Foursquare to Facebook Places: Insight into Check-ins

Many are claiming this year as the year of “social mobile”.  Even Facebook’s CTO announced that one of the primary objectives for Facebook this year is mobile, a statement that is backed with increased emphasis on its geolocation tool – Facebook Places.

This said, social media marketers should get up to speed on the adoption of geolocation tools, and review current insight on consumers attitudes and preferences when it comes to “checking in”.  I hope to share e-marketer data from a few recent reports that will give us a snapshot of this space.

How Many Users are Checking In?

A study by SNL Kagan compared the recent increase in location based service users from 2009 to 2010 and found that it nearly tripled.  This, combined with the explosion of smart phone adoption, means that 2011 is bound to experience even stronger growth within geolocation tools.

This said, a study by Pew Internet and American Life Project in November 2010 puts this in perspective with the finding that only 4% of adult online users currently use location based services.  So while these applications are likely to grow by leaps and bounds – we still have a way to go in terms of mainstream adoption.

Where are users Checking In?

The following is an overview of the primary geolocation applications that users are using to check in, and the slight distinctions between them.  When the SNL Kagan ranked the geolocation apps based on registered users, Brightkite was the largest application with 5.9 million users, followed by Loopt at 4.0 million users and foursquare reporting at 3.6 million registered users. At the time of this study, Facebook Places was not taken into account and since then Brightkite has removed its “Check-In” functionality.

In comparison with these other applications, Facebook Places has a large potential to become a geolocation app of choice – simply due to the reach of the network compared to others. The network currently has over 200 million mobile users to jumpstart adoption of Facebook Places, and with a new introduction site for Facebook Deals, the network appears to be taking Facebook Places seriously.

Why are they Checking in?

As geolocation applications mature, users may be given more reasons or different incentives to check-in.  However, as it stands there are two studies that are helpful in shedding light on reasons why users would be motivated to use any of these services to check in.

The first study was conducted by Webroot in July and shows that 64% of US users would use geolocation apps to get informed, followed by meeting up with friends or to meet new people. The timing of this survey and these survey responses suggests this could have been influenced by early adopters in this space.

Another study, conducted by JiWire in November shows slightly different motivations.  As you can see from the chart below, of those that used a geolocation app – 29% stated the primary reason was to receive discounts and promotions.  This could be contributed to increased adoption of these applications (expanding beyond early adopters), or could be influenced by the increased availability of discounts and promotions from marketers beginning to enter this space.

What is particularly interesting with both of these studies is the small amount of users who check in simply to score points or receive badges.  It seems as if users may be looking for check-ins to provide a more straightforward utility – such as providing a discount, receiving more information, or letting others they care about know where they have been.

What do you think of these findings? Are you planning to employ location based applications for your brand this year? Please share in the comments below about the Foursquare to Facebook checkins post.

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