location-based social media, presentations

Geosocial Apps and Missed Opportunities

3 Comments 02 May 2012

Image courtesy of rgtmum, Creative Commons license

I’ve often been struck by the idea that geosocial (geolocation) applications are an incredible opportunity for organizational engagement…waiting to happen. The sharp smartphone adoption curve, the increasing cultural acceptance of online location sharing, and abundance of geosocial apps creates a ripe environment for community-building. This year’s SXSW geosocial apps take geolocation to the next (somewhat creepy) level of hyper-local; the apps will notify you of friends within a specified distance of you.  (No more ducking into the aisle at the grocery story to avoid your neighbor.)

To be clear about language, when I write “geosocial” or “geolocation,” I am talking about those mobile applications that are tied to being at or near a place. The usually allow you to “check in” and notify other friends also using the application that you have visited. They may have lists to of places to view, suggested nearby places, or personalized suggestions. They usually integrate photo, Twitter, Facebook, and social network friends into the application. They offer the ability to add reviews and opinions about the location, its products or services, staff, etc. Yelp, Foursquare, SCVNGR, Foodspotting, MyTown, and the former Facebook Places are examples of these mobile applications.

According to geolocal mobile research, people check in primarily to receive coupons or discounts, and secondarily to meet friends, it’s the third reason that is the missed opportunity. The third most-popular reason people use a geosocial app to check in is to promote a location.

Close to 30% of the people who check in do so because they love the business.

This seems pretty like huge opportunity to deepen engagement, and I see two huge missed opportunities:

1. Create a community leveraging the application

Nonprofits generally offer specials, rewards, and tips on geosocial mobile application sites. However, that’s just the first step. The second step is more challenging: how can a nonprofit transform its geosocial presence into a community-building presence? If you manage a geosocial location, you know who has visited because you can see it on the back-end. Why not invite visitors into your other community spaces? Send them a Tweet or leave a tip within your own space to visit the other online community spaces. If your location is really active with check-ins and tips (a museum, or historical attraction for example), then respond to each review or comment, or leave the periodic tip thanking super supporters on Foursquare.

Acting as a person on geosocial applications (e.g. The Junior League) offers an opportunity to build community.  Begin to follow folks who have checked into your location, and comment on their check-ins around town. Susan Chavez of The Junior League says that The Junior League has used Foursquare to meet volunteers at conferences. Meeting your fans offline is a great way to solidify the love.

You can also create events on Yelp and Foursquare. Project Bread in Boston runs a yearly 20-mile Walk for Hunger, which is also listed as a Yelp Event. Stakeholders who not only donated time and raised money for the event also left a review. These are true superfans. Create an event, find out who those diehard fans are, and bring them into next year’s online planning group for the event.

2. Harness the love into an action that speaks to your mission

What if you used a geosocial app to meet your mission? All it takes is a bit of creativity and willingness to experiment. I know of two nonprofit organizations that leveraged geosocial to meet mission: one for advocacy and another to raise funds . Big Love Little Heart’s 100×100 campaign in 2010 asked its offline and online community to leave advocacy tips on the 100th day of the year and support a legislative bill. EarthJustice also leveraged Foursquare in a 2010 ad campaign. They posted ads at many San Francisco BART stations urging people to check-in in order to leverage a $10 donation per check-in to stop unsafe oil drilling practices. Urban Ministries of Durham launched a Foursquare campaign to raise awareness about urban homelessness by creating Foursquare locations of homeless urban venues.

It seems to me that using geosocial mobile apps for awareness itself doesn’t meet mission. Creating community and relationships, and moving stakeholders to action does.

With geosocial, half the battle is won already because stakeholders find YOU. Take it to the next level and don’t miss another opportunity to create community and deepen relationships.


Last week, I discussed the intersection of mobile, geosocial apps, and the new customer relationship at a workshop for the Center for Women in Enterprise on location-based marketing and geosocial apps. The presentation outlines trends in smartphone adoption, who is using location-based services and why, the decline in geolocation check-ins, what shoppers are doing with their smartphones, and the future of geosocial. The last five slides include questions to lead your thinking about developing your own geosocial mobile strategy. I’ve embedded the presentation below.



  • Thanks for the mention, Debra. To be clear, our conference use of Foursquare was an informal experiment to see if we could have the same or similar results as we had for a past conference tweetup. And just like our use of Twitter hashtags for events, both online and offline, we know it’s going to take some time to get our volunteers accustomed to geosocial.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks for letting us know. I love that The Junior League is actually trying to create ties using geosocial – and experimenting to see what works.


  • Pingback: Geosocial Apps and Missed Opportunities | Community Management for Nonprofits | Scoop.it()


Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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