Social Media: You can check in but you can never leave

So, Pew Research comes out with a study that says only 4% of us use geo-location, or as they call them – geosocial services like Foursquare, Gowilla and Facebook places.

What’s more – at any given time only 1% of ALL Internet users are participating in these services! At first blush one could argue that we are in the early adoption phase of geolocation and, as with everything else digital, we are merely moments away from the tipping point.

However, these numbers are actually down from a similar survey conducted in May.

What? A regression trend in social media? How can that be? If you read the social media press this is the NEXT BIG THING. Heck, with Facebook ramping up Places isn’t it only a matter of time before we’re all checking in everywhere we go?

Apparently not. Take a look inside the numbers:

I’m not saying that ‘geosocial’ services aren’t a potential goldmine for businesses. We have already seen instances – see Gap – where brands have put this to good use. It’s just that from a personal usage point of view there are a few obstacles that need to be overcome before this becomes truly mainstream:

1) FORCE OF HABIT – When you walk into a store do you generally whip out your smartphone, call up your Foursquare app, scroll through the screens to find out where you are and then check in? (Am I getting all the hoops you have to jump through?) At this point, ‘checking in’ is not a primary part of the social shopping experience. This will likely change as the check-in sequence becomes more streamlined. In the meantime, it is an extra step many shoppers have to perform while they are thinking about which aisle they are looking for.

It would help if retailers provided in-store reminders. The likelihood of checking in increases when you are stuck with free time – like standing in the check-out line or waiting for your waiter to bring you the bread sticks.

2) WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME? – Until – and unless – every venue gives us a reason to check in we will not develop the habit. How many times have you checked in somewhere and gotten….nothing. Not even a thank you from the venue? I have become a Starbucks mayor and received absolutely nothing for my efforts. How de-motivating is that? And, please, make it worth my while every time I check in. I understand that businesses want to build repeat customers but if I have to wait for my third visit to get my free appetizer I’m likely to forget the offer in the first place.

This has the potential to be a vicious catch-22. With so few people checking in why should brick-and-mortars bother making offers? It seems to me they have nothing to lose by leaving the offers out there. They aren’t going to achieve critical mass until there until they reach critical awareness.

3) PRIVACY – There are concerns that by broadcasting your location to the social Internet world you are leaving yourself open to stranger danger. I am no security expert but it seems that if you are going socially mobile you should be circumspect about who knows where you are. Be smart and restrict access to those that know you. Of course, not everyone is savvy enough to do that and the mere thought of the threat will continue to deter many.

Given time the penetration of location-based services will continue to grow. This is just another ‘fun’ aspect of social networking. And since we have the time and the technology – why not check in. It’s something to do while we’re waiting around to do something.

For the fleeting moment, however, it seems the hype is much bigger than the reality.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan

Social Media Specialist


About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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