Everyone has their own objective for using social media, but one thing is clear: if you are a working professional, and especially if you have a family, the time that you can spend on the likes of Facebook and LinkedIn is often very limited. I often get asked, “Neal, where do you find the time for social media?” to which I respond, “Social media is my industry. It is my daily experiences and social media experiments that allow me to remain on the cutting edge of social media, provide a higher quality service to my customers, and allows potential clients to more easily discover and contact me. I create social media boundaries and try not to spread myself thin in my social media activities.” But even I have a limit as to how much time I can spend in social media, and as I tell my social media strategy consulting clients, social media can become a complete time suck if activity goes on unchecked. This is why I always try to pursue a positive return on my invested time (ROI) in social media, and it all starts with an objective.

I have tried many Twitter tools, for instance, but if they didn’t help me achieve a specific purpose, I wouldn’t waste any time with them. The same is true for social media applications or even social networks themselves. This is the story of my experience with the Foursquare app and why I decided to delete it from my iPhone some time ago. After doing a Google search, I realized that a lot of other people have deleted their app, including my friend Ari Herzog and a blogger at TNW.

Foursquare is one in a number of applications that provide its users the ability to “check-in” to a local establishment or event and inform their friends or network. The boom in these applications, of which Foursquare probably has the most users, inspired Facebook to create their own version – Facebook Places.

Users who often check-in on the Foursquare app do so for a variety of reasons: (read The Influence of Foursquare for more background)

  • To let their friends know what they were doing, sometimes adding commentary or a review to be a resource, which could also be shared on other social networks such as Twitter or Facebook
  • To be found by other Foursquare users who might be at the same establishment or nearby
  • To look at the curated reviews of their friends or other Foursquare users for any given establishment
  • To look for special Foursquare deals, which unfortunately are more common in some parts of the world than others
  • To try to become the “Mayor” of an establishment, or the individual with the most check-ins, in hopes of getting a fringe benefit from said establishment some day in the future
  • They become addicted to checking in because they see it as fun and it becomes habitual, especially as they seek new badges

Although Foursquare is quickly expanding and coming up with creative new applications to entice users to adopt or better utilize its location-based services framework, the above is the gist of the “traditional” Foursquare user.

Foursquare is an excellent application with a lot of fanatical users.  I have nothing against them or the company, and if you are a young, single, socially outgoing urban professional who enjoys going out often for food and/or drinks or travels often, Foursquare can be a tremendously enriching application for a number of reasons. But after using it for several months, I stopped seeing the ROI of personally using it and thus deleted it outright from my iPhone (although I still keep my membership alive).  Here’s my reasoning:

  1. I didn’t really care about becoming the “Mayor” of a particular establishment unlike the many who check-in to their local Costco or Trader Joe’s in hopes of getting some freebies in the future. I will admit that the first time I became Mayor of my local Tully’s it was an exciting feeling. But it wore off. And I was never in social media for the freebies or the swag. For me, social media is about information and communication, not being entered into an iPad contest by liking a Facebook Page that I might have no interest in (although I would love to receive a free iPad … hint, hint …).
  2. What about the social aspects of Foursquare you ask? Neal, if you enjoy the social aspects of social media, doesn’t Foursquare help foster that? To some extent, yes. The problem is that when I am outside somewhere, I usually don’t want to be bothered because I am meeting someone, working, or doing something else to try to better manage my crazy social media-infused lifestyle. I LOVE to network, but I like and need to do so on my own terms and have some control over my time. Checking in on Foursquare goes against this and could potentially make my time outside a lot less effective.
  3. Over time, I felt the pressure of needing to check in whenever I was outside. It actually began to be a little stressful because of so many things I always have on my mind, and tabs I have open on my browser, at any given time. Not having to check in was actually quite uplifting: I felt like a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders.

The funny thing is that Foursquare did remind me of the importance of user reviews for establishments, especially for restaurants which I frequently visit with clients or with family. For that reason, after deleting Foursquare I actually became a heavier Yelp user, checking in whenever I visited a restaurant and reading as well as offering my own quick tips. One day a friend who does not even own a social media account called me up to let me know that he saw my review of a certain restaurant on Yelp. That would not have happened on Foursquare.

The intent of this blog post was not to convince you to delete Foursquare yourself but to reconsider your own ROI of being active on various social media sites or utilizing certain social media tools that might provide a lot of eye candy or seem fun at the time but might not have much tangible benefits to you. From a corporate social media marketing perspective, there are compelling ways of using Foursquare and engaging with their 10 million users as part of your marketing mix and social media efforts, but I will save that content for a future blog post.

I want to hear from active Foursquare users on the benefits and ROI they see from using it in the comments. On the other hand, I’m wondering: Are you still active on Foursquare?

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