Word of the Week – Geosocial Networking


This week’s word is all about location and social.

Geosocial Networking, location-based social or geolocation…regardless of your eccentric term of choice, the fundamentals behind the idea remain the same.

As defined by the human-powered encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Geosocial Networking is:

Social networking in which geographic services and capabilities such as geocoding  and geotagging are used to enable additional social dynamics. User-submitted location data or geolocation techniques can allow social networks to connect and coordinate users with local people or events that match their interests.

While there are several start-ups and organizations in the geosocial space, few have garnered more attention, praise and confusion than foursquare and Gowalla.

foursquare

Again, from the miracle of Wikipedia:

Foursquare is a location-based social networking website, software for mobile  devices, and also a game. Users “check-in” at venues using text messaging or a device specific application.  They are then awarded points and sometimes “badges.” The service was created by Dennis Crowley  and Naveen Selvadurai; Crowley had previously founded the similar project Dodgeball, which Google bought in 2005 and shut down in 2009. As it closes in on 1 million users in April 2010, Foursquare is being pursued by Internet giant Yahoo Inc., which has offered as much as $125 million for Foursquare.

Gowalla

Gowalla is a primarily mobile web application that allows users to check-in to locations that they visit using their mobile device. This is achieved either through the use of dedicated applications available on Google Android, iPhone, Palm WebOS  and BlackBerry, or via m.gowalla.com. There is currently no way of checking-in through the standard website. Check-ins can be pushed via Notifications to iPhones, and by linking accounts, to Twitter  and Facebook.

Technology

On a very basic level, Geosocial Networking has several commonalities:

  • Mobile Application (Your location does not change while at your desk or house.)
  • GPS-Enabled (Hence the ‘Geo’ in Geosocial.)
  • Sharing / Friends (The ‘social’ in Geosocial.)
  • Location Alerts (Commonly referred to as ‘Check-in(s)’, simply marking your location via the app.)

Combined, these four building blocks have created the trendiest social application since the telephone.  Okay, that is a reach, but pundits and the media are in love with this new technology.

Playing the Game

As defined above, foursqaure, and to an extent Gowalla, is often looked upon as a game.  Users check-in at specific locations in order to become the ‘mayor’ of said location.  This competition between friends earns the player badges and a certain amount of envy.

More recently, locations such as restaurants and bars have rewarded frequent players with specials and discounts.  For example, the mayor of a local bar could drink for free each Thursday night.

CRM Value

So why would anyone, especially an organization, need to pay attention to another social network?

First, the consumers using these geosocial applications are expressing brand loyalty with actual visits and then communicating that loyalty to their social friends.  If I am the Bronx Zoo, having information about the most frequent visitors via foursquare or Gowalla has an impact on my CRM strategy, membership outreach and social media strategy.

Secondly, the ability to deliver offers to a loyal subset of my audience is an appealing way to focus my direct marketing campaigns.  Sure, you are only hitting a handful of people, but they are dedicated to your brand.

At the same time, what about the reach and popularity of these services?

Popularity

More a media prom queen than the actual cool kids in the corner…Facebook and Twitter…geosocial applications seem to be the leading trend for 2010.  Something had to fill that space, right?

With a combined user base of less than 2 million, foursquare and Gowalla are still relatively unknown to the average consumer, but appear to have a stickiness factor with existing devotees.

Tourism Impact

The idea of visiting locations around a city, whether that location is a bar or museum, is travel.  Instead of just going to the museum, you are now updating all of your friends about your trip to the museum.

The use of a geosocial application seems to be a natural fit with the idea of travel, but leveraging these connections is a challenge for the tourism industry.

One tourism peer that has engaged in a geosocial strategy is the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau Chicago Office of Tourism.

In partnership with foursqaure, Chicago added three new badges around the city, encouraging tourists and residents to visit popular, new and unique locations around the Windy City.  The three Chicago-specific badges centered around several themes: Movies (‘On Location’), Music (‘Chicago Blues’) and Chicago-style Hot Dogs (‘Celery Salt’).

Mmmm…hot dog badge.

While PR impact has been significant, the actual tourism impact of the campaign is still to be determined.

Competition

As foursquare and Gowalla look to build upon their user base, both services are likely to face increased competition from Facebook, Twitter and Google.  Both Facebook and Twitter have been hinting at the introduction of geosocial tools within their respective social networking suites that would allow users to tag their update / like / tweet location.

Summary

Geosocial networking is simply the next step in applying social networking principles to the world around us.  Foursquare and Gowalla will likely be overtaken by the social power of Facebook and Twitter, however their technology will become the beta test for future innovation within the geosocial space.

For the tourism industry, who market that world, the impact of Geosocial Networking will become a critical portion of our marketing strategy…whether we are ready for another social network or not.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.