The platforms are built, the cash from VC’s in place, and marketers poised to cash in on the ample advertising opportunities…all that’s missing from mobile social brands is, well, you. Turns out Web surfers aren't flocking to virtual check-ins as quickly as the tech brands behind them would like.
In its first report on the use of “geosocial” or location-based services, the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project finds that 4% of online adults use a service such as Foursquare or Gowalla that allows them to share their location with friends and to find others who are nearby. On any given day, only 1% of internet users are using these services.
Of course, this was before the juggernaut that is Facebook launched its Places check-in feature, and invited brand marketers such as Gap to the dance.
It’s clear how valuable personal data as currency is in the digital landscape to retailers and marketers, but consumers remain hesitant to share their whereabouts freely. Remember when PleaseRobMe launched, sending waves of fear through geo-social?
Early adopters of services like Foursquare and Gowalla are typical of the early adopter profile: between 18 and 29, males more than females. Among Hispanics, 10% report usage, 5% of blacks and 3% of whites, according to Pew's new report.
ABI Research projects location-based marketing to be a $1.8 billion business in 2015. Consumer behavior is starting to change — hundreds of millions of us already willingly provide personal data in exchange for goods and services, and Pew found that 7% of adults who access the mobile Web use a location-based service — but it's nowhere near a tipping point.
In the meantime, the immediate upside of location-based apps remains unclear and none have grabbed hold of that “sweet spot of coolness and utility” that impels users to give up personal location data, says Melissa Parrish, Forrester Research.
“Many people are in a more ‘transactional’ frame of mind. They will share information if they think they can get something of value for it,” comments Lee Rainie, director of Pew's Internet and American Life Project, to the New York Times.
Even Gowalla exec Josh Williams laments that location-based services are presented as “nerdy and often off-putting," telling the Times, “As an industry, it behooves ourselves to look for more human ways to explain what we’re doing,” he said.
Facebook Places will no doubt encourage more brands and retailers to generate deals and coupons that should help spur adoption of "checking in" to brands.
“It is possible that Facebook will help bring location into the mainstream,” said Pew's Kathryn Zickuhr, who co-authored the report on geolocal services. “It would not be surprising to see if that helps people get used to it.”