Posted December 29, 2010 9:56 am by with 3 comments

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I will say that one of the hardest things to do when writing a post is to get all of the pertinent information in the headline. There are some days where I feel like I am feeding the machine with headlines like this since there are many people who don’t read these posts but just shuttle them on with retweets (Can you believe that people would do that in this day and age of such reliable information? :-)).

Well today’s data comes from AdAge and Foursquare by way of the SAI Chart of the Day. Here’s the information.

So why was I wondering if this may not be monumental as it appears? That’s because my question on any data showing percentage changes is always what was the original number? How many people were checking in? Early stage companies love to show percentages because it could hide the fact that when you go from 48 of something happening to 60 of something happening that is a 25% increase in overall activity but the numbers aren’t big enough to get excited about. However, you are perfectly within your rights to show a 25% increase because, well, it is just that. Unfortunately, it tells a bad story.

I ask these things because I experiment with checkins from time to time. Overall, they don’t do much for me because I am just not the right market. I understand these tools but I am not out on the town all the time. So when I am out I like to see just how many people have checked in and I am usually underwhelmed.

A case in point. I was recently at a Carolina Hurricanes hockey game in Raleigh, NC. While a small market, Raleigh is considered to be one of the more tech savvy markets around so you would think that out of about 15,000 fans there would be some “checking in” going on. Well, there were about 20 people who checked in at the RBC Center which represents .0013 (thanks to Eric Anderson catching my earlier poor math) percent of those people at the event who used Foursquare and were interested enough to check in. Better than zero but not much (and admittedly not very scientific but you get the point). I would suspect those numbers would go up at a San Jose Sharks game. Anybody know? I have read that the Washington Redskins used Foursquare this year and they had about a 2.6% checkin rate but there are a lot of questions in that number as well (which I will address in another post – see update below).

The bottom line is this. Foursquare has about 5 million users right now. It is under some serious pressure from Facebook who can muscle in on their territory at scale because of their massive user base. Of course, how many people in that user base actually use new services is a big question I have for Facebook. In fact, I’ll ask here – Has anyone signed up to use the Facebook messaging service? Let us know in the comments.

The bottom line here is that, as always, how we see numbers often skews the importance we place on products and services. If we allow the service provider or the industry to give us the ‘rosy’ picture without questioning just how real the information is then we, as marketers, run the risk of rabbit-trailing and wasting valuable resources on things that may have very limited returns.

Used in the right places with the right businesses who have the right customers and prospects there is no telling where this could go. There is certainIy a market for location based services like Foursqaure. I caution, however, to not let the numbers you see persuade you to do anything until you have done a thorough examination as to whether location based services can do anything at all for your business. Just doing a cannon ball into the deep end without looking may just leave you all wet.

UPDATE: Rather than write a post about how the Washington Redskins used Froursquare and the numbers they generated it looks like a better move to read the post over at the Social Media Examiner. I have a ton of questions about the numbers as you might as well.

  • Agree, check-in rates are still pretty low overall, but I think it’s hard for us to see that the technology in this space is still very new and may take a while to become more mainstream. It took a few years for Twitter, and many would say Twitter still has very low usage rates.

    Also, not sure how you got 0.0000017% – 20 out of 15,000 is ~0.13%. Also, a more meaningful percentage would be to look at usage as a percentage of those who own smartphones, though this statistic is more difficult to come by.

    • Eric – Not sure where i got that number either! The real number is actually .0013 which is not quite your number either (is it?!) but I really suck at math so there is a good chance I am wrong there. Thanks for the catch!

  • Great post Frank.

    I’m also on the same page where I question the ‘true’ impact of LBS/Foursquare. The recent controversy over McDonald’s FourSquare statistics and the Gap’s underwhelming jean/LBS check-in promo comes to mind.

    However, in many respects LBS/Foursquare is still in its infancy/childhood. I think it definitely has time to evolve and become a powerful social platform.