2012: The Year Your Mom Started Using Foursquare

For all the folks wondering if Foursquare has jumped the shark, and more specifically, what’s the point? – the point is Foursquare is about to become the shark, at least in the blue ocean of mobile, location-based social networking.

Since launching in March 2009 at SXSW, I’ve been waiting for the Silicon Alley start-up to create some real value for its users. How many mayorships can one person accumulate before wondering, “I checked in ninety-eight times to become Mayor and all I get is this stupid badge?

The answer seemed to come earlier this year with the rollout of Foursquare 3.0 and its partnership with American Express.

It’s axiomatic to say that in the world of social media, if you’re not paying for the meal, you are the meal. I’m okay with that, as long as I get fed too, which the service has started to do thanks in part to the American Express ‘Sync and Save’ program — sync your Foursquare account to your Amex account, check-in to your favorite spot offering a deal, and see the credit on your Amex account. I’ve already unlocked two specials.

The initiative is part of the company’s philosophy to “make every check-in count” — so regardless of whether you’re checking into the same ol’ coffee shop or some far-away beach, Foursquare is aiming to add value, every time, for every user. A great example of this is near-by Specials, which are growing more attractive, more relative, and more robust every day.

And in making every check-in count for users, Foursquare is making every check-in count for companies looking to market their services to users. In the case of American Express, the credit card company is aiming to appeal to a more hip, technologically-savvy, a.k.a younger crowd.

“We don’t tend to skew under 35,” said Amex Vice Chairman Edward P. Gilligan. “We hope this will help us stay relevant to younger customers.”

I don’t know how relevant Foursquare will make Amex to the ‘under 35′ demographic, especially as other credit card companies jump in. What I can actually see happening is the specials and savings attracting an older demographic, with someone like my  mom using the app, thus making the service more mainstream.

Regardless of age demographics, the real marrow of the platform comes in the form of its user data. I can only imagine how savory it must look to companies aiming to market their products and services. American Express admitted the partnership has already brought a higher response rate than anything else they’ve done.

“We’ve always done marketing with merchants to make offers to our card members, like send offers through direct mail, put information about sales on the Internet,” said Gilligan. “But those response rates tend to be low.”

With over 15 million users worldwide and 80+ employees, Foursquare is en route to become the Amazon of the online, on-location user experience. As they continue to develop their suggestion-based algorithms, strengthen loyalty programs and add more value in the forms of discounts and specials, I think they can maintain their postion over imitators like Facebook, who just acquired Gowalla, and Yelp, who rolled out their check-in offers program last month, by making every check-in count.

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