Foursquare, Gowalla, Geo-Location…the new ROI?

It was just two years ago and everyone was going nuts about Twitter and creating lots of comparisons between Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn…and so on. Books were being written about the business applications of these Social Media outlets and conferences around the industry being put on, talking best practices. But the one thing that kept on arising…what is the purpose behind all the mess. Both sides were asking these questions…the groups that created these platforms and those engaging. ROI was a huge discussion. Both the investors of the platforms and the business using these outlets…why and how?

Then…this crazy thing called “geo-location” was emerging publically. Basically not only telling the world what you are thinking, but where you are located when you are saying your thoughts. These crazy technologies popped up with lots of traction, ie. Foursquare and Gowalla. People tagging their location by “Checking In.” A new craze of people jumping on board. The early adopters trying them out and others sitting back to watch the recourse.

A few months ago, I shared a few beers with Olivier Blanchard at a great pub in Greenville and we talked about what all this mess means. Well, a few beers brings out lots on creative thoughts but we both agreed on a few things. But here are two points that came up in the discussion (fyi…I am not speaking for Olivier):

1) These geo-location technologies are the true ROI for Social Media. Why, because now retailers and organizations can now place a name, information, and demographics to a decision making process.

2) These geo-location technologies are creating a true paradigm shift how retailers and organizations reach audiences. This is the point I am excited to write about.

Imagine this…you are planning a trip.  You are getting on a plane and you live in a metropolitan area like New York City. You get up in the morning, grab your bags, and head out the door. On the way to the subway, you drop into a coffee shop for a java and “Check-In.” This coffee shop knows you well because you have been “Checking In” for a while and they already have your carmel latte ready right when you “Check-In.” You grab that java and out the door you go to catch the subway. You have made this trip before because you travel for business. As walk down sidewalk, you stop for a paper and “Check-In” at the local paper stand. After picking up the paper, you make you way down the stairs into the subway…there are television and LED screens along the walls. This geo-location has tracked your tendencies, knows what food you like, what shoes you like…because you “Check-In” to the spots all the time. So now, based on your preferences, there are ads showing on these television screens targeted specifically for you. There is even one that tells you that your plane is on time and references you by name. Geo-location is creating a direct, one-to-one conversation between your location, your tendencies, your buying power….AND their message. This is just one scenerio in this Time Square Effect!

These “Check-In’s” are the public domain of your credit card transactions. But now they are combining your purchasing power with your location from a public position.  This is like the “global” version of your CVS or Walgreens Card…telling everyone where you are going and what you are doing. The marketers are eating this up as fast as they can, leveraging the information we knowingly post publicly; why…to help you make purchasing decisions.

Our Social Media transactions (both on a conversational side and a location side) are becoming the collective database we knowingly support each time we go the local super market for eggs and milk and “Check-In.” We are creating the ROI for marketers. This comes to no surprise because we are a debit card/credit card carrying society. Now…it is more public.

This post is not meant to poke holes in our Social Media tendencies but bring an awareness to the massive database we are creating. There is so much value in the “Checking In” model. We are helping the local retailers compete with the big box providers. If there is one group that should try to leverage this technology…well it is the small retailers or companies trying to compete in a global economy.

Trust…Building True Social Media Relationships! The Real SM ROI!

Over two years ago, I ventured into this world of Social Media by opening my first Twitter account. I remember being on Facebook and watching my friends simply updating their status with “I am Twittering”. I was wondering, what the hell are they talking about. I had just opened my Facebook account a few months prior. So…off I went and I was trying to figure out this crazy world of Social Media and the technologies that support this crazy interaction.

I think I remember engaging in the Social Media Club here in Greenville, SC and attending one of the early Monday morning events. It was a new crowd that I have ever been exposed and thought, I need to figure this out quickly! As I navigated this new paradigm, I realized that the only way I was going to figure this mess out is find thought leaders in my community…to not only engage online but meet in person. I quickly starting using this new found 140 character communication pathway to follow people. Those who had lots of followers and were relatively close to me in my area.

I met so many interesting and diverse people. We had a common theme…figure this crazy thing out! Along the way I met this one person via Twitter. This person walked to a similar beat as myself. I started following this person’s Tweets and began to realize he not only had something to say but also had a good sense of business…and this crazy new paradigm shift. As I followed him, I started going through who was following him and who he was following. Honestly, I followed as many of people he was following as I could. I spent the first three months just watching the conversations. Learning the lingo, understanding the relationships in this place, figuring out who was doing business and who was just shooting from the hip without a leg to stand on!

This was right before the market “crash” and the marketing world was turned upside down. As I began to watch the conversations and see who was chatting, I quickly learned who the “thought leaders” were and who were those that were capitalizing on others ideas. I also learned how to leverage online relationships. Engage in thoughtful conversations and at the same time ask questions to help me figure out this new exploratory art, but not ask for  too much info. You know, that free consulting thing that no one wants to give out.

I began to notice that this one individual had some street cred and he also shared some similar passions, using digital media and visuals to engage audiences. He was a photojournalist at heart! So I dropped him a DM and said, hey…can I buy you a cup of coffee. He agreed and one morning over two years ago in the Coffee Underground, I sat at a table and wondered if online business relationships could translate to in-person conversation. My new friend (and now colleague) and I shared a cup of coffee and a bunch of war stories about storytelling, photography, and this thing called Social Media.

Over two years later, we catch up, talk some business, have a few beers, and chat about dreams and possibilities! From branding, photography, documentaries, and even some local gossip…that beer every so often has turned into mutual trust. We have traded business, referred each other to potential clients, shared billable knowledge, and just shot the shit. Trust.

So, how can you measure your Social Media experience? He is actually one of the thought leaders when it comes to Social Media ROI. I think he is getting tired of talking about this broken record debate, but he has a consistent valid point, it is more than numbers. So what is my Social Media ROI after two years of engaging with this new fangled technology? Well…here it is: I have made a few friends, learned some cool knowledge, gained some followers, and even increased measurable web traffic to my site/blog. But here is the true Social Media ROI…I have made a good friend! I am blessed to have friends like Olivier Blanchard not only in my contact list, but in my quick dial to have a beer! I am fortunate to be able to say hey, this is more than all of this marketing bullshit! I have gained a colleague, one I can look up to and even call on for a favor! Ok mister @thebrandbuilder … I have an iPad waiting! Enjoy your trip to France!

So here is my question…who have you met via a Social Media and truly created a real relationship?  This is not a corny question! Who? Who can you say you met online using one of the technologies and now have taken the relationship beyond the digital interface? What is your Social Media ROI?