Foursquare founder, Dennis Crowley, spoke on this topic at yesterday’s ad:tech conference in New York. Anyone who follows Mashable or the other social media news hubs has already seen this story trending, but the point is, this is a critical time for the future of Foursquare. The whole craze surrounding badges and checkins is coming to an end. The excitement, enthusiasm and momentum that has been building since Foursquare’s breakout at SXSW two years ago has reached its apex and has now started its decline. Unless Foursquare solves the looming question of, “WHAT NOW,” they are going to follow in the footsteps of so many other sophomore startups that have failed after their 2nd year. According to Dennis their main focal point is – what happens after the checkin – but do they have a practical solution in sight? As the enthusiasm around earning badges and becoming a mayor dwindles, the checkin process starts to become tedious and unnecessary. Automatic checkins are too 1984 and Dennis admits that until GPS improves and phones get better batteries, this just isn’t feasible anyway.
So again we are back to “WHAT NOW?” Foursquare says its all about surfacing user- generated content but if people aren’t checking-in to Foursquare, all the UGC in the world can be surfaced and no one would be the wiser. That said; why not find a way to renew the checkin momentum each month? If there were a way to create an enthusiasm and buzz around checking in, just like the hype built during SXSW and for the better part of a year and a half, wouldn’t it be invaluable to Foursquare’s business to capture that?
Well, there is a way to do that and it’s easier than you might think. Right now mayorships are too far out of reach for the ordinary person. True, being a mayor is not about being an ordinary person, it’s really about being a brand enthusiast, someone who goes out of their way to show their support for the brand by showing up and checking in. For example, I go the gym every day and I am big supporter of Equinox Gyms, still I’ll never be the mayor of my location. The reason is that I am a relatively new member. Although I do checkin every day, I just can’t compete with all the legacy users at a given location. After a while, when I have achieved the Gym Rat badge ten times over, checkins sort of becomes redundant.
But what if the slate is wiped clean? What if Foursquare sets all checkins back to zero for every location at the 1st of each month and everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve the coveted mayorship? Then, to further incentivize the checkin Foursquare would also attach real world rewards? This is in addition to rewards given out by the business you’re checking-in to. What if for e.g. you got an actual badge and a cool t-shirt displaying your badge? Then next month when you loose your mayorship you still have a real life trophy you can take with you or wear down the street. Soon 1,000s of heavy Foursquare users are walking around in Foursquare t-shirts and you bring back the buzz and rally people around the app. Brands can sponsor events for all the past and present mayors. Individual locations can have specialized “lifetime rewards” for mayors and “The Million Badge March” can be held with its own special badges. Essentially you are creating a renewed sense of brand affinity, plus by giving people the incentive to checkin when it counts, an element of sustainability is reintroduced.
Yes, surfacing content after the checkin is a feature I’d love to see become more robust, but Foursquare was built on checkins and badges and if people loose the desire to checkin, it won’t matter how great the surfaced content is.