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.

Advertisements

I recently read an article in the August issue of Valley Business Front by Anne Clelland. Her article deals with the question of what to do with a “meddling” employee who frequently questions management and even goes as far as suggesting changes to the company mission statement. Anne’s advice for this situation is:

The greatest gift leaders can give their employees is to draw a clear line between employer and employee, designate who’s to do what, and do the leader’s side with authority, credibility, and consistency….and lead the company so well that the meddlers can stop worrying about whether they’re the coach or you are, and be the true team players you hired in the first place.

My thoughts immediately went in an opposite direction.

In my mind, there are two likely reasons for an employee to “meddle” – 1) They actually have good ideas and are looking to take ownership in their organization, or 2) Management really has no idea what they are doing or hasn’t clearly communicated the vision. In both cases, the meddler is really an asset. The question is how do you capitalize on it.

In the first case, the employee is an idea factory. The mutual frustration exhibited would stem from a lack of a meaningful outlet . I’m not saying any employee in any company should be allowed a seat at every board meeting, but any employee in any company of any size should have a clearly defined path of influence on their area of responsibility. There are plenty of examples in many industries of this in action – line workers suggesting better locations for tools for increased efficiency, bus boys suggesting new recipes, and so on. If the CEO’s suggestion box is full, it’s probably because the lower level managers aren’t listening to their direct reports.

The second case likely stems from a lack of company identity. Perhaps an employee suggests a new mission statement because they have no connection to the current one. Communication of the mission and vision is much more than simply repeating it in email signatures or putting it on banners. The mission needs to be real. If a manager has to “draw a line” because they are challenged, it’s because the common goal is unclear. In a case where you might be tempted to say the meddling employee simply doesn’t fit and should be removed, you must think of why that employee was hired to begin with. It probably has something to do with an ill-defined culture and corporate mission.

In today’s world, no company, from a mom and pop grocer to a mega-conglomerate, can rest on their laurels that what get them here will be what keeps them in business 2 years from now. Cycles and spin-up time for new technologies are short and getting shorter. Companies can no longer “do one thing and do it well”. The new strategy should be “do one thing, and figure out the next way to do it better before the next guy does”. One of the best chances a company has to adapt and prosper is to act on good ideas. Stifling an enthusiastic employee with an “I’m the boss” defense is akin to shooting yourself in the foot.