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Allyson Kapin 5 min read

The Real Deal on Foursquare and Geosocial Apps

Are geo-location services like Foursquare and Gowalla really here to stay? Or are they just embraced by early adopters who are itching to use new shiny tools? After SXSW, Frogloop reported that geosocial apps were deemed the breakout technology of the year. We also profiled some nonprofits like Big Love Little Hearts and Boston Medical Center who had some degree of success raising money, doing advocacy and organizing volunteers. Since this Frogloop series though, usage has gone down from 5% to 4%, according to a recent study by Pew.

On any given day, 1% of internet users are using these apps to check-in and claim mayorships. Is this statistically significant? It depends on who you ask. On one hand, Twitter only had 6% of internet users on its platform after two years. Look at them now. On the other hand, does anyone other than the 4% of current Foursquare users really care that you checked into Starbucks or that you are the Mayor of your office bathroom?

So what’s the real deal? Should nonprofits take a more serious look at investing staff and time in Foursquare as a marketing and fundraising tool? In its current format my gut says no - unless you are a visitor based nonprofit such as a museum, aquarium, zoo, etc who can really take advantage of some of the current marketing perks to determine if the ROI is worth it.

My hunch is that Foursquare and Gowalla and similar services are going to need to adapt to survive. Why? Because most of the world does not really care about mapping their check-ins to let their friends know that they are grabbing coffee down the street. What people do care about though is getting local discounts and scoring a good deal on purchases. People want value, especially in this economy. Twitter is taking a serious look at a local ad model too. In the next few months, they plan to roll out local promoted tweets and trends. Groupon and LivingSocial - sites that provide discounts and promotional packages via geographic targeting is a growing trend. I think that this is the direction that Foursquare and Gowalla will head into in the next year to grow their base. If my prediction is right, will more advocacy organizations like the American Heart Association or soup kitchens be able to take advantage of this type of model? Perhaps. I think the key to a decent ROI will be for nonprofits to engage in more cause-related marketing partnerships where local businesses offer deals that also raise money for charities. Of course, cause marketing partnerships comes with its own set of challenges and obstacles, but that’s another blog post.

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Allyson Kapin

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company, and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign, she leads the firm's client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns. She works side-by-side with her clients to meet their web needs and maximize their online effectiveness to create real world impact.