Posts Tagged ‘Foursquare’

In order to survive in the modern era, companies must grasp a strong understanding of psychology, or at least of the type of pseudo-psychology that Edward Bernays, immortalized as the father of PR, made widely available to marketers and advertisers. Bernays was an Austrian American who wove the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, and ultimately asked, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Historically companies have leveraged a number of psychological devices and theories to generate desire within their target demographics and audiences in order to sell more. Advertising seeks to simultaneously engender strong positive feelings about a product or company while simultaneously leaving the audience feeling emptier for not owning the advertised product. The ability to pull this off is intensely powerful, and yet not as powerful as the ability to affect this reaction within the target demographic, autonomously, spontaneously.

This is the accomplishment of the new realm of mobile technologies and apps such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. In effect, their breakthrough in psycho-marketing is the ability to make their product habit-forming, even addictive. On Merriam Webster addiction is defined as: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (or we could say product) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. Addiction is the new marketing goal precisely because its inherently dangerous, cyclical nature is exactly what embodies both the need and the fulfillment- all encapsulated in one.

Compulsion and habit are the key words here. Marketers and advertisers drool when they see those words, because they are truly the Holy Grail of advertising. If they can create a condition in their target audience where the deprivation of the product creates a state near-pain for the user/consumer, they are guaranteed a captive customer, possibly for life.

This is precisely what Nir Eyal describes in his TechCrunch article, “The Billion Dollar Mind Trick.”  Eyal outlines a couple of critical concepts; namely “internal triggers” and “desire engines,”

“When a product is able to become tightly coupled with a thought, an emotion, or a pre-existing habit, it creates an ‘internal trigger.’ Unlike external triggers, which are sensory stimuli, like a phone ringing or an ad online telling us to “click here now!” you can’t see, touch, or hear an internal trigger. Internal triggers manifest automatically in the mind and creating them is the brass ring of consumer technology.”

As Eyal points out, “We check Twitter when we feel boredom. We pull up Facebook when we’re lonesome. The impulse to use these services is cued by emotions.” He enumerates the current approach to create internal triggers, labeling it the manufacturing of desires.”

  • “Addictive technology creates “internal triggers” which cue users without the need for marketing, messaging or any other external stimuli.  It becomes a user’s own intrinsic desire.”
  • Creating internal triggers comes from mastering the “desire engine” and its four components: trigger, action, variable reward, and commitment.”

The “desire engine” Eyal refers to is merely a phrase that describes the pre-determined “series of experiences designed to create habits…the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger.” All of this is to say that, increasingly, and especially when it comes to mobile consumer technologies and apps, companies increasingly find that their economic and social value is a function of the strength of the habits they create within their user/customer base.

Interesting, yes, but perhaps not entirely new. Michel Foucault (yes, I know I talk about him a lot here, but his work is endlessly relevant to the types of communications discussions we constantly engage in nowadays) discussed this same concept in his investigation of the concept of “technologies of the self,” whereby his objective was:

 “to sketch out a history of the different ways in our culture that humans develop knowledge about themselves: economics, biology, psychiatry, medicine, and penology. The main point is not to accept this knowledge at face value but to analyze these so-called sciences as very specific ‘truth games’ related to specific techniques that human beings use to understand themselves.” (

Yet the concept dates back to the Greeks, “constituted in Greek as epimelesthai sautou, ‘to take care of yourself’ ‘the concern with self,’ ‘to be concerned, to take care of yourself.’

Foucault posited that there were four main “technologies:”

“(I) technologies of production, (2) technologies of sign systems, (3) technologies of power, and (4) technologies of the self” (

Clearly in this case what we’re focusing on is the technology of the self, “which permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality.” (

You would be hard-pressed to convince me that the bulk of apps available to us all on our mobile devices these days are not, in some way, designed to fulfill some narcissistic desire to know ourselves better. Whether it’s for fitness (calorie counters, pedometers, diet analyses, jogging analyses) or for social edification (how many people who you know are around you, how many “friends” do you have [Facebook], what are you doing right now [Twitter], how often do you visit a place [FourSquare or Yelp]) many of these tools are intended to display a mirror image of ourselves and project it onto a social web and out to others. (Hell, iPhones now include a standard photo feature that allows you to use the phone as a literal mirror by using the front-end camera as you stare into it.) But they are also intended to help us transform ourselves and make ourselves happier by making us skinnier, healthier, more social, more aware, more productive, etc.

The importance of this is that we have been fooled into thinking we are using these apps to learn more about ourselves, but the social sharing functionality proves that this is performative- we wouldn’t be doing it repeatedly unless there was a performance aspect built-in, an audience waiting to view and comment on the information, providing continuous gratification. In other words, learning more about ourselves, then amplifying that knowledge out to an audience has become habit-forming. We have become addicted to the performance of ourselves.

 “These four types of technologies hardly ever function separately, although each one of them is associated with a certain type of domination. Each implies certain modes of training and modification of individuals, not only in the obvious sense of acquiring certain skills but also in the sense of acquiring certain attitudes.” (

In this case, though Foucault was often very careful in his diction and a master of semiotics, what if we replace the word “attitudes” with “habits?” After all, Foucault is referring to these technologies of self as dominating, as techniques which train and modify individuals, and a habit formed is demonstrably a tangible and acquired modification of human behavior. Later he continues to elaborate and speaks of “individual domination,”

”I am more and more interested in the interaction between oneself and others and in the technologies of individual domination, the history of how an individual acts upon himself, in the technology of self.”

I know quite a few people who would willingly and openly admit to the individual act of domination upon themselves that they perform on a compulsive basis by updating their Twitter feeds, updating the status on their Facebook accounts, uploading their latest photos to Instagram, and checking in on FourSquare. There is a reason that Googling “Is technology the new opiate of the masses?” garners page upon page of thoughtfully written and panicky editorials and blog posts. This is a newly acknowledged and little resisted truth of our times- we are willing slaves to the ongoing performance of our selves.


October 08, 2010-

MTV and Foursquare are being recognized by Mashable as one of the most creative social media campaigns of 2010 for their efforts on the first-ever cause-related badge: GYT. In September of this year, FourSquare and MTV partnered to launch the GYT campaign, which stands for “Get Yourself Tested.”

The campaign seeks to promote STD testing among young adults by offering them the GYT badge of courage for checking in at an STD clinic. As reported on Mashable, “The Foursquare partnership encourages people to follow MTV on Foursquare, check in after getting tested and shout “GYT” to their followers. After doing so, users will earn the GYT badge, and thereby make it known that they’re taking control of their sex lives. Those who score the badge will also be entered to win a trip for two to New York City, as well as backstage passes to MTV’s 10 on Top.”

Despite the offer of a trip and backstage passes, one would think that the still-widespread cultural stigmatization associated with STD testing would keep users away from this campaign. Yet the campaign has achieved a solid amount of success, with more than 3,000 GYT badges awarded since the campaign was launched a few weeks ago.

The campaign is most definitely a vital first, and a great example of how geo-location technologies may help non-profit organizations all over the world to mobilize and support positive causes. It remains to be seen how many non-profits are able to capitalize on the success of this particular campaign, and use location-aware technologies to aid in the struggle to promote their own causes.

July 22, 2010:

The news recently broke that Foursquare is forming agreements to start charging search engines such as Google and Bing for their geographic location data. Instantly various news sources launched stories seeking to satisfy user curiosities by positing what these information transactions might lead to in the future. Among the many educated guesses were enhanced real-time search, social mapping, and more strongly developed mobile search. I would add one more: more strongly targeted traditional advertising and marketing media.

Internet analysts and emerging media connoisseurs may write disproportionately more about innovative new technologies, but if you ask the advertising and marketing executives of the world if they have abandoned traditional media as part of their integrated campaigns, the answer would be a resounding “no.” The data that Foursquare will provide is a solid reinforcement of retaining those traditional marketing strategies. What we physically see and interact with outside of the realm of our computer and television screens still matters.

Still, it might surprise most people to learn that the data they generate by using Foursquare’s geo-location technology will be used to determine what shows up on their local billboards. Yes, you heard right– billboard. Even if, admittedly, these days that billboard might be digital and therefore closer to a television than the enormous printed posters the term still conjures.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Geo-location data brings the internet back to the earth by collecting information on where you were when you saw what. With apps like Foursquare, suddenly it’s not who you are, but where you are and when that matters most again. That means that physical advertising efforts such as billboards can be even better data-driven and targeted to the interests of local populations.

How do you feel about these types of emerging social media and GPS-oriented advertising ventures that will know where you go, where you shop, and where you eat? Do you think of this type of geographically-targeted advertising as convenience, or as an invasion of privacy?

(This post can also be found on here: It was originally posted October 20, 2010)

Although the coffee giant has been offering free Wi-Fi in the majority of its U.S. retail locations since July 1st, a new exclusive content network called the Starbucks Digital Network (“SDN”) launches October 20th in more than 6,800 of its U.S. operated stores.  The new content network will be specifically curated by the company and is being launched to enhance the customer’s in-store experience on what some might call a fourth dimension- the Web.

“The vision,” Starbucks’s Vice President of Digital Ventures Adam Brotman told Mashable, “is for Starbucks Digital Network to be a digital version of the community cork board that’s in all of our stores.” The move is a strategic one, despite the financial free-wheeling philosophy it seems to represent.

Starbucks has struggled publicly in the last few years with its big-brand, corporate generic image and how to compete with much-loved “mom and pop” coffee stores in big cities. The initial backlash was palpable, but with CEO Howard Schultz back at the helm, Starbucks is now trying to improve its public dedication to the local communities it moves into, and to incorporate many of the elements that make the neighborhood coffee joint a favorite for locals.

Because Starbucks relies so heavily on the in-store experience, the company is attempting to enhance the “third space” look and feel of the retail locations while also providing a stellar “fourth dimension” experience online.

As part of its extensive content network, SDN will offer access to news sites such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today, but will also offer additional content channels such as “entertainment, wellness, business and careers, my neighborhood and the customer-personalized Starbucks.” The incorporation of the “my neighborhood” content channel is a pillar in the giant’s strategy to compete with the local feel of smaller community-based coffee shops.

As Brotman told Mashable, SDN “delivers on this objective by serving up content to users based on the exact whereabouts of the store where the user is accessing the free Wi-Fi. Community fare includes local news from Patch and a look at nearby classroom projects that could benefit from small contributions. Foursquare users can check in via the web from Starbucks stores, and Zagat makes available full ratings for restaurants in the surrounding area for free.”

But when is too much, just, too much content? Reportedly, Starbucks will be tracking user activity via web analytics to get a sense of what users respond to. From there they plan to taper the content network and its offerings based on usage research what is most popular.

From the research the company has already gathered based on its free Wi-Fi offerings since July 1st they now know, according to Brotman, that “more than 50% of users logging on to the free Wi-Fi are doing so from mobile devices, so the company was motivated by usage behaviors to build a mobile web experience just as good, if not better than, the standard web experience.”

As a boon for what many regard lately as a foundering hi-tech company, Yahoo is the coffee retailer’s technology partner for the SDN, having developed the site, hosting the SDN, powering search and also providing content. Yet Starbucks is not exactly following a hi-tech profitability model. The coffee behemoth is not charging its content partners for placement on the network, and no financial transactions are taking place unless SDN users make purchases.

Yet as traditional tells us, location is everything. As emerging technologies and social media allow consumers to make more educated, location-based purchasing decisions, perhaps this is Starbucks’ and Yahoo’s way of embedding themselves in communities via an increasingly location-based technology market. As Brotman said, “We’re really excited about the fact that we can leverage the location-based nature of the site to connect our customers with the communities around the stores,” he says.