It is a truth universally acknowledged that everybody makes predictions at the end of a year about ‘the big thing for next year’. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong. And sometimes you only really start to notice trends and change when you are in them. In social media it is becoming clearer and clearer that the big thing for 2010 is location-based tools.

We’ve posted before about how businesses can use Foursquare and only yesterday about Fourwhere, the Foursquare and Google Maps mashup. Foursquare is a great tool that lets you share where you are and add tips and reviews of cafes, shops, restaurants, bars, theatres. Anywhere really. From a business perspective it can offer invaluable insight into who visits your business, how often, what they think about it and where else they go. All good stuff. Of course, there is a serious downside to location-based tools (as we saw with Please Rob Me) and people should be aware of and sensible about any information they share in social media.

Why are location-based social media tools growing?

Location based social media tools are possible because more and more people own mobile phones that are GPS enabled. Phones that can tell you where you are and plot this information on a map. This is then data that can be shared with others or used in conjunction with discussions, reviews and other information to build a resource and community that is location-dependent.

There are many instances where location can add significant value to an online community:

  • People reviewing cafes and bars in a certain area and recommending places people might like to visit
  • People sharing tips of good and safe running routes
  • Groups of local activists looking to organise themselves
  • Parents wanting to find other parents near them to help organise safe walking to school
  • People wantingto identify and report on things that need mending in their neighbourhood
  • Friends wanting to share their location and tell others where they are

The utility of location in social media is huge and there are many cases where tying location to reviews, discussions and other content will really help, either for those generating the content or those looking for and benefiting from it. Adding in location could also save us from updates that say “Iam at…” with that information instead being tagged as in the tweet above. You can use the update to say something that has real semantic value rather than just indicating where you are.

What’s happening and what’s coming

Location-based tools are not new but they are growing and new developments are happening all the time as people use them more and in different ways. Some important developments recently discussed are as follows.

  • Twitter: Twitter has for some time allowed users to tag their updates with their location details – this has mainly been done through third-party apps, such as Tweetdeck, and to date locations have not been shown on Twitter’s own website. Briefly this week they started showing location on Tweets on their site – with maps overlaying tweets on both the individual tweet page and on the main stream. This update was quickly disabled but adding this back in would certainly add significant value to the Twitter site and pave the way for search for people and issues that are trending ‘near me’ – based on where people are when they share their information and not where they say they are in their location.
  • Foursquare: Foursquare is growing in use and in the ways in which people are using it. The most significant recent development is increased analytics for businesses. They have recently introduced a dashboard for businesses to see information about who had ‘checked-in’ at their location. This reports on when people check-in, how they communicate this (do they share it on Twitter, for example), the people who visit them most often and those who visit most recently. This is useful and valuable information for any brand as it lets you start to understand your customers in a way that you haven’t previously been able to do. Brands should be taking advantage of Foursquare and of the ability to control their profiles (adding in ‘Staff’ for example) and should use this dashboard and analytics in a clever way to inform their understanding of their customers and identification of their advocates.
  • Facebook: Perhaps the most interesting announcement this week is talk of developments at Facebook to include location features. The speculation is that location will accompany status updates and changes to Facebook’s Terms and Conditions last November appear to have been made in preparation for this (“When you share your location with others or add a location to something you post, we treat that like any other content you post.”) Sharing location in Facebook status updates would highlight both the importance of mobile use of Facebook and of the spread of location-based social media tools. It will also add yet another set of data that Facebook captures, can report on and can be used by other users to find people, information and discussions. It will be interesting to watch both what Facebook release and how users use it, but it is likely to yet again highlight the importance of search to Facebook as the amount of data and content it captures grows.

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