Then I saw Foursquare… Now I’m a believer

I’m not a person who likes new technology (I seriously had an iPod for over a year before I learned how to use it.) When Twitter first came out, Marc had to bug me for months to get an account.

So, when I started seeing Foursquare updates in my twitter stream from folks I followed, to be honest, I never even learned (or cared to learn) what the site was about.

About a week ago, I was doing some vanity searching for MFE Interactive and noticed there was a page about it on Foursquare. So I started surfing the site.

Now if you follow me on Twitter, then you know that I am a Tim Hortons addict and visit my local Timmys about three times a day. I checked out their listing and saw someone else was the “mayor” with only six visits (at the time.) And that simply could not be allowed to continue. I don’t care if it’s dumb and meaningless… if there is going to be a “mayor” of my local Timmys, it is damn sure going to be ME. And so, I became a Foursquare user.

Tony Adam blogged a while back about the possible monetization opportunities Foursquare has. But, I’m not looking at Foursquare from a small business owner’s perspective. I’m looking at it from a user perspective. And I admit it… I felt silly “checking in.” There’s no actual “point” to Foursquare right?

Wrong.

After only a few days of using it, I’ve found both actual value and potential value in being a FourSquare user. I know… it shocked the hell out of me too.

Actual value

Yesterday Dawn and I headed to Dallas for PubCon South. Since I am super organized and booked our plane tickets three days before we actually needed to get to Dallas, our trip involved three legs… Toronto to Cincinnati, Cincinnati to Orlando and then finally Orlando to Dallas.

Upon landing in Orlando, we checked into the Orlando airport on Foursquare and both of us were a little surprised to see how much activity there was. There have been over 4000 check ins at that location and there were a ton of “tips” left on the venue page. Once we got off the plane, we realized we had to change terminals and that meant going through security again. The line was atrociously long and filled with tourists and neither Dawn nor myself was looking forward to getting through the line. I went outside for a quick smoke and started reading the tips folks had left…

“Nicole L. did this…
Look for the “expert travelers” security line. It will save you a ton of time.”

“Janell H. did this…
Ditto on the ‘expert’ security lane. No waiting/stopping at all for me; 45 min for tourons!”

“Jen J. did this…
Look for the “expert” line in security… a little hidden from the normal lines. Will get through really fast.”

I went back inside, grabbed Dawn and told her what the tips had said. Sure enough, it was a little hidden and off to the side, but we found the expert security lane and were through security in less than ten minutes. We looked back at the regular security lines and saw that the folks that were at the end of the main security lines when we entered had barely moved as we moved on to our gate.

Foursquare users had given us the inside track to their local airport and saved us a ton of time and aggravation. I wouldn’t look up “reviews” on an airport. Who would? But “checking in” to one put the knowledge of the locals right at our fingertips.

Someone who “checks in” at the Doubletree Dallas/Richardson hotel will be able to easily find out that there is a great pool hall and pub across the street with good food that actually allows smoking inside. They may not have been looking for one… I know I wasn’t… but had I seen the review I left before stumbling across it, I’d have made a beeline for the place.

I can currently see that Joe Morin is at the Renaissance Dallas/Richardson hotel. If I click on his profile I have the ability to email, text, Twitter, Facebook or call him to see if he wants to meet up. Granted, I have Joe in my phone’s address book, but Foursquare not only let’s me know he’s local to me at the moment, it also doesn’t make me exit the app to contact him.

Folks who “check in” at one of my local pool halls will be able to quickly assess that pool is free on Sunday nights with a low minimum tab. It took me about twenty visits before I noticed the small sign on the pub wall.

I think this is what folks had in mind when they created sites/apps like Foursquare. Sure, “local type” sites have reviews and the like, but there is an added desire to help build the value with Foursquare because you’re involved in each venue when you “check in” and there is social capital.

Potential value and improvements

While I currently find Foursquare useful, there are a lot of additions that I think could heavily increase the value.

  1. Allowing “check outs” – When I check in at my local Timmys, I’m only there for about ten minutes. But if I don’t check into another venue, it will show my current location to be Tim Hortons until I do. So, if a friend of mine looks at my status, it looks as if I’m still there. If they went to meet up with me, they’d be sadly disappointed. Allowing me to “check out” would show that I’ve been there and gone, even though I didn’t “check in” to another location because I simply went home.
  2. Searching by tags – At the moment, when I do a search on my Foursquare app, I can only search for business names. If I’m traveling I likely don’t know them and would rather simply be able to search for “pool tables” or “mall.” Currently, if the search term doesn’t appear in the business name, I’m out of luck. The Fox and the Hound won’t show up for “pool tables” and the Galleria Dallas won’t show up for “mall.”
  3. Expanding search result lists – When you currently do a “check in” on Foursquare it searches for nearby locations but will only show you ten results. This frequently results in you having to click “not in list” and type the venue name in yourself. It creates an added step that could be avoided by listing more results per search.
  4. Incorporate ratings – When I do a search for a venue, it would be awesome if Foursquare took a cue from local search sites and allowed users to leave ratings and display the aggregated rating number next to venue names. Tips are awesome, but you have to view every venue to see them. Having a rating allows me to see at a glance that there *are* ratings and that I may want to click through to read them. Even saying “nine tips” would be helpful to see at a glance even without actual ratings.
  5. The ability to rank tips – When a venue has a ton of tips, it can be a lot to get through. Giving users the ability to rank the usefulness of tips would allow the best tips to float to the top.
  6. Create clear use suggestions to small business owners – Let’s face it. Small business owners most times are a bit behind in how to make use of the social web. It would be awesome if Foursquare created a “small business owners guide” that showed businesses how they can take advantage of Foursquare, which in turn makes things more fun and more valuable for the users. Suggesting one “free coffee” for the mayor of your coffee shop every Friday has the potential to bring them more business and bring the user (aka their customers) more value. I know Foursquare sees the value their app has to potential business owners. They simply need to be better at educating them about it.

It should be interesting to watch Foursquare evolve. For now, I’m a believer.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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