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Checking In: Facebook Places vs. Foursquare

November 21, 2010

My experiment began on the way out the door of Macy’s. We were there on a mission to buy a coat and hat for my husband as he made final preparations for a couple of weeks of cross-country travel. After I spent 45 minutes chasing our son out from under the clothing racks, Eduardo made his purchase. He described it this way on Facebook a few hours later:

I think it is a nice coat, very practical – charcoal gray and made of a versatile, all-weather material that looks equally good on top of a pinstripe suit (he has one now; we’d bought it a few weeks before) or a pair of jeans. I thought it made him look quite distinguished. Now, of course, I see him put it on and can’t help but think of how it made him feel old.

But back to my experiment. On the way out the door, stuck to the glass right next to to the door handle, I saw a sticker advertising Macy’s Facebook Deal, so I decided to check in.


I’d largely resisted switching to Facebook Places until then, my loyalty residing, so to speak, with Foursquare. I’d amassed four mayorships before moving away from Miami, and until very recently I was still holding on to one. I’m working on my local library branch, and during my last check-in, Foursquare told me I’m just one Library Day away from holding this new office.

(I keep fantasizing that when I do become mayor it will give me the authority to kick out this one obnoxious kid who’s there every Wednesday, screaming at the video games and attacking the dinosaurs Elisio likes to play with. I know Foursquare has no ability to grant such powers, but, hey, a girl can dream.)

So there I was in the vestibule of the men’s department at Macy’s, staring at 20% off. Considering the more than $200 we’d just spent, I decided that loyalty wasn’t about to get me to leave $40 on the counter. Reigning over the yogurt shop downstairs from my office in Coconut Grove was nice and all, but they hadn’t even offered me any free gummy bears.

I walked back in the store to claim my savings, only to learn that the coupon couldn’t be combined with the 25% off we’d already saved via a special weekend sale. It could, however, be applied to the earrings I’d spotted on my way out that were 50% off already, so I grabbed two pairs and walked to the jewelry counter.

The cashier had to call her manager over, because she didn’t know what to make of me flashing my iPhone at her and asking for an additional discount. By the time things eventually got rung up, there were three of them standing there, passing my phone between them, wondering what to do. Finally, her reading glasses slipping down her nose, the oldest one among them made the executive decision to give me my Facebook discount. I could see them shaking their heads in confusion as I started walking out the door.

I, of course, was already posting a status update to go along with my check-in:

That was a purchase I would not have made had it not been for Facebook Deals.  It was $30 I would not have spent at Macy’s had that sticker not been on the door. I was already walking to my car, bags in hand, when I saw it and told my husband to go on ahead and put our son in his car seat and hang his old-man coat up behind the driver’s seat while I went back inside.

My own actions got me wondering about the impacts of businesses increasingly adopting location-based promotions, so I decided to test both Foursquare and Facebook over the next few days. I tested them while eating out, grabbing coffee, going to a networking event, picking up my in-laws at the airport, grabbing drinks and dinner on “Thirsty Thursday,” hanging out with my family at the beach, and reconnecting with an old friend.

I also posted my question, on Facebook of course, and got a pretty good response from a nice variety of people.  One was from a fellow member of the “geekerati,” as he calls us.  Three were from folks I grew up with in Atlanta, two of whom it is safe to say I haven’t seen in 20 years.  The remaining two were from a client and one of his former team members, both of whom I worked with on some really fun projects last spring.

Their responses and my observations point to what matters to users and marketers both inside and outside the social media bubble.

Habits
Matthew Chamberlin, who I served with on the steering committee of the Social Media Club South Florida, says, “I am more accustomed to Foursquare and it’s what pops into my head first when I arrive someplace I want to check in.”  My longtime friend and former neighbor David Fields says he rarely uses Foursquare, but our mutual friend Dennis Dube says he almost always does.

For me, checking in is not something I do everywhere I go. It’s something I’m more likely to do if I’m on a date with my husband or out with friends – unless I’m after a mayorship, that is.  The only badge I have that gives me any sense of pride is one I didn’t even earn myself.  It’s the Superswarm badge Eduardo earned checking in at the Brazil vs. US soccer match I wrote about for PitchtotheRhino.com.


“I’m not interested in badges, deals, or mayorships,” David says. “Facebook reaches my people.” I did a quick check of his Facebook wall, and while he has several status updates letting people know where he is and what he is doing, I didn’t see any actual check-ins at all.  I guess the extrinsic benefits – real or invented – of using these location-based services have yet to exert their appeal.

When I checked in at McDonald’s and earned a $1 donation to Ronald McDonald House Charities, however, I have to admit I had convincing David to start checking in in mind.

Networks
Luis Casas, with whom I have worked on some fun social-media infused and inspired projects, says he prefers Foursquare.
“Facebook doesn’t let you check-in ‘under the radar.” Luis says. “I particularly don’t like to bombard my friends’ streams with irrelevant information.”

Matthew has similar reasoning, “I try and insulate my Facebook friends, (who are mostly non-tech and actual friends), from my SocMed circles and the geekerati.”

My first conscious decision about which service to use to check in exemplified a couple of annoying things that could have stayed under the radar if I’d been paying attention. First, I forgot that I had synced my Facebook and Twitter accounts and therefore needed to deselect Twitter when I shared the check-in with friends. Since I got a badge (I’ve been to three places with photo booths without seeing any of them?), I ended up hitting my stream with not one but three updates.

After meeting up in Grand Central, my friend Evan Bennett and I crossed Lexington and took the elevator to my office on the 61st floor of the Chrysler Building. I’d planned on us having coffee at sunset with the gargoyles, but there was a conference call going on in the office leading out to the balcony, so we sat at my desk and reminisced instead.  On our way out, I chose Facebook Places to check in and tagged Evan while I was at it. This check-in worked out much better.

I wasn’t surprised that Jonas Wilson, my high school boyfriend and Evan’s high school best friend, weighed in with a like.  Evan’s brother, Christy Wilson and I had all three worked at Anglin’s Drug store back in the day, so her fond recollection and update made for a welcome comment.

A comment from Joel Cloralt a few minutes after this check-in underscored what I had just learned. I found out I get more social interactions with Facebook by tagging friends and receiving likes and comments than when sharing my check-ins with Foursquare.”  Joel, one of Luis’ former colleagues, is an early adopter and it seems he has been conducting an experiment of his own.


Benefits

Joel’s observations about discounts available through promotions via the two services were also in line with some of mine. “Facebook deals seem more aggressive than Foursquare. In terms of user interface, Facebook deals are way more easy to find and redeem than Foursquare’s specials.”   While I’ve been on Foursquare for almost a year, the Specials Nearby have never enticed me. The only thing of any monetary value I’ve ever earned was a cereal bar I got after seeing a Foursquare check-in special on a chalkboard.

Just a couple of weeks after updating the Facebook app on my phone so it included Places, however, I took advantage of the first Deal I saw.  Now I find myself disappointed with major retailers – Target comes to mind – when I don’t see a coupon, and I intentionally don’t check in. I know this is probably counterproductive, since they’re probably weighing both the performance of their peers and the percentage of foot traffic that checks in before deciding to jump on the location-based promotion bandwagon as well.

Words from a church friend from my elementary school days, Christy Thompkins-Freeland, sum up the potential missed opportunity, however. “I love that 20% off at Macys. I would use that all of the time if there was a coupon involved!”


Strategies
While Facebook offers large brands economies of scale – and almost immediately after its launch began providing users tangible benefits to encourage adoption – l
ocal eateries and small businesses have long had success with Foursquare promotions like the one I participated in at Whole Foods. Some larger brands have experimented with offering branded badges.  Others have gotten even more creative by sharing tips such as these from Crunch Gym that I saw when I checked in at the New Haven train station and at JFK  – I guess they caught on to the fact that points of transit are statistically among the most popular types of check-ins.

Marketshare
So the question is, will Facebook “kill” Foursquare?  On that one, my jury is still out.

“Facebook has the marketshare,” David thinks.

Dennis says, Nope, don’t think it will have an impact – but it may help Foursqure build marketshare, which has been the case thus far.”

Matthew was the most diplomatic, and I tend to agree with him. “It is not a zero sum game. There is room in the marketplace for many players.”


The Verdict

Now that I’ve started using Facebook as well as Foursquare, I usually decide which one based on what I’d like to do and who I’d like to reach. It’s a decision much like the one faced by the advertising team at Macy’s, I suppose.

And as for that charcoal trench coat, it is back home, along with my husband.

I just wish I could have sewn something into the inseam so it could have checked itself in everywhere it went.

Saw the Facebook Places checkin sticker on the door at Macy’s on the way out. Checked in and got 20% off. Went back in and bought something else. Guess the promo worked.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2010 9:47 pm

    I have to admit, I am looking for the app that lets me sync the two and check in once on both services. Deals are fine for those who are motivated that way. Not sure I will ever adopt either as a habit. Good review of both.

  2. November 22, 2010 9:00 am

    Great read! Thanks.

    I agree with the concern of lack of habit to check-in but when the Deal is advertised/displayed where you can see it, say perhaps in the checkout line while waiting, the exposure could grow greatly.

  3. November 24, 2010 8:21 am

    This is a brilliant post this is by FAR the best comparison between Facebook Places vs. Foursquare. You grabbed the nuances of each service perfectly.

    I will defiantly have the team read this. I recently did a webinar on the topic on various GEO Location applications with a high level overview and pointed out some of there strength and weakness, and what we are currently doing in the space.

    Thanks Angie!

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