Tuesday, April 12, 2011

GeoSocial awareness - things we now have to think about

Notes from a meeting yesterday about the implications of new GeoSocial apps like Foursquare:

  • (Relatively) few businesses are using the capabilities; which is a great opportunity for those who move first into this space.
  • They're mostly of use if your business has bricks-and-mortar outlets and physical product to sell: great for Starbucks and local small stores; less relevant for Amazon and iTunes!
  • It's more obvious how to use GeoSocial to benefit B2C businesses rather than B2B, but even in the latter case there are opportunities, as some clients are discovering.
  • We're seeing objective evidence of increases in footfall, traffic coming to businesses as a result of B2C GeoSocial promotions. And product sales increasing as a result. For some businesses in difficult times this is an opportunity not to be squandered.
  • Even a drinks machine vendor can benefit from implementing GeoSocial: at the moment, that vendor has got zero knowledge about the consumer who buys from the machine. By implementing GeoSocial, the vendor can begin to form a sales and service relationship with consumers who can become fans. And there are at least three more benefits that will impact the vendor's bottom line...
  • As individual consumers, users of GeoSocial, we suddenly have a new set of considerations to manage, in addition to everything else we have to think about: to what extent do we wish to trade privacy for deals?
My mobile cell phone provider already knows where I am all the time: it's one of the things I concede in order to allow Orange to provide me the service I pay for. I know I can be tracked, but I assume that most of the time, unless I fall foul of the law, that's not going to happen because it's difficult and expensive and the data is supposed to be kept private.

In having this discussion yesterday I was meeting in a public place with another industry professional: anyone could see us there. But those around didn't know us, and couldn't hear what we were talking about. As soon as one of us did a Foursquare check-in, or made a post to Twitter, our presence in that place was made visible to a much wider audience, and for all eternity (whereas previously the data would only persist until the CCTV footage is over-written!).

We're voluntarily broadcasting our presence to a very wide (public) audience; an audience that can use powerful search and aggregation and mapping tools... And that probably doesn't matter much, for most people, for most of the time. Sure, a competitor could make guesses about what my business plans are by knowing where I'm going and with whom I'm meeting, but really for most of us, life's too short to worry about those things. 

The bottom line, though, is that one of the unforeseen consequences of GeoSocial technology is that suddenly we should be thinking about those issues as part of our calculus! Many people struggle to understand the importance of data backup and virus protection; fewer still understand the trade-off they make every time they collect points on a credit card purchase or use a supermarket loyalty card; what hope do we have that average users will care about the down-sides of GeoSocial tracking until it's too late to pull out? That inertia and ignorance is what Facebook Places, Foursquare and others will build profitable business models on.