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Swarm App by Foursquare Transforms Mobile Users into Influencers


In May 2014, Foursquare released Swarm, an app that allows users to check into locations and follow their friends' activities.

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It should be. In fact, most initial reactions to the release of Swarm were that of frustration as users realized the app's functions mirrored those of the original Foursquare many had grown to love. Yet, according to International Business Insider, Foursquare's split made sense because only one in twenty consumers were using the original app for both check-ins and search. Consequently, Swarm became the product of an app unbundling process by Foursquare, similar to how Facebook unbundled its mobile into single platforms such as Messenger and Groups. So, while Foursquare focused on developing one main service: personalized, local search, Swarm became the place to check-in and follow your friends.

So, we ask ourselves, why is Swarm ranked 174th in the App Store and why are people angry about it looking exactly like the original Foursquare?

I believe that the primary reason why the app is not as popular as one would expect is that there simply is a lack of knowledge about Swarm and Foursquare's “app unbundling” process.

Let's start with Swarm’s uses:

  • Check in to earn prizes and compete with friends to see who's having the best week on the leaderboard
  • Try to earn the Mayor title at your favorite spots by checking in every time you visit
  • Keep track of where you've been and who've you hung out with
  • See who's hanging out nearby
  • Send a message to your friends to make plans to meet up

Sounds fun, right? To echo the Swarm's description in the App Store, "Swarm turns every day into a game!" So even when you are eating your usual meal at your favorite local restaurant, you don't feel an overwhelming sense of ordinariness. With Swarm, you’re playing a game and, "the usual," with its feelings of stillness and bore, suddenly becomes spontaneous and full of life. To a Millennial generation of mobile users who have been described as apathetic in the past - but who have learned that emotions are the future of technology - Swarm redefines social media as a way of living, where emotions are generated through movement and gamification, instead of just being expressed or represented.

I spoke with one of Foursquare's marketing interns about why she loves Swarm. Here's what she had to say:

I like Swarm because it's fun to keep a record of the places I visit, and because I love to see where my friends are and have been. It's especially awesome when you check in somewhere and see that your friend is at a venue nearby. With Swarm, you can actually arrange a run-in with them.

Hearing this, I understood her point. And then, as though reading our mind, she added:

And of course I love it because it keeps a record of the places I've been to in my Foursquare app, as well, so that I won't forget to rate places or leave tips. I can also use Swarm to share my experience with the Foursquare community.

What I got from this explanation is that yes, Swarm is an unpopular stand-alone app, but it was specifically made to complement your Foursquare experience, not be its own thing. When you check in on Swarm, Foursquare reminds you to rate the place you visited and provide a tip. And because it is the primary means through which you check in, Swarm enhances networking among Foursquare's community of users.

However, the two diverge as a result of gamification, the main difference between Swarm and the original Foursquare. Furthermore, as Swarm users collects coins, stickers, prizes and Mayorships (previously a Foursquare feature), the more they start to represent actual capital, and in an even stranger way, the establishments they visit. So, as much as Swarm generates fun and games, winners and losers, leaders and followers, the app actually extracts value from a user's consumer experience instead of simply identifying a user’s desired location as Foursquare does with its personalized searches. 

This reading of Swarm's user experience adds a branding aspect to Swarm that Foursquare lacks, where users actually become live, branded social content that people consume. In other words, Swarm is a marketing haven because it exposes users to previously unknown businesses by allowing them to create and follow a network of friends. In this way, each user is an influencer. I would go so far as to conjecture that the app's gamifying features (i.e. the leaderboard) actually drive sales and increase customer conversion rates because it makes the user want to check in and reap their rewards. Thus, in reaching previously untapped audiences, small businesses without developed social strategies could benefit from Swarm's potential for user-generated content marketing the most.

What I’ve learned is that the Foursquare/Swarm split wasn't just an app unbundling process, but a strategic redistribution (followed by an enhancement) of services that became exclusive to Swarm, yet continued to supplement Foursquare. All the while, Swarm was built to visually resemble the original Foursquare app, while being successful enough as a stand-alone app. And this is ultimately why Swarm is unpopular, because it's seen as Foursquare's past self, ugly sibling or fierce competitor; when in reality it's Foursquare's gamifying descendent, doing what its role model should have done for users and businesses from the start (and doing it really well), even if mobile users don’t see what I see quite yet…

This post was written by current Renegade intern Sam Oriach. You can follow him on Twitter @samoriach.

A Former Girl Scout and Current Narcissist on Social Media Badges


Maybe it’s leftover from my days as teacher’s pet or my short stint as a Girl Scout, or perhaps it’s just a human need for positive reinforcement, but social media badges thrill me. I checked into a coffee shop on Foursquare on my way to work this morning and my phone dinged to tell me something new and exciting happened. A well designed, merit badge-type icon appeared, “Look at you, Juan Valdez! That’s an impressive 30 cups of coffee. Now that you’ve had your caffeine fix, get out there and conquer the day – one twitchy step at a time.” With witty text and the satisfaction of having earned something, I felt rewarded for getting my morning coffee. Foursquare, a social media check-in app and website, has gained popularity by “game-ifying” everyday activities. Foursquare also has started to partner with brands like Starbucks so that when a customer checks in they are rewarded with a badge and occasionally other perks like free items or discounts for their loyalty. While offering coupons or discounts to repeat customers may seem predictable, badges are changing how people connect with brands and products while attracting consumer attention and engagement in a saturated advertising environment.

Do you remember when you were given stickers or prizes for reading in grade school? Well, Google News has taken its cue from this old teacher trick and made reading news interactive and even competitive. Google users can earn badges (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Ultimate) based on how many articles they read on a specific topic and then display them on their Google+ profile.  The badges add a competitive edge to an otherwise typical daily activity and encourage readers to puff out their intellectual chests and declare, “Look how well-read I am! See – I have an award to prove it!” Readers vying for virtual bragging rights may then visit Google News more frequently and continue to share what they read on the site.

Speaking of school, education is also getting a bit of a facelift from social media badges. A young start-up called Skillshare empowers people to teach classes on topics on which they are knowledgeable and take classes from others. Classes range from fun (“How to Make Scones”) to more serious (“Learn Microsoft Excel”). Recently, Skillshare revamped its site to include badges that highlight users’ expertise and learning interests. All users' profiles are adorned with the badges and then enhanced with the details of their class attendance or hours taught. By browsing profiles you can easily see who may be a cooking master or a novice from the number of hours they have from teaching or attending culinary classes. Or you can sniff out who is just a Skillshare lurker, with no hours in classes in any capacity.

As an unabashed narcissist, social media badges indulge my desire for reward and praise while also letting me flaunt my achievements and brag about them with status updates and new tweets. Businesses should take a page from these social media badge forerunners because badges give you the best of the social media world - starting conversations and connecting with otherwise elusive groups while driving the conversation back to you.

What else could social media badges do for us? How do you think social media could take advantage of competition and vanity for innovation? 

- Kristi Murphy

Foursquare Flail


describe the imageIn 2009, Twitter became the talk of the town.  The next year, daily deal sites like Groupon and Living Social kept the social media community on its toes. As 2011 approached, Geosocial applications like Foursquare and Gowalla looked as though they would become the newest communications craze. Even Facebook prepared for such a possibility by adding a Places feature to its networking options.

But as the third quarter winds down, the year no longer seems ripe for a check-in revolution. A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that while 28 percent of cell phone owners use location-based services for directions and recommendations, but only 5 percent are checking in.  When looking specifically at smartphone owners, the former figure jumps to 55 percent while the latter only increases to 12. 

If Facebook were an oracle hinting at Foursquare and Gowalla’s potential growth, perhaps it is also a harbinger of their decline.  Just two weeks ago the social networking giant dispatched Places in favor of more versatile (and less stalker-like) location functions. 

The failure of geosocial services to find traction could be attributed to a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is privacy.  While some critics might site safety concerns, others simply do not want to broadcast their location across the various networks.  Although check-in applications didn’t become this year’s social media darling, such services could always make a late-game resurgence.  After all, it took Facebook six years to turn a positive cash-flow.

 — Nicole Duncan  

On foursquare



I am a self-professed former foursquare skeptic. Check in to places so people can better stalk me? No thanks.

Times, however, have changed.

A quick look at my foursquare profile reveals I have over 100 check-ins, 18 badges and a mayorship. Not the most avid user, but I open the foursquare app to check-in pretty much on a daily basis.

I changed my stance on foursquare for the following reasons: specials, a reminder of cool places I’ve gone, and badges.


Check in somewhere on foursquare and receive free things? Sold.

It’s a great marketing platform. I check-in and spread word about an establishment to my social network and in return I get a free mini cupcake or 20% off my bill. The MLB Fan Cave in New York is actually running a promotion with Showtime’s documentary about the San Francisco Giants (called “The Franchise”) where people who check-in get a free baseball. No gimmicks. Check mine out:

 foursquare Showtime baseball

 Foursquare has also recently partnered with Groupon and now shows Groupon’s daily deals via the foursquare app. You can read more about this collaboration here.

Places I’ve gone:

I don’t keep a journal. I should, but I just can’t seem to consistently write about my days and events. In fact, my memory isn’t always the greatest and I often forget some of the great places I have been to. Foursquare is not my journal, but it is nice to be able to see where I have checked-in in the past. A glance at my profile lists places like Coney Island and the NHL store in New York.


The badges on foursquare don’t give any sort of physical reward. They are simply colorful icons that go on the foursquare profile. Yet, I find myself drawn to earning badges such as Fresh Brew, awarded upon checking into 30 coffee shops. It’s petty, sure, but it’s fun and keeps some foursquare users coming back.

 -- Niko DeMordaunt

The Social Influence Score



This week, Klout announced that the location based application Foursquare would now factor into their scores. Klout, the “Standard for Influence”, measures a user’s online influence based on connections and activity across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Foursquare is a growing social network, and they recently made a deal with American Express to reward card holders when they check-in. Corporate partnerships aren’t the only measure of progress for Foursquare, however, as they just reached 10 million users, raised an additional $50 million, and implemented a new daily deals feature into their application.

It seems natural for Klout to include this network as a measurement of influence. The only problem: they have not figured out how. Accurately measuring the ripple effect of the check-in system and other features of the application are not easy to implement into the algorithm. Still, the company believes they will have a tested and perfected algorithm within the next few weeks. Klout has made it very clear that the inclusion of this network into scores is completely voluntary. Only when a user has added their Foursquare account to their Klout profile will any information be collected.

Foursquare integration is most likely the first of many networks to be included in the Klout algorithm. With the growth of social networks on the web, Klout should stay busy integrating the next big thing into their system.

-Laura Burns

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