Over the last couple of years, location-based social networks have been much hyped as the savior of online advertising. In case you missed the boat – the basic idea is that the social network uses the user’s location to enhance their experience whilst they are on the network. Ideally, you want to be able to quickly say “I’m here” to your followers (and advertisers) and have them says “Cool, check out this coffee shop around the corner”.
Existing heavyweights are looking to augment their offerings by tagging on geo-location features – Google did it with Latitude, Twitter introduced location based tweets and Facebook launched Places. But the craze was largely driven by startups FourSquare and Gowalla who built entire networks around the idea of users sharing their location and receiving relevant information from their community in return.
The introduction of location-based services has been facilitated by increased smartphone use and the proliferation of the mobile internet. Smartphones, and more recently other devices such as digital cameras, have been equipped with GPS to allow people to quickly and easily share their location whilst on the move. This is great news for marketers because knowing your customers’ locations means that you can start to offer them the Holy Grail – the right product at the right place and time. For example, when a user checks-in to an area close to their favourite coffee store, they can get notifications of the latest specials or earn loyalty points.
So should you, as a digital marketer, jump into creating campaigns for location-based social networks? Not so fast – the reality is that these social networks aren’t particularly popular in developed countries yet and they are pretty much unknown in developing countries (we’re looking at 3 million users which is still a very low number). Unfortunately, it still feels that we haven’t managed to effortlessly integrate locations into the way we use the internet.
What do you think? Will location-based social networks go mainstream? I’m certain that if they do, advertisers will stand to benefit the most if they use a user’s location to provide real and relevant benefits.