Facebook, Gowalla, And Marketing On Location-Based Social Networks

As you’ve undoubtedly heard by now, yesterday Facebook announced its acquisition of Gowalla. The move opens up interesting possibilities for location-based and location-aware social apps, some of which I explored in my most recent, serendipitously timed report on location-based social networks (LBSNs).

On one hand, the acquisition means that the herd of strictly LBSNs is continuing to thin, which means the remaining apps have less competition, so marketers who are looking to play on those platforms should have fewer options with larger audiences to choose from. On the other hand, the move appears to be further integrating location into a user’s total Facebook experience — at once broadening the appeal of location-based social activity by baking location into everything a user does on Facebook and thereby potentially subverting the need for strictly LBSNs by integrating the user value into a larger social experience.   

And so the big question: should marketers get involved with LBSNs and other geolocation applications?

The bottom line is that geosocial apps are still niche, but they’re growing in usage. Since we published our previous report in July 2010, foursquare has grown from 2 million users to 15 million. Twitter — and now even more aggressively, Facebook — has continued to fuse their social offerings with location information; even technology companies like Apple are chiming in with the launch of the “Find My Friends” app. However, even though the user-base numbers have grown quickly, we still find that few consumers are checking in: 6% have ever, with only 2% doing so at least weekly.

The important thing for marketers to note is that there’s a ton of marketing potential within geosocial apps. These services allow marketers to know when their consumers are in or near their retail locations and to deliver them relevant information that can help with everything from branding to driving in-store foot traffic. 

More good news: These geolocation apps are boosting their offerings with new features that can attract more consumers and offer marketers more options. New push notifications of friend activities and nearby deals help surface word-of-mouth (WOM) features and marketing deals. The ability to leave user-generated content has been enhanced so that visitors of a location can leave “tips” on foursquare about what to do at that location, for example. Partnerships with daily-deal companies like Groupon allow geosocial apps like Loopt and foursquare to offer deal-hungry consumers more incentives to join, too.

So will you be missing a huge consumer touchpoint if you don’t start leveraging strictly geosocial apps? Not really. But the costs of experimenting with the channel are low, and you stand to learn a lot about the value you can deliver to your consumers by engaging them in location-aware messages — regardless of whether this engagement happens on LBSNs or Facebook in the future.