re doing so.
The brand problem is the brand opportunity
I had lunch on Friday at a chain restaurant (there are nine locations on the west coast) that is heavily used by business people. Because I had a little extra time to check out the tips that other Foursquare users had left, I took the time to do so. I was stunned at what I read:
Whoa. Did you see that? “The pork chops tastes like the grill has a propane leak.”
Imagine this kind of information about your brand hanging out there for anyone to see - for months. My bet is, the manager of this particular restaurant might like to know what a small, but vocal percentage of people is thinking - and passing along - about his / her establishment.
If you have a local business that people are frequenting: whether it be a restaurant, a bar, a dental practice, even a gate at an airport… you should know what your customers are saying about you when they’re “checking in.” You might be surprised. Positively, or negatively. And frankly, you need to know which it’s going to be so you can respond appropriately.
Now. Before adoption really blossoms.