Is Foursquare finally growing up? What 2013 holds for the geo-location service

I’ve been a keen Foursquare user pretty much since the start in 2009.  Like many, the idea of gaining badges and mayorships became very addictive but the novelty soon wore off and led to many people questioning the real benefits of the service.   There are only approximately 193,000 users in the U.K, significantly less, proportionately, than countries like the US which has over 10 million  users.  Having said all of that, Foursquare has had a busy 2012 and has shown some signs of ‘growing up’, not only as a service but as a company too.

Firstly, let’s consider the merchants.  Back in the summer, Foursquare promised ‘a lot of love’ for UK brands and has certainly spread that love around with big hitters such as American Express taking the initiative. Personally, I’ve also noticed a lot more businesses using the service, rewarding mayors and simple check-ins with discounts or free products.  That kind of activity is also not quite on the scale in the UK as has been seen in the US, but it has certainly improved and can only get better from here.

However, the goal which the location-based service is aiming for isn’t necessarily scale, it’s about defining user behaviour.  Foursquare has recently gone down a specific route in which it uses the vast amount of data to which it has access, to figure out and ‘recommend’ new places for you using your friends as leverage. The new rating system that Foursquare recently launched has improved this further.  Again it uses the data available to them – from the check-ins, tips and your network of friends – along with their algorithm to create an exceptional experience.  This demonstrates how much Foursquare has changed.

At first I purely used the service for the ‘gaming’ benefits but now I find I’m using it more frequently to explore the places around me and find good places to visit, eat and drink.  Unbelievably Foursquare has now even launched a new website that both members and non-members can use to search places whilst drawing more people in.  I managed to find my ideal New Year’s Eve venue here – take that Yelp and Google.

Talking of Yelp, there has recently been speculation about Foursquare ‘hooking-up’ with Apple’s iOS. This suggests a possible end to Yelp reviews in the software and a deeper integration with Foursquare instead, perhaps even an acquisition.  It could be a development worth watching out for.

Foursquare has therefore grown as a company by thinking of the long-term and finding new ways in which to monetise its service. The newly launched website demonstrates this, and it has been adding an array of new features such as the ability for businesses to create events within their venues thereby opening up revenue opportunities for the future whilst providing a real benefit to consumers.  After all, more data means better targeted recommendations/specials and so on.

Overall, Foursquare has evolved, with search and exploration being the main drivers. It has gone beyond the check-in and is now providing more benefits to consumers which are more than just discounts. So the question is ‘Should brands take more notice of Foursquare?’.  In short the answer is yes, especially if you are in retail. Naturally Foursquare doesn’t fit all types of business but something that we can all agree on is that mobile usage is on the rise; that is something no-one can deny and that is where Foursquare will come into its own. Here’s to checking-in in 2013.

Jonathan Gaiger is a digital account executive at Spinnaker.

  • Gray_Sycamore

    When we put the initial idea down for Mobileize almost 18 months ago we wanted to develop a location based platform that works equally well for brands and retailers as it did for consumers. It could be argued that that the value add for the average consumer on Foursquare is limited, and as a result is limited for the brand or retailer as well. We firmly believe consumers want, and often need, to know where a specific brand is sold nearby, it’s just that developing that into marketing campaign up till now has been technically difficult and cost prohibitive.