A Southwest VA Swarm?

July 28, 2010

A couple months ago, my friend Anne Clelland, of Handshake 2.0 put together a Foursquare Swarm Badge Party in Blacksburg. Unfortunately, she failed to meet her goal. I’ll blame myself for at least 1/50th of the failure, being that I was out of town for that evening.

I’m a big fan of Foursquare, despite my wife giving me grief every time I pull out my smartphone for a check-in. I’d venture to say she’s not the only who has yet to embrace the service, which is why I think what Anne is trying to do is wonderful.

I see a lot of potential in Foursquare, but it’s still got a way to go. I use it to announce to my social media connections when I’m at someplace cool like my favorite Deli in NJ, or some famous landmark wherever I am. I’ll check in at places that are less interesting if I think there is a chance I could become mayor. I see a lot of people checking in at the local grocery store or gas station… I don’t go that far. I like the game aspect of it. It’s very thrilling to “oust” someone as mayor and tweet about it.

I think the “specials” aspect has huge potential for business use. A example of a special is that I can check into the local Ben and Jerry’s, then show them my phone and get a coupon for my ice cream. It’s a win-win all around. The consumer gets an easy deal on demand, and the business gets trackable data and the social sharing aspect of someone “shouting” that they’ve been to your establishment. Anyone who checks-in at your business is likely to be an advocate of what you’re doing, or at least a promoter.

These types of services work best when “everyone” is on them. Facebook and Twitter reached a critical mass a few years ago, where they’ve got their own gravity well for attracting users. Foursquare isn’t there yet. At least not here in Southwest Virginia. I’d love for there to be tons of opportunities for the Swarm badge around here. Alas, it’s rare.

Badges are another form of competition within the service. The best power users are easily identified with their badges such as “Super-Mayor” and “Bender”, achieved by holding mayorships in 10 locations at once, or having 5 checkins in single night. “Swarm” is a relatively rare one, achieved when you check in at a location where at least 49 others have also checked in on that day. Basically, when there are 50+ foursquare users in one place at one time. How many users have to live in or travel to one place to have a reasonable chance at a swarm? Hopefully, we’ll find out tomorrow.

I got my Swarm badge a few short weeks after Handshake 2.0’s failed effort. In Central Park. On a normal Saturday.

 

Swarm Badge

Foursquare Swarm Badge

 

Feels a little like cheating maybe… Obviously New York is a bigger metro area than Roanoke or Blacksburg. I think there’s a different social culture there as well. I bet the number of Foursquare users per capita in Manhattan is higher than in a typical community like Roanoke. Someday, I’ll have to find some data on that.

I thought maybe a large event in Roanoke might provide a better chance – something like the Music for Americans Fireworks show on the Fourth of July. When I checked in to River’s Edge Park that day, I think there were 4 others checked in. A bit short, and a bit disappointing given that there were probably 30,000 people there.

Which brings us to Wednesday’s Handshake 2.0’s Anniversary 2.0 party and Foursquare Swarm Badge 2.0 party in Blacksburg. I’m excited about the second attempt, and I trust Anne has planted the seeds to meet the goal. The theme for the party is: Let’s figure out Foursquare! I can’t wait to meet with other local users and debate the merits of this hobby/service/addiction. It’s another example of how I really think the value of online social media is to drive “real life” social interactions.

Free beer doesn’t hurt. Thanks, Anne, and congrats on 2 years of business.

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Who is this Guy?

March 8, 2010

I had a nice business lunch last week with Jeremy Rasor of InteractiveGIS, a GIS software company here in the VTCRC. It was a nice introductory meeting where we learned about each other’s companies. I hope we can find a way to do business. The interesting part, I think, is how this meeting came to be. If nothing else, its another concrete example on how social media, or specifically Twitter, can lead to business results.

A few days ago Jeremy posted a blog about open source software, a topic near and dear to us at Vision Point Systems. We proceeded to have a nice public conversation about the post with the exchange culminating with a DM request for lunch.

DM from InteractiveGIS

Twitter DM

The story on the other side, which Jeremy told me, basically goes like this. I suppose I asked a thought-provoking enough question that Jeremy brought up what I said to his boss. The boss responded with “We need to find out who this guy is”, supposing some sort of threat. Upon looking up my info on Twitter, my blog, etc, Jeremy quickly found out that I literally work across the parking lot, and sent me the previously mentioned DM. The sense of threat had calmed to curiosity.

To me, the exchange show that Social Media can be a venue for respectful and thoughtful conversation. When the thoughts become personalized, and you make an effort, it can turn into something real. I don’t know if this event will turn into real business or not, but I at least have another good connection. Hopefully at a bare minimum we can continue the type of dialogue that got us here.

Wonky

February 10, 2010

Obviously it’s been a while since my mast blog entry. Since then I’ve finished the Wake Forest Executive MBA Program, had a great holiday season with the family, and had a wild January getting fully back into the swing of things at work. In the past month, I’ve had numerous specific opportunities to apply concepts and frameworks from B-school, and I look forward to reflecting on some of those on this blog going forward.

Something fairly interesting happened today that prompted me to reboot this blog. Early in the morning, I had an issue making a call with my cell phone. After pulling the battery and while waiting for the phone restart I noticed a few tweets by other local Roanokers commenting on issues they were having with Verizon Service. I sent this tweet to share my experience. Not News.

Or was it? A short time later I got a couple emails and IMs from friends pointing me to this story on Roanoke.com. My tweet made the news! I felt flattered. When I stopped to think about the whole thing for a minute, I realized that there are a few interesting dynamics to this event.

From my perspective, I chose to post this tweet not to complain, but to validate others’ concerns that there are others experiencing problems. To me, this is one of the core benefits of social media, especially one with a locality focus. It’s a medium to test, explore, and query without making claims.

From the Roanoke Times perspective, why did they choose my tweet to quote? I suppose I managed to capture the essence of this being a widespread issue. I also think they might have liked my vocabulary choice.

Thanks UrbanDictionary.com

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this ordeal, though, has nothing to do with me or this specific event. What actually happened here is that a “mainstream” news broker essentially scoured public social media for interesting chatter, and used it directly as their primary content on a story. Did they treat this content the same as they would have treated other publicly posted content? They did not provide any links to the source tweets or to my Twitter page. They didn’t even directly list my twitter ID. Luckily @JimSchweitzer is easy to figure out. Somehow I feel that If this content would have been in a blog post, there at least would have been a link.

I’m not angry. I’m still content that someone appreciated my contribution to the local social web. I’m just wondering if this is a trend that’s happening all over. Is social media becoming a crutch for the traditional content generators in a time where news has to be lightning fast to be relevant? Putting the MBA hat on for a second, this seems to be a case where someone is failing to capture value. In this case, I think that someone is the content generator – someone like me. This system is wonky.

I noticed some interesting news this evening on TechCrunch – Twitter is working on formalizing the retweet. For the uninitiated, a retweet is a rebroadcast of some other person’s comment or tweet on Twitter. It usually begins with “RT” followed by the username of the person who originated the comment. I would retweet if I read something interesting and I thought my followers would also find it interesting. The structure ensures attribution of the original thought and I think the whole concept is what really makes Twitter a community.

A typical "Retweet"

A typical "Retweet"

My first reaction is that the formalization would be a shame. I have always appreciated the grassroots nature of this construct. Until now, retweeting was something developed informally by the users, not a tool provided by Twitter itself. Obviously, given the 140 character limit of tweets, the mechanism had to be brief, and I think this ad-hoc system is about as efficient as it could possibly be; which is why the founders are making a change.

On second thought, I’ve warmed up to the idea. It would certainly clean up the content and make it more readable. My Facebook friends love to rag on me for my seemingly unintelligible retweets because I set my Facebook status to my last tweet. I suppose, retweets would no longer be treated like a standard tweet to API users such as the Facebook connect guys, and would be more like replies. This is a collateral impact the founders and the community should start thinking about. Twitter’s value is in the broadcast, so it would unwise to diminish this.

It’s commonly known, at least in business school circles, that the only marketing metric really worth tracking is your promoter score. Every retweet, essentially, is a positive vote of confidence and an endorsement to the originator. The local tech council, the NCTC, clearly realizes this with their “The Great Retweet” promotion for an upcoming event (which my company, Vision Point Systems will be attending). Would this campaign be as fun, effective, or interesting with the new retweet format?

If the new feature helps content creators gather these metrics, it’s worthwhile. If it weakens the effectiveness of the retweet process, it could be disasterous.

If you’re a Roanoker, you may have heard about the launch of RoanokeOutside.com. It’s been well publicized on Twitter, Facebook, and now some other media outlets such as Star City Harbinger and WSLS. Beth Doughty, Executive Director of the Roanoke Regional Partnership does a good job summarizing the site in their latest press release:

“Making the outdoors an important part of our region’s narrative starts with a comprehensive Web site that catalogues our natural resources and makes it easier for people all over the world to learn about and enjoy our region’s natural resources.”

My company, Vision Point Systems, is behind the development of this site. We have an interesting task ahead of us balancing the demand for an objective catalog of the region’s offerings with the desire to build a dynamic community of outdoor enthusiasts and casual participants. This is one of those instances where social media can seem like a buzzword. It’s tempting to decorate the page with Twitter feeds, Friendfeed streams, etc. There’s a real risk of getting too hung up on the social aspect and burying the real purpose of the site. There will be some much needed traditional web features such as a hiking trail database, links to local outfitters, events lists, and other guidance and tips. The last thing we want to happen is create a feeling of exclusivity because of a passionate core group of outdoor enthusiasts.

The great part about the process we’re going through is that we’ve launched the site as a completely temporary entity to act as a preview and feedback mechanism. We’ve got a clear deadline set for Sept 30 to get the real thing built and we’re thrilled about the buzz the site is getting so far.

The RoanokeOutside.com temporary page

The RoanokeOutside.com temporary page

I’d personally welcome feedback on this subject, but the best course of action is to take the survey on the site itself!

I voted in the Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Primary this morning. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have done that if I weren’t on Twitter/Facebook, etc. Somewhere along the way I saw a targeted add on Facebook for Terry McAuliffe, one of the Democratic Nominees, so I became a fan. I’ve always had a casual interest in politics, and make it a point to vote in November. I’ve never voted in a primary, though.

While Mr. McAuliffe’s Facebook page got the topic of the race on my mind, I don’t think I’ve visited the page since. It did bring me to search for related chatter on Twitter though, soon I was following him and the two other candidates, Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran, as well as a host of regional pundits such as FakeVirginia and VAGovernor. For the candidates, it was great to see the personalities come through. For the pundits, I didn’t always agree, but it’s a great forum for discussion.

There’s been much discussion about social media in the Obama Campaign. My cohort, Brian Gracely, wrote about it for a marketing class in the Spring. I know in my case, that whole campaign did nothing to change my mind one way or another. (Perhaps I wasn’t the target).  The use of Twitter in this context – a lower level election – is intriguing. I think this is the real effect Social Media can have on an election – personality connection and real-time interactive feedback. The presidential election is too grand to notice any real impact of these new tools. It seems obvious that this will be a trend going forward. I think there’s an interesting distinction to be made for the scale of the election.

People always ask me what the point of Twitter is. I think this is one concrete example I can give in the future. It only works if people participate, however.