Over the holidays I stopped by my local Caribou Coffee to grab a morning pick me up. As I was standing in line the gentleman in front of me was chatting with the woman working the register. After paying for his coffee and exchanging pleasantries the woman handed him a card and said that this is from all of us here. It was pretty clear from their conversation that he was a regular but wow, dude got hooked up with a Christmas card from the staff. Somehow it got me thinking about the whole Foursquare mayor thing. I took an educated guess that this guy has probably never checked in with a location based service before. I’m also pretty sure that if I actually checked in every single time I went to that Caribou I could easily be the mayor. It was one of those moments that slaps my inner hipster around and says, “See that? Well run businesses don’t need a social network to know who their best customers are.”
A little over a year ago when Foursquare expanded to the Triangle area I jumped right on board. I joined because I was very curious about the whole location based sharing thing. That and all the cool kids were doing it. I dabbled in Foursquare here and there but didn’t take location based sharing seriously until I played with Gowalla. Gowalla hooked me because the designer side of my brain just loved the interface and user experience so much more than Foursquare. However despite great UI/UX checking into places on a consistent basis is not exactly the most convenient thing ever. I can remember many times getting evil looks from my wife as I fumbled to constantly record my location. Despite the pain I managed to stick with it for about six months before I burnt out. There came a day that I pulled my phone out, stared at it for a minute, dropped an F bomb and decided that it just wasn’t worth it anymore.
Maybe I’m just too old to appreciate location based sharing now. Had these services been around 10 years ago when I was going to the bars 5 nights a week I think they would have been much more useful. Now, when I think about checking into a spot I get the overwhelming feeling of “what’s the point” and “who cares”. I don’t get anything out of checking into a spot and the people I’m friends with on these services probably don’t care where I’m at either. I’d say 90% of the people I’m “friends” with on Gowalla/Foursquare are not real life friends so I honestly don’t care where they are going and I’m positive they don’t care about the places I go. So really, what’s the point?
But businesses will reward you for checking in right? Maybe I’m going to the wrong places but I’ve never been rewarded for checking in somewhere. Yes there are a few deals to be had for mayors but I will never be able to achieve mayor status at places that offer them. I used to go to Greek Fiesta every Friday for lunch. I’m talking every single Friday without fail. That should be enough to make me mayor right? Nope, there was a guy checking in there 3-4 times a week! Fortunately the guys at Greek Fiesta knew who I was anyway so they treated me right. This brings me back to the Caribou story. If a business is worth anything they should be able to recognize their best customers without the help of a social network.
Now I’m not saying Twitter and Facebook aren’t useful to a business because I think they are. They are a wonderful platform to engage with your customers and I appreciate any place that makes good use of them. My problem is, and always has been, with the whole mayor system. Only one person gets rewarded and really, checking in is such a pain that it’s probably not even worth the crappy discount or free order of fries.
I gave Gowalla and Foursquare a fair shake but I didn’t even get close to getting back what I put into them. If a social network can give you a return on your time investment then it’s worth using. For example the time that I have put into Twitter has paid itself off because I’ve been able to connect with talented designers from all over the globe. If the checkin rewards were more aggressive then I’d give it another try. Otherwise I just don’t see the value.
So how about you? Are you still checking into places? What do you get out of it? What do you think your friends get out of seeing your checkins? Do you think these platforms can hold peoples interest with the current state of rewards?