I’m not sure about you, but I’ve seen increasingly less activity on my Foursquare account lately, in my own stream and others’. While I do have a few new friends every so often, those whom I’ve followed for a long time (Foursquare early adopters, like myself) seem to not be checking in as much (and nor am I). The leaderboard has thinned and the checkins seem more and more mundane (Gym, Starbucks, office. Repeat.)

Foursquare now claims 10 million users, and Walmart had 149,484 checkins the week of Thanksgiving.  Those feel like very small numbers, at least when compared to Facebook (800 million active users).  And considering that there are about 3,800 Walmart stores nationwide, that’s only 39 checkins per store. Through the whole week of Black Friday. Meh.

At the same time, Foursquare has added a ton of new features, which could really attract and engage new users as well as old. A couple of weeks ago I checked into a movie theater and was given the option to select the movie I was there to see. Foursquare has partnered with MovieTickets.com to provide showtimes and ticket purchases in-app, which is pretty cool: if you’re checking in about a movie it’s highly likely you will want to share which movie.foursquare movie theater checkin

Foursquare also recently announced two new buttons for site owners to use to connect their readers directly the app. The more interesting of the two is a “save to Foursquare” feature which allows a user to add a location (restaurant, event, store, etc.) to their Foursquare to-do list. Instead of emailing myself the page as a reminder, a quick click will add it.  The other button will allow you to follow a person or business on Foursquare. I fear that these new buttons will get lost in “button fatigue,” though, and many websites won’t adopt them.

And therein lies the real problem: Do we have time for Foursquare? If the early adopters have dropped off, who’s actually using it?   And where does Foursquare hope to get new growth from?  It may be from “the kids” – the 13-24 year olds who came later to Twitter and still may be more prone to text than tweet.  And the retail buying power of some of these kids is strong, though they don’t control nearly as much budget as the 25-plusses do. I’m worried that if the early adopters no longer care, the momentum for growth will be lost.

What does this mean for brands and local businesses? I’ve never been a huge proponent of Foursquare for businesses, unless you’re a retailer.  I’m going to stand by that sentiment for the moment. If you’re JC Penney, Amex, or Radio Shack it may make sense for you to create campaigns, which you can run nationally and amortize over hundreds of locations.  And if you are a small business retailer or have a consumer location, you should certainly have a Foursquare presence, because you want to control how your business is presented.  But I wouldn’t put a whole lot of time or effort into it, at least not if you’re outside the major East and West Coast cities where there are heavier concentrations of Foursquare users. Unless, of course, you test it and find a great response from your customers.  (Isn’t that the key to marketing anyway? Test, test, and test some more!)

I’m not dooming Foursquare entirely, just saying that it feels like growth will be limited and it won’t ever be for every business (or user).  Perhaps your local bar is using it successfully today (are you the mayor?), but don’t expect every business you come into contact with to jump on board.

Is your business using Foursquare? And where do you think it’s headed?  Do you agree or disagree with my assessment?  I’d really love to hear about your successes, or failures, in the comments, as well as your analysis of Foursquare’s future.

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About Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • Glamar230

    Wherefore means “why”, not “where”

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      Ha! You are so right. Thanks.

      • Dkdowell

        I have seen an increase in my Four Square activity.  Also, I saw where the founder was on CNBC the other week and they have had their Billionth check in.  Also, I beleive Four Square recently hired a former Google Exec to boost its search. 

  • http://thefuturebuzz.com AdamSinger

    Foursquare seems to be doing just fine here in San Francisco. Not sure what you’re talking about :)

  • Mikeyjay

    I would think Foursquare works for the roving Foodtrucks that may want to run specials on the things that are not selling, or you get a discount if you push a certain foodtruck after checkin.

  • http://investinsocial.com Jason Keath

    “It feels like” hardly counts for much. Foursquare has 15 million users by the way. Check-ins are up. Business support is up. They are doing just fine. 

    • http://investinsocial.com Jason Keath

      Sorry for how snarky that sounds Stephanie. I just disagree. And all the data I see shows continued growth in all aspects for 4S. 

      • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

        Hey Jason – sorry for the delay in responding. I’m not saying there’s no growth, just that it’s not quite what it might have once promised to become. It feels like 15 million (or 10 million) is small potatoes compared to other platforms/networks, and therefore unless you’re a retail location in a foursquare-mad city, it’s not right for most businesses. Yet. Could still change. I’m definitely not ruling it out. 

        • http://investinsocial.com Jason Keath

          15 million is the number as reported by Foursquare on stage at Le Web, 10 million is from 6 months ago, just to put the numbers right. And it is the largest user base for a social network created for mobile. Where the majority of activity is on mobile.

          I would not doubt that Foursquare has lost some steam. Their growth per month is actually a tiny bit down. My beef is having this conversation because we “feel” like things are down and not basing it on data. 

          Foursquare will never be for every business. There is no other social network beyond Facebook that will reach that kind of audience saturation. LinkedIn and Twitter and Google+ will never get there. Facebook was a fluke. Fragmentation is the norm from here on out for social platforms. 

  • http://www.whatspinksthinks.com David Spinks

    If we determined every company’s growth by comparing its total users to that of facebooks, well there would be very few growing companies today.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      You’re so right, David. And while I’m not trying to make that comparison in general….yet for small businesses, if they have limited time/money, where would you recommend they focus their effort?  Unless they’re a retail business in a Foursquare-hot city, I’d say put your time/effort elsewhere. Otherwise they’re reaching a very small minority of people who are likely loyal customers to begin with, with very little opportunity to reach beyond that userbase.

  • http://twitter.com/Phanyxx ♔ Nick Routley

    Here in Vancouver, Foursquare is still surprisingly popular. It’ll be interesting to see how Foursquare will evolve in coming years, or whether it’ll get swallowed up by a larger entity.

  • http://twitter.com/Symfonic Stacy Bayless

    My firm handles the social space for Arizona’s largest alcohol beverage distributor. We began on Foursquare just months ago and are finding many touch points with engaging business and consumer audiences. We’re not spending an enormous amount of time here but we’re listening and managing to the engagement. The opportunities to strengthen and build relationships are proving quite worthy of our time and attention. I enjoyed the read…thank you. 

    • http://twitter.com/BrianZarbock Brian Zarbock

      You got me interested, how does a alcohol distributor use FS to engage customers. 

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      This is really interesting to hear, Stacy. Would love to know more about what you’re doing, if you’re willing to share….

  • http://twitter.com/April_in_WA Life w April in WA

    I have to agree, my usage of FS is down, although I attribute it to the lack of participation of my local brick & mortars. I live in a pretty rural area & advocate for the untapped potential social can offer these offline folks when it comes to building out their marketing efforts. I’ve grown tired of  the ‘same-old-same-old’ and given up my “Mayor” status due to it’s inability to mean anything. These marketing efforts HAVE to be a two way relationship.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      April, if more brick&mortars participated we’d all probably be more engaged, but it’s a total chicken and egg scenario, right?  More users = more reason for businesses to get involved, but without businesses, slow growth in users. For rural and non-Foursquare-hot cities, I’d almost never recommend that a client put their precious time and money into Foursquare promos. Claim the location for sure, but don’t put a lot of effort into it.

  • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

    I guess you missed the news that Facebook bought Foursquare and Foursquare is closing it’s doors in January.

    • http://twitter.com/howlvenice Heather White-Laird

      they bought gowalla not foursquare. big difference

      • http://www.socialidentities.com Hugh Briss

        LOL. Yep, that’s what I get for posting when I should be sleeping.

  • http://www.beautybusinessblueprint.com Robert Samuel

    I think Foursquare is just another singer among the chorus of social media. Sometimes they catch fire and keep burning and sometimes they fizzle out. Remember Friendster, College Club? Myspace is on a gracious standing 8 count and has been for years.

  • Shane Barnhill

    Foursquare is trying to de-emphasize check-ins anyway and becomes discovery engine. We’ll see if they can pull it off.

  • Shawnpwilliams

    Stephanie I very muh agree with your assessment. I kno personally I would have 40-50 points in a week, much higher if I was travelling.

    Now I have 15-20 points per week. I really don’t care if I’m the mayor. I found myself taking 3-4 minutes away from my task or conversations when I checked in.

    I feel like I’m moving beyond the check in.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      You and many others, Shawn! 

  • http://twitter.com/sallan3 Steve Allan

    The problem with Foursquare is value. Retailers tend to make customers jump through too many hoops in order to gain benefit. A smarter strategy is to provide instant gratification – I check in I get something. The more someone checks in – the more they get. It is a simple customer loyalty program. Unfortunately, it is not promoted as such. 

    • http://twitter.com/BrianZarbock Brian Zarbock

      I never really check-in but a trendy yogurt shop was taking a while to get through their line so I checked-in, got 20% of my yogurt because of it, its stupid really and maybe saved me $1 at most but I told a lot of people about it and and still talking about it now. 

      • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

        That’s interesting, Brian. So they were able to turn potentially negative WOM into positive…..very nice. But you discovered somewhat arbitrarily, right? How many businesses do you know that post a sign “Foursquare users – check in here for a special!”?  That would definitely increase usage….but do they need to offer specials to people already standing in line?  I’m really not sure about the model and how it truly benefits small businesses.

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      Steve, I think Foursquare as a loyalty model is a problem.Sure, you might discover something via Foursquare (check in next door, see a special), and their new discovery engine is supposed to faciliate that even further, but right now you’re most likely to get a special or deal when you’re already there. So you would have bought anyway. 

      I went to a Brookstone recently and they had a “checkin for 5% off” sign at the counter. I checked in, and the cashier had no idea how to enter the discount! But I was planning to buy anyway. Really not sure what they gained in that transaction except me thinking that their marketing department was stupid for not sending training info out to all the stores along with the sign…. :-(

  • http://twitter.com/BrianZarbock Brian Zarbock

    Currently interning at a Public Library with over 10 branches city wide serving a community close to a million. Our check-ins our way down and when posted to twitter 90% opt for the default boring message. Our patrons just don’t see a gain in its use, its interesting but not dynamic.  

  • http://schneidermike.com schneidermike

    foursquare is alive and well, it’s just evolving. Check-ins are an unnatural behavior and without mass adoption of technologies like NFC (which requires both phone and location side support making it expensive) we’re not going to see people checking in. 

    foursquare needs to be integrated into natural behaviors like paying in order for it to gain mass adoption. Their American Express partnership has been very successful and they are well aware of all of the UX issues inherent (I DMed the hell out of them and they were quick to respond). 

    They know check-ins are not the future. They know it’s going to take a long time before the precision is where we want it to be. They know that winning the check-in war has the equivalent significance to capturing Delaware or Estonia. 

    They have a rabid fan base, a great development team and epic designers. Their leadership is listening and responsive and I think most importantly, when they say they are going to do something they follow through.  I have seen this time and time again in both front and back channel conversations. 

    In 2012: look for them to strengthen the partnership with AMEX and make it a lot easier to get deals via foursquare. They have to or LevelUp is going to eat their lunch. I think they will have a tighter integration with the radar feature.  I also look for them to do more around segmentation, with the new badge levels being the seed. I’ve been very vocal about them having a more robust “impression” metric so that they can be considered more prevalent in media plans.

    It’s going to happen. The company is still small.  On the flip side, you people need to take better advantage of foursquare. Shame on you for not taking advantage of what is essentially a free opportunity to create “relevant content delivered everywhere”. Follow the 6 Golden Rules from Aaron Strout and I. Be disciplined. It’s free. Use it if you care about reaching tech early adopters (pssst: they spend a lot of money, just ask Radio Shack). 

    • http://www.crackerjackmarketing.com Stephanie Schwab

      Mike, I wholeheartedly agree that checkins are not the future. My comments are about the now – is Foursquare relevant for small businesses?  And, if it takes them a long time to get beyond the checkin (even end of 2012 would be a long time), what new networks or apps will pass them by and gain more attention from both consumers and marketers? (My guess: Pinterest. Or LevelUp as you mentioned.)

      Does it make sense for a retailer in a non-Foursquare-hot city (let’s say a midwest town of 25k people) to put time and effort against it, to attract the small handful of tech early adopters who may or may not frequent their business?

      I’m always asked by small businesses where to focus their limited resources. Foursquare is rarely at the top of my list or even in the top 3 or 5. That could change….and it will have to change if Foursquare is to survive beyond 2012.

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