You know how an analyst can tell when she's hit on a hot topic?  When it generates this much conversation.

We published a report about location-based social networks (LBSNs) earlier this week, and it's spurred quite a lot of dialogue. The opinions are varied — and so much the better for it because it's lead to rigorous discussion about the users of these services and how marketers can get involved, rather than just focusing on the technologies and their (admittedly very real) cool factors. 

One of the questions I've been getting a lot over the past couple of days is — why did we decide to write about this now?  There are so many ways that an idea for a report can become a reality at Forrester, but in this case, we were responding to requests from our own clients.  During the past few months we've heard from a lot of large marketers whose budgets and resources are already fully allocated and who have concrete goals and metrics they're trying to hit.  They've seen all the press these exciting new technologies are getting, and they want to know if they'll get better results on those goals by taking some money and resources away from other planned campaigns and putting it toward LBSN initiatives.  So that's why we took a deeper look at our data — to get an idea of who is using these services now and if it would make sense to reallocate budget and people. 

Most of you who've read the full report have noticed that we're not forecasting the future of LBSNs and we don't present data that looks at the growth trajectory of these services. Instead, we looked at our data (based on a survey of 42,792 US and Canadian consumers in February and March 2010) and presented information based on current consumer behaviors.  This data shows that these services are still emerging.

In the report, we suggest some industries that would likely benefit from testing these services now.  In addition to marketers in those industries, we agree with those of you who've said that testing these programs now may be worth it if you're a marketer who:

  • has budget set aside for experimentation.
  • has resources to manage and measure the campaign.
  • is trying to reach an influential young male audience.
  • is able to test a new program without having to show huge returns.

LBSNs have enormous potential for marketers as the landscape gains focus and usership, but our data demonstrates that it may not be the right place for every marketer — at least not yet.  Our report recommended that, “bold, male-targeted marketers start testing but . . . most marketers should wait until they can get a bigger bang for their buck, when adoption rates increase and established players emerge from the fray.”  Of course, every marketer needs to watch how these services grow and transform and continue having this conversation. 

Thanks very much to everyone who's taken the time to read the report and to add their voices to the discussion.  It looks like it'll continue to be a lively one for the foreseeable future.