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Check-ins And Badges…Where We’re At And Where We’re Going


By Prashant Hari

One of the main reasons I initially started my blog site Social Wizz was to blog about my and experiences in Social Media. It’s now evolving into a futurists lair….a prediction market of it’s own where I often put up thoughts around emerging technologies, cultural and behavioral changes as well as predictions on the future of the technologies which are already available.

I’ve blogged countless times about Foursquare and Location Based Marketing in the post with the 5 Powerful Presentations here, a breakdown of what all the “buzz” is about here as well as my own encounter across 12 days and 2 cities here. Foursquare of course isn’t the only one. There’s Loopt, Plazes, Whrrl as well as Gowalla. However with the exception of the recent Facebook Places (which still hasn’t incorporated a “badge” or “points” system….yet) Foursquare still leads the way on this front. Foursquare is particularly important to pay attention for market research since it has already been successfully trialled for political polling in the U.S. as well as being another network for Marketers to get creative with.

What is Foursquare you ask? In short, it is a location-based social networking game designed for mobile users to compete with their friends socially in the real world. The Foursquare mobile application uses your phone’s GPS function to locate your whereabouts when you “check-in” through the app at different locations. When users check-in at their favorite restaurant or nightclub for example, their friends are notified and the user can earn points or unlock badges depending on when, where and how often they check in. When a user checks in to a specific location more than any other user, they are known as the Mayor of that location. Most of the networks I’ve mentioned operate in the same way (check-in to a location, leave a comment+photo, unlock badges/stickers, if you check-in enough you get to become mayor).

From a user point-of-view there are 2 flaws. First, not all retail stores are in on it which means the chances of recognition are limited, taking a large part of the fun away (unless of course a whole lot of other people are checked-in leaving comments etc). Even if there is a “mayor”, without the store owner recognizing your “mayorship” it doesn’t mean anything. It’s only fun to be Mayor if you get something for it (a 5% off, free drink, free coffee upgrade, free burger every Friday etc).

Which then brings me to Badges/Stickers. A form of Social Reward/Social Currency you get Badges/Stickers for a number of things including regular check-ins, first-time check-ins, checking in at a extravagant location etc. Badges/Stickers as they currently stand don’t have any “real” value behind it. I’ve seen some networks promise to send you physical copies of your stickers while others offer a T-Shirt with your name on it, but again I see Badges/Stickers fading away in the long-term unless there is some REAL value behind it.

In the immediate run, I see Badges evolving faster than ever, and forming it’s own kind of currency. More and more retailers and marketers will start creating Badges for almost anything you can imagine checking in to. Sites like Badgeville and Badgefarm have already started appearing, cashing in on this model. Badges as a form of Social reward/currency hold a LOT of potential within the Marketing, Market Research and Advertising space. Badge Farm seems to be incentivising members for leaving comments on various topics, 10 comments opens up a badge! Check-in to the cinemas and get some form of discount to your overall experience of going to the cinema?

Which brings me to the evolution of check-ins which has moved way beyond just locations. GetGlue, which I’m a huge fan of, allows users to check-in to movies, books, music, television as well as topics. Once again, the same gamified mentality applies to GetGlue (or it’s weaker counterpart Miso which I blogged about here) whereby you can check-in and receive Badges/Stickers. It seems to me that the Entertainment Industry has already bought into the idea of GetGlue as Warner Bros recently acquired it. A check-in to a new movie gets all sorts of stickers/badges and it appears more and more brands and retailers have started appearing on there.

Again these Badges/Stickers will last momentarily, however in the long-run I think users will come to expect some form of “real” reward (i.e a Green Hornet T-Shirt mailed to me) for checking-in to the movie on it’s First Day/First Show. New protocols/validation would have to be introduced to ensure that the check-in is legitimate.

Check-ins have evolved way beyond just location now. GetGlue and Miso are both clear indicators that the mindset and psyche behind “checking in” goes way beyond Location. Being able to check-in to a movie, book, TV show etc is something I’ve termed “Social Entertainment” (which is basically where Social Media meets Entertainment). There’s also “Social TV” which is cropping up more and more and refers to the blurred line between Social Media and Television. Again each of these networks relies on a similar system of rewarding, and again I feel it has momentum in the next 1-2 years, but longer term people will start wanting actual value in return.

BUT we’ve evolved even further recently: Intonow allows users to “automatically” check-in. If there’s a TV show playing, your smartphone will pick up based on TV waves interacting with your smartphone, and will check you in right down to the level of which episode is it. This removes the whole concept of manually checking in, and is perhaps a sign of what’s to follow….. imagine the implications for audience measurement!

Will check-in become redundant quicker than we realize as automatic check-ins lead the way moving forward? Also how long will badges/stickers last before we start moving towards a “value for value” model?

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3 responses to “Check-ins And Badges…Where We’re At And Where We’re Going

  1. Interesting post on a hot topic. I think that check-ins have a huge potential for market research. The services you mention are collecting vast amounts of user-volunteered data about where people go and what they like. This could be a market research gold mine if we can figure out how to turn this data in to insights brands can use.

    I’d also like to add something to your analysis of the value of “mayorships” and badges. The game mechanics are most of the fun of these services. Competing over mayorship is fun even if there’s no 10% discount involved. Foursquare is planning to build out these game mechanics even more (I’ve heard), and it’ll be interesting to see how that impacts the UX and experience of checking in.

    1. I agree 100% Sheila. I’ve been working on a model to do just that for almost two years now, but it’s been a challenge to get folks to pay attention. I think that is changing now and we’re going to see a lot of movement here with hybrid offerings that combine a MR core wrapped within a social gaming/check-in engagement model. The possibilities for deep ethnographic and behavioral data are amazing IF we can stop acting like traditional researchers and instead think like researchers and act like marketers.

  2. Thanks Lenny for sharing this

    Sheila: Thanks for the comment. I totally agree right now that the game mechanics are the most fun part of these services (II’m a foursquare and getglue addict) however it’s only fun if the retailer/brand is in on the fun, after a point, checking-in with nothing else happening (not even stickers) loses a bit of momentum.

    Yeah both Foursquare and GetGlue have some interesting updates coming out.

    Curious to see how Facebook Places+Facebook Credits approaches this area…

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