Chapter 8 - Social Goes Mobile

The cellular phone's primary value was in providing individuals the ability to communicate with others from any location. Smartphones extend this capability to digital communications - including email, text, and social media. No matter where the user goes, he has the ability to be connected to others. This capability enables a user to let friends and colleagues know where he is and what he is doing, as well as gathering the same information about them. It can facilitate or substitute for networking in person.

Mobile as Social Platform

The author avers that "there's no doubt that mobile will become a dominant vehicle for social networking" and cites statistics on the number of individuals who access social media sites through their smartphones.

Of all social media users, 89% use Facebook, 29% use Twitter, and 12% use LinkedIn. The mobile platform is used to update statuses, post photos, retrieve information about events, and communicate using text messaging.

The convenience of having social media in one's pocket makes users more active in social media channels - there's no need to go home to tell friends what you did that evening, you can tell them even as you are doing it. This makes mobile a natural match to social media, making it more like real-time interaction.

Location Awareness

Location-based services are also a boon to social media. People can tell their friends where they are as well as finding fiends who are nearby. Thus far, this has been voluntary - the user is not automatically tracked, but has to "check in" at a location to let others know he is there, and his location is announced only to those whom he has selected to inform. Location has been most popular among young customers, travelers, and those in urban locations where people tend to be highly mobile, rather than following the same routines.

Standard location-based marketing attempts to offer the mobile user services proximate to his location. With social, people can recommend services to one another and pass along "deals" - often earning something for themselves by referring friends to a business.

Location also enables businesses to entice customers by offering them rewards, such as "badges" for checking in, discounts or special offers for announcing their location, and even encourage competition among friends and strangers to achieve a given status for being a frequent visitor.

One minor issue the author cites is that these services generally do not have the ability for a person to check out - so friends know that they visited a certain place at a certain time, but not if they might still be there.


The author provides a profile of Foursquare, a social media site designed to enable individuals to "check in" at various locations. The company and its user base experienced rapid growth.

Some of the basic features are described: the ability to share location with people identified as "friends," see the location of friends, cross-post their check-ins to Facebook or Twitter, be recognized with badges and ranks for frequent visits, etc.

The marketing value of this service to businesses is word-of-mouth: people who see location where their friends are more likely to visit those locations - sometimes immediately, to join their friends, or eventually, when they are in the area and need the service a friend has experienced.

One limitation of this service is that check-in is not automatic: users have the option to check-in or not, and this is unlikely to change due to privacy and security concerns. The service also lacks a granularity of control: a location is announced to everyone whom the user has friended, and does not let them set up selective distribution lists, so their only choice is to tell everyone or no-one.

Another limitation is that there is no ability to check-out, so friends do not know if a person is still there. (EN: From what I've heard elsewhere, the perception is that users would not use the check-out function, which seems reasonable but I am unaware if it has ever been tested.)

There are many opportunities to improve the features and functions of the service, but the counter-argument is that additional features would interfere with the ease of using the application, which is critical: a person can launch the application and check in with three clicks (not including unlocking their phone) - adding greater complexity is likely to reduce usage.

(EN: the novelty of Foursquare has faded over time - fewer people are using the service and fewer retailers are supporting it, and Facebook's adoption of its own location-based "check in" service has provided stiff competition. It remains to be seen whether Foursquare will remain viable, but the basic services it provides will likely remain in demand, though not as wildly popular as during its heyday.)

Location-Based Marketing

Local marketing enabled to reach audiences in a select geographic region, but with the adoption of location-based services, marketing can be tailored to a specific individual or those who are in very close proximity to a merchant - for example, a store in a mall can market to individuals who are in the mall at a given moment.

This specificity can be even further augmented by knowledge of an individual's past behavior: offers can be extended or withheld based on frequency of visits, predictive algorithms can reach out to those who are not nearby presently but might be in future, etc.

There are some ways in which specificity is lacking: the "mayor" of a store might be one of their own employees, or the mayor might be a frequent visitor who makes low-value purchases, etc. (EN: This complaint seems a bit bootless - such analysis is possible if the store combines the location data with its own customer data, and it's unreasonable to expect a general-use LB service to do this kind of thing for them without compensation and assistance.)

The author provides a handful of random suggestions to leverage this data in promotion and loyalty programs, but also suggests that firms can reach out to frequent customers for marketing research as well.

It's also suggested that many merchants are attempting to wait and see - if customers use LBS extensively, they will consider supporting it. The author feels that merchants need to be more proactive to encourage use: users will check in more often if there is a reward, and some will stop checking in if no reward ever seems to be offered.

There is also the concern that the intrusion of marketing can be detrimental to the use of location-based services: the more unwanted content a user sees, the less he values the service. There is a distinct difference between helping a user who is searching for a nearby restaurant to find yours, and telling the user about your restaurant when they are not searching for one.

Marketing with Location-Based Services

A case-study is provided of a company who used LBS for their customer loyalty program - essentially, using social media check-ins to replace punch cards or other methods of tracking visits to a location.

The focus shifts a bit to being proactive in social media - paying attention to what customers are saying when they check in, as well as their comments and reviews in other online sources. There's an encouragement to be willing to engage, mainly in terms of getting feedback from customers that identify problems and areas for improvement.

The case study also underscores the importance of having the infrastructure in place. How will your POS system handle an offer the user gets on a mobile phone? How will your CRM system receive data about customers who participate or respond? Will your franchisees receive some benefit from supporting your campaigns? If you fail to do this well, your program may be inconvenient for customers or fail to provide benefits to you business.

Another stray thought: don't neglect the social aspect. Some people will pass along information about deals and offers to their peers without an incentive, but far more will participate if they get something for themselves. (EN: A note of caution - this can be a serious faux pas for some users, as a person's reputation begins to suffer if their friends feel taken advantage of. Sharing a deal with someone because it's a good deal is acceptable, but sharing it because you get something for yourself is unacceptable.)

Gaining Critical Mass

A technology must have a sufficient number of regular users before it is worthwhile for a marketer to pursue. Consider the example of FAX - when few companies were using it for internal communications, it had very little marketing value. The growth of the facsimile occurred when companies needed to send and receive documents to other firms, and they eventually proliferated to the point that they became attractive to marketing.

The same is true of services in the mobile channel: a few forward-thinking individuals will adopt them and growth will be organic until it achieves critical mass - the point at which there are many users and marketers should take interest. Thus considered, the danger in jumping aboard with every new site or service is that there are very many, and most of them will never catch on with users.

Another approach the author mentions is in developing owned applications to manage loyalty programs rather than leveraging social media. This requires the brand to develop its own user base and market participation through other methods. Some brands have been very successful with this (e.g., the InterContinental Hotels guest loyalty program), others struggle to gain adoption on their own and must latch on to the collective attraction of a social media platform.