Should Marketers Check In To Location-Based Social Networks?

Location-based social networks (LBSNs) have been all over the media lately. Foursquare hit 2 million users. Twitter launched, revamped, and re-launched Places. CNNMoney partnered with Gowalla around its popular annual “100 Best Places to Live” list.  There’s even a social experiment — PleaseRobMe — that was started in response to the hype around this new social sharing technology.   So it’s no surprise that we’ve been getting a lot more questions from marketers lately about these services.  Marketers want to know who’s using these services, how often they’re using them, what they’re using them for, how marketers can get involved, and whether they should.

We dug into our research to try to answer these questions, and at a high level what we found is that just 1% of US online adults are using LBSNs weekly, while 4% of them have tried them at least once.  The sample size of this 1% of adults who use LBSNs regularly is small, so our findings on their behaviors are directional only, but our research shows that these users are typically young, male, well-educated, and influential.  In fact, LBSN users are 38% more likely than the average US online adult to say that friends and family ask their opinions before making a purchase decision. 

Given the directional breakdown of the users, it’s not surprising that marketers who are already dabbling with these services are those that often experiment with new technologies as a way to stay current and to reach key portions of their consumers.  But is it time for other marketers to start jumping on this bandwagon?  We don’t think so.  Though many LBSNs are gathering steam, the landscape is fragmented and the programs can’t scale just yet. But with large companies preparing to enter the market (I’m looking at you Facebook and Yahoo!), the time for marketers to get involved is coming.

For more details about users of LBSNs and our predictions and recommendations about the technologies and marketing opportunities, please see our just-published document, “Location-Based Social Networks: A Hint Of Mobile Engagement Emerges.”

In the meantime, tell us: Are you experimenting with these services yet?  And if so, what kind of results are you seeing?  If not, what kind of usership — or other important benchmarks — will you need to see before you put some brainpower and dollars behind LBSN marketing?