infoTECH Spotlight Magazine

infoTECH Magazine

October 01, 2010

Social Networking Channels Embrace Location Awareness

By TMCnet Special Guest
Jay Bourland, Group Technology Officer for Pitney Bowes Business Insight

Over the past few years, social networking has become a phenomenon that’s nearly impossible to ignore. Twitter has exploded since 2006 and now boasts more than 100 million active users. The rise of social media networking platforms like Twitter has resulted in greater transparency into participants’ lives. On a daily basis, many of us are sharing more information about ourselves and our activities with a growing audience. Even more traditional networking sites like LinkedIn (News - Alert) are now enabling users to provide status updates similar to Twitter and Facebook.

Social media networks are increasingly embracing location-based information, providing users with more ways to broadcast their whereabouts to friends and followers. For instance, Facebook recently generated media and user attention with the introduction of Places. The new application allows Facebook users to “check in” at certain locations, alerting their friends where they are in real-time.

For fans of Foursquare (News - Alert), Facebook Places is nothing new. They’ve been sharing their location for quite some time using Foursquare and racking up points (or becoming “mayor”) for checking into specific locations numerous times. Foursquare participants can share their updates via Twitter and Facebook. Sites like Shopkick let users earn points and receive special offers just by checking in to their favorite stores including Macy’s and Best Buy (News - Alert). Twitter embraced location-based services more than a year ago when it unveiled a feature that enables users to show their location by latitude and longitude.

Although Facebook Places may not be revolutionary, its reach could be unprecedented. According to Facebook, it has more than 500 million active users and the average user has 130 friends. Facebook Places is another example of the increasing pervasiveness of location-based data in social networking. It also represents an opportunity for organizations to utilize location-based data in social networking channels to more effectively target consumers, identify and capitalize on trends, and communicate directly with customers.

Location-awareness is gaining traction in social media networks and generating discussions around privacy issues and business applications. For the business community, location-awareness, or location intelligence, is not a new trend. In fact, many businesses routinely rely on location-based data when making critical business decisions. According to analyst reports, an estimated 80 percent of data has a location-based component. By integrating location intelligence into the decision making process, businesses can make better informed decisions about communicating with customers, managing resources and identifying risks and opportunities.

Location-awareness in social networking platforms is still in the early stages. However, it could represent tremendous opportunities for businesses. For example, by combining location intelligence and social networking, consumer and enterprise organizations could:

  • Notify loyal customers about sales, events and target promotional offers to consumers in a certain area;
  • Track potential customers service issues based on location; and
  • Increase customer loyalty by interacting directly with consumers and building an open channel of communication.

A business that is active on Twitter and Foursquare may notice that a customer who used to visit frequently and check in with Foursquare is now checking in at competitor instead. In the past, it may have noticed that a certain customer was no longer coming in as often or had stopped coming altogether. Now, it has confirmation and information about where that customer is going instead. Armed with this knowledge, the business can reach out to the customer, offering coupons and special offers to entice them to return. It can even engage in a dialogue that may help them identify potential customer service issues.

The increased ubiquity of location-awareness in social networking raises concerns for some participants. Privacy has emerged as a leading issue for many active on Facebook and Twitter. It may seem contradictory to participate in social networking activities that center around individuals sharing personal information while worrying about revealing too much. However, for some users, it’s a matter of control. With sites like Foursquare it’s possible to refine who sees what information, whereas sites like Facebook may broadcast your location to all your friends, versus a select few.

It may be too early to gauge the true impact of location-based information on social networking. According to Forrester (News - Alert) Research, 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services and just 1 percent of them use them weekly. Location-based networking sites like Foursquare, which has an estimated 3 million users, still pale in comparison in terms of size and reach with sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Social networking is continuing to evolve with new technologies. Sites like Facebook routinely change policies and settings in response to user feedback. However, the true impact of social networking – creating relationships, sharing information and engaging with others around a common interest – is changing the way we communicate with each other. It’s also creating new and unique opportunities for businesses. Location is one component of social networking that enables companies to gain a fuller understanding of their target consumer. While some issues like privacy need to be resolved, social networking channels presents businesses with the opportunity to connect with consumers, identify new opportunities and increase brand loyalty. IT

Jay Bourland is group technology officer for Pitney Bowes Business Insight (News - Alert).

TMCnet publishes expert commentary on various telecommunications, IT, call center, CRM and other technology-related topics. Are you an expert in one of these fields, and interested in having your perspective published on a site that gets several million unique visitors each month? Get in touch.