The verb “to check-in” has taken on a drastically different connotation over the past 18 months. Checking in has gone from the realm of a person-to-person connection, as in “Hey Mom, I’m staying at Tyler’s house for the night. Just checking in with you,” to a person-to-place relationship. Now, checking in refers to location-based services, as in “Noah Singer just checked into 9th Street Espresso.” Or how it would appear in Twitter, “noahlsinger I’m at 9th Street Espresso http://4sq.com/2kr8jW.”
I believe that the latter version of checking in will become how we predominantly think of this verb and will play a prominent part in our social lives as people. Marketers should also take notice, and they have, since this is an important pillar in branding and spreading messages to your audiences.
Marketing is about finding and influencing people to sell goods or services to. Enter the rapid increase of Internet usage and digital devices and the choices of media explode. Marketers are able to data mine terabytes of human activity information to personalize messages for each individual consumer, or so the goal is. That Overstock.com ad you see in Grooveshark for a little black dress that you looked at two weeks ago is no coincidence. Advertising based on behavioral targeting is not a new thing and will only improve. However, the behaviors we are aggregating data on are changing. Online, always-connected technologies like our ever-so-useful mobile devices are leading this change.
At the vanguard of this are those LBS’s. Some of the more common LBS’s are Foursquare, Gowalla, Brightkite, Loopt, CauseWorld and SCVNGR. All of these services let you check in at certain locations and share this message with your friends on that LBS, Twitter, and/or Facebook.
Beyond this shared function, they all differ in their unique value propositions and offer different experiences on their platforms. The key here is that people are beginning to create a database of information which shows where they are going and which places they are actively choosing to show an affiliation with.
This is awesomely powerful from a sociological point of view, and more importantly for marketers, marketing, of course! Marketers are using this information to strengthen their connections with consumers through specials for those who check-in at certain locations, by creating journeys/scavenger hunts through these services, and adding more context to what their brand stands for through tips about cities and places.
Based off the number of advertisers who are exploring this on Foursquare, it is clear that LBS’s are a marketing hit. But is it appealing to Millennials? I believe it is.
My first hunch is based off my own group of friends. My friends’ Facebook walls are becoming more and more populated with 4sq.com location links and this trend doesn’t seem to be stopping. My second hunch is that with major universities being some of the first organizations to create LBS experiences, like Syracuse University and the University of Arkansas, any Millennials not on board will be soon. Most university students will now be introduced to an LBS when going off to school to help explore their new homes.
In two years from now what will checking in come to stand for? Will we be still checking in with Mom? Friends? Your girlfriend? I’d think no. I believe the way we communicate our location will change. We will still call people to say, “Hey, where are you?” as an ice breaking question, but this won’t be the crux of the conversation since this information will be already be known .