Foursquare: what happens after hype turns to cynicism

Copenhagen: explore by Foursquare
Copenhagen: explore by Foursquare

After the initial rush of enthusiasm for a technology, product or service has subsided, brands and consumers alike can re-evaluate and adapt to use them most effectively, writes John V Willshire.

I am in Copenhagen for a three-day workshop as I write this. Given that I had never visited before, I thought I would fly out a little early to have a wander round the city. But I didn't need a guidebook, an app, or even a few sheaves of paper printed out from tourism websites. Instead, I had my friend Greg's Foursquare list...

'Foursquare?' I hear you cry incredulously, 'Surely nobody uses that any more?' Yes, it's safe to say that Foursquare has dropped into the infamous 'trough of disillusionment' on the Gartner Hype Cycle (; where once there was excitement and opportunity, there is cynicism and negativity.

The use of Foursquare has undoubtedly diminished, perhaps so much so that more people now ask 'Does anyone still use it?' every day than actually bother to check in.

Now that the hype around it has disappeared, however, we can start to see more clearly what the platform is actually good for.

Marketers have been trained to look for big, popular media properties because a big audience means lots of eyes, which means lots of advertising opportunities to tell lots of people quickly about something.

So when it launched, the potential that many brands saw in Foursquare was that it could be a service that tracked where everybody was, so they could draw them in with coupons, offers, vouchers and the like; being so close to a point of sale, it would be a sales channel, rather than a marketing one.

Nowadays many people (myself included) still find a lot of value in the platform itself as individual users. It sits quietly on your phone as a repository of places to go when you are looking for something interesting in a city you don't know, or something different in a city you do.

I wonder whether the most useful way for brands to act within the realms of Foursquare in the future will be as curators of lists and things to do.

Not the generic 'secret city guides' of which car brands are particularly fond, out of date six months after their creation, but lists that are maintained by marketing managers in each city where the company is; something small, useful, and a bit more human than standard brand stuff.

Dig around a bit more in the trough of disillusionment; you might be surprised at the nuggets of gold you will find there.

John V Willshire is the founder of Smithery, an innovation works for marketing and product development. Follow him at or on Twitter: @willsh


Some useful links, for when you plan that trip to Copenhagen...

  • Kanal Cafeen - amazing traditional Danish food, with Carlsberg Dark on tap, hidden away down by the canal past the National Museum.
  • Playtype - a 'type foundry' by design agency e-Types, which has a shop: walk in and find your favourite new font.


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