Geo-Social: What makes someone check-in?


Raise your hands if you’ve used Foursquare, Instagram, SCVNGR, Gowalla, or any other geo-social application to check-in to your favorite watering hole. I know I have. One night at one of my favorite pubs, I started chit chatting with some of the regulars about Foursquare. We left the conversation wondering why people care about checking-in, what makes us want to share where we are with other people, other brands, even?

My initial thought was that it probably stems from our desire to share our identities with others (which I explain in more depth in my blog about what makes us go social). After researching a little further I learned that there is much, much more to it than just owning a smartphone (by the way about 35% of US adults own them – wow).

The psychological thought process of checking in on your favorite geo-social application is informed by the psychology surrounding all social networking in general. People like sharing content for two main reasons: to share their social identities and to gain social capital. Checking-in is yet another way for us to preserve and bolster our social identities and social capital.

What’s cool about Foursquare and the other geo-social apps is that they have the ability to turn coordinates on a map into actual places that people can recognize. In doing so they are attaching a social meaning to a location. Naturally, humans want to share this place with their networks to build up their status. A check in at the sold-out concert, hot night spot, or five star restaurant ups our social “street cred” and shows others we’re part of the latest trend.

Okay, so we all know that there’s something about us that just makes us want to share, but there’s something a little different about Foursquare – there’s a competitive element. There’s an almost innate desire to be the “mayor” or to claim territory (I still haven’t become the mayor of my favorite bar). But it’s true. The New York Times wrote a whole article devoted to this “friendly” competition. It describes the “petty and vicious battle over virtual pieces of turf” that geo-social apps enable. Foursquare makes our everyday travels into one big game and taps into our urge to win.

This might be why more men are using these types of apps than women. While women use social media, on a whole, more than men, a man is actually twice as likely to check-in than a woman. Women are also a little more concerned about privacy than men are. For instance, a woman might not want to broadcast her location for fear of putting herself in a bad position.

Hopefully (for marketers, at least) more and more people will start using these types of apps. It’s fun and the possibilities are endless for brand engagement. Our current affinity for these geo-social services have definitely implications for marketers going forward. Come back next week for a little more insight insight into what brands can do with this new trend.

What do you think is the future for these geo-social apps?


1. Oliver, Simone. Who Elected me Mayor? I did. New York Times.
2. E.G. The secret sexism of social media. June 2011. The economist
3. Atagana, Michelle. Location-based services: The new social currency for teens. September 2011. Memeburn.
4. Zickuhr, Kathryn & Smith, Aaron. 4% of online Americans use location-based services. November 2010. Pew Research Center.

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