I don’t like farmville. There, I’ve said it now, I’ve got that off my chest. For those who don’t know, farmville is a Facebook based game with over 80million subscribers worldwide where people create a virtual farm and trade with their “neighbours” (other Facebook friends) to build better farms.
Part of my dislike for this is born from the fact that I love that social networking gives us the chance to share real things with real people and these “social games” seem to trivialise so much of that. Maybe I take life a bit too seriously.
So, when I first saw FourSquare I dismissed it as a game. The network involved gaining points, claiming prizes…it all sounded a bit trivial to me. However, I noticed more and more people using it. Suddenly it seemed like I was the only social media geek not on it, so I thought I’d better give it a try. What’s more it’s soaring in popularity. According to the founders, it had 175,000 users last December and, say the LA Times, it has just under 1million users as of last month. That’s growth on a curve that’s close to the one Twitter had in its early days and only a few 100,000 less (that’s just a drop in the ocean) than facebook had back in the day.
FourSquare is a social game and geo-located service for mobile devices. When you go somewhere, you use your phone to pinpoint your location and a list of nearby places, such as the park, are shown. You can then “check in” to these places. Once there you can add tips about the places for your other friends (or the wider public) to see. If you go to one place more than anyone else (and at least five times) you become “the mayor” of that location. You collect points for the distances you travel, the new places you add, etc and get trophies. So, how is this different from farmville?
Well, firstly it’s about real places. The next addition is that you can “shout” from locations (basically, tweet, about what you’re doing) which is handy if your friends are there as well and you want to meet up. Thirdly, FourSquare tell us, businesses such as cafés are starting to offer “mayor deals” where to mayor of their café gets a discount.
So, armed with my iPhone and new FourSquare app, I started checking in everywhere I went. I noticed that many businesses, such as local cinemas, had a presence on there already. Councils, meanwhile, had none. I’m not suggesting that people would want to check in with their council. But they might at their libraries, sports centres, community venues and theatres. Many of these venues have already been added on FourSquare – but without the council having any kind of control, branding or any other association with it. They are missing a trick.
Maybe it’s not suprising that council’s aren’t looking at social games like FourSquare. After all, many are still struggling with Facebook and Twitter. However, we can see from social games popularity that they are here to stay and the popular ones may well become the household names that facebook and twitter have become.
What this teaches us is that social media strategies need to be built to change. In 2006, I’d have told you the we needed MySpace strategies. a few years later we were talking about Facebook, Twitter and social bookmarking. Just a few months ago, I would have dissmissed social games as being just that – games that had no community benefit. Today, maybe we should be thinking about their impact however, along with geo-located services and augmented reality.
In summary, strategists need to be looking beyond the individual tools and looking at the wider vision – how can local authorities keep on top of social media practice and react to new apps and programmes. Are these kind of applications the next big thing for people….or really, are they all just a trivial game?