foursquare, and the Mobilization of Social Media

By Todd Carpenter, Social Media Manager, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

There’s been a lot of talk lately about foursquare, the new kid on the social media block. And whenever a new social network starts to take hold, the first thing many professionals want to do is measure the return on investment (ROI) involved in participating on such a network. My reaction? Meh.

foursquare is a silly game. The ROI ought to be fulfilled by the smile on your face while playing it. Silly games like these rarely result in a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. That said, foursquare is a really fun silly game that also happens to represent the future of social networking, especially in the real estate industry.

Below is a copy of the slides I used for a presentation I gave to the Cyber-Professionals Group at their semi-annual meeting in San Diego last month. They’re mostly screenshots I took while playing foursquare on my iPhone and might help you follow along with my train of thought here.

foursquare is a mobile, smartphone-based social networking platform centered around the idea that people should go out at night and have fun instead of sitting in front of their TVs and watching Friends reruns. The idea is to go somewhere fun ( a restaurant, bar, movie theater, the park…) and check in. The more times and places you check in at, the more virtual currency you earn.

This virtual currency comes in three forms:

1. Straight-up points earned by checking in. These points place you on a scoreboard with local friends. They reset every week and sort of remind me of the scoreboard on the Frogger machine at the local arcade, with the glory of top placement only lasting until someone else comes along and gets a higher score, or the machine gets unplugged.

2. Badges are like Boy Scout merit badges gone wrong. For instance, you can earn the School Night badge for checking in after 3:00 a.m. on a weeknight. I earned my Crunked badge on Halloween by checking into four spots in one night. The Playa Please badge is earned by checking into a venue with three members of the opposite sex. I earned that one too.

3. Mayor-ships come by checking into one venue more times than anyone else. At the time of this writing, I’m the mayor of The Shore Club in Miami, MaryJane’s Coffee House in San Diego, and Floyd’s 99 Barbershop here in Chicago.

Does this sound like the future of social networking for real estate?

Of course not. It’s a silly game! But once you start playing the game, the leap from simple enjoyment to seeing how the same technology could (and will) be applied to the real estate industry is a short one.

First off, when you check in somewhere, all of your foursquare friends in that city are notified. In addition, these check-ins can be pushed to Twitter. This is a way of saying, “Here I am! Come by and say hi if you’re in the area.” The goal of any online social network should be to eventually extend your connections from online to face-to-face. This is an easy way to encourage that.

Second, foursquare has started to offer location-based marketing. So when you check in at a local restaurant for dinner, a small green “Special Nearby” tab might show up letting you know that the bar down the street is offering drink specials tonight. Or even better, that the Mayor drinks for free! fourssquare is an example of a GPS-enabled, location-based mobile marketing solution.

Third, foursquare is a location-based social media platform where members comment about the locations themselves. The first time foursquare really got my attention was while traveling through Midway Airport this summer. As soon as I checked in, the platform sent me this message, “Since you’re at Chicago Midway International Airport, Tyler H. says: ‘Don’t fly AirTran. They Suck.'” foursquare’s ability to solicit comments in the field means that its users can conveniently endorse a location on the road, or trash it while emotions are at their peak.

Location, Location, Location.

Think about this. With smartphone-based applications and social networks, consumers will soon have the power to walk past a property, take a picture of it, geotag and apply an address to it, check its value, find comparable listings, check crime statistics, calculate its WalkScore, find school information, review and check reviews of businesses in the neighborhood (including yours), and potentially review a property itself, right from the phone, while they are standing in front of it. I can do almost all of this today from separate apps on my iPhone. It’s only a matter of time before it can all happen on a single platform.

Are you ready for this?

It’s coming. Apps like foursquare are the future of social media. The lines between online and face-to-face are blurred. Information is immediate, and can be pushed to a client, simply based on their location. It’s a huge opportunity and a scary risk, all at the same time. If you’re evaluating foursquare based on ROI, I think you’re missing the point. REALTORS® will need to be proficient on networks like these in the future. Might as well start figuring them out by playing this silly game. Now, who wants to go out and earn a “Don’t Stop Believing” badge with me tonight?

Todd Carpenter

Todd Carpenter, Managing Director of the Data Analytics Group at NAR I'm a twenty year veteran of the real estate and mortgage industry, focusing on technology that fosters relationships between professionals and consumers. I am a subject matter expert in data analytics, online consumer trends, enterprise social media strategy, listing data, agent ratings, and public facing MLS portals.

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  1. I’m just happy I was on your friend slide! Brought a tear to my silly eye! I have started to shift from Foursquare to Gowalla. Find it more interesting.


  2. Thx for clarifying some of the practical applications of foursquare. All I was seeing on twitter was Hey, I’m the mayor such & such restaurant and I kept thinking (use John McEnroe voice for full effect) “You Can’t Be Serious.”

    In Vancouver, B.C. we now offer Realtor’s QR Codes they can add to their lawn signs so a prospect can walk up to the sign, take a photo of the QR Code and view all the photos and listing details of that property they are standing in front of.

    It will be interesting to see if this technology is used by Realtors and the impact it has.

  3. Great post Todd. Something similar to foursquare could well indeed be “the future”.

    As for foursquare itself, it is fun, and curiously addicting… Not every waking moment in like needs to have an ROI…

    The Mayor of the Blogger’s Lounge at NAR Conf & Expo 2009.

  4. Someone needs to fix the timestamp on the server. I assure you the comment above was not left 12 hours in the future…

  5. some people play guitar hero or madden. if I’m out and about I might as well checkin or have some fun with a mobile app.

  6. Still mayor of The Shore Club? I need to start playing this game. Nice post.


  7. Callie

    Yea, foursquare is cool – and I’d definitely argue that LBS apps like it are the ‘wave of the future’ for social media lovers!

    But, why not talk about ‘Rummble’ for a hott minute? ( I started using the app about 6 months ago and am absolutely addicted. Not because of its new check-in functionality, but because it’s problem-solving ability of helping me find people and places nearby that I can TRUST.

    The gaming element of check-ins is neato, but Rummble is all about personalised recommendations.. I mean, just because my friend is the ‘mayor’ of a nearby club or bar, does that mean I’ll actually enjoy going there? Probably NOT… But using Rummble helps solve that problem for me. Just some food for though 🙂

  8. I’m not in the real estate industry at all but am working with a friend who is and when she asked me to help her with some social media stuff, I admit Foursquare was one of the things I thought of. I figured there will inevitably be ways realtors use it–encouraging buyers to “check in” at open houses, leave comments about different properties, etc. Just like Twitter seems pointless and stupid until you try it, I had my ah-ha moment with Foursquare last weekend when I checked in at a restaurant and a message popped up “since you’re in Bethesda, your friend X wanted to remind you that X place has X special going on.” For me that’s when Foursquare went from stupid and pointless to this thing is going to make businesses who use it right some money.

  9. Great post Todd! I too use FourSquare mostly for fun and agree with Jason that while I am out and about I might as well be having fun with it. Just yesterday I checked in at Best Buy in the mall and both the managers of the other 2 BB’s within 5 miles both instantly responded with “Hey come to our store”. Leads me to imagine so many more uses. As a Realtor we are suppose to know everything and where it is right? Getting a jump start on FourSquare is a fun and interesting way to position yourself in yourself as a person with local knowledge (note I didn’t use the word expert:)

  10. Interesting connections made on how this technology might be applied for consumers shopping for homes.

    Strictly from a gaming perspective: FourSquare’s UI, 3rd-grade graphics, & ease to which cheating can occur were all turnoffs for me; foursquare found the trashbin quickly. On the flip side, been on GoWalla since September (finally beat Doverbey onto a social network) & the app quickly migrated to my homepage.

    Regardless of the game, your points are excellent and I look forward to hearing more about mobile location-enabled technology, especially as it relates to applications in Real Estate.

  11. Kim

    game sounds like fun, how do I get started?