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To Check In or Not to Check In

January 04 2011

checkin bell 200pxI have been using FourSquare for longer than I can remember, but I do remember listening intently to Dennis Crowley at Inman Real Estate Connect last January in New York and really getting it. It is amazing the kind of data that FourSquare is aggregating, the value that the information alone could offer marketing and advertising agencies is mind blowing. The question has often been; what is the practical application for the real estate industry, if there is one?

There are pros and cons to every technology we use, new innovations and movements are always happening. FourSquare seems to be picking up momentum, and still defining its place in our culture. I believe it is here to stay, especially as we see all the new “location” based applications and additions to existing social services.

FourSquare was not the first, and it will not be the last, but it is currently very popular. I hesitate to say the most popular (Facebook Places has certainly taken off despite some obviously rushed and poorly defined features, but that is a different column).

foursquare mpaveza122710The features of foursquare, the interaction, the opportunities seem to expand every day. One statement I found most interesting that Dennis (@dens on Twitter) made at ICNY was that he does not want individual residences listed in FourSquare. This is a business application, but I think more so, a human application.

The use for real estate can be tricky. As I mentioned there are pros and cons, so let’s make a list right now.

Pro FourSquare:

Become the Mayor of a building, neighborhood or sub-division; become the Mayor of your office, become the Mayor of a competitors office (all in good fun, please); check in at new constructions sites, lenders, title companies, attorney offices.

Con FourSquare:

People are watching you (more on that later); advertising your current location isn’t always prudent; advertising you are not home isn’t always prudent; certain check-ins should be avoided.

Pro FourSquare:

A great application of FourSquare is one that my friend Paul Zweben shared with me. Paul is a Manhattan real estate agent, many of my friends in Manhattan will have a very small geographical area they cover, perhaps just a few blocks or even buildings. Paul suggests checking-in to those buildings and becoming Mayor, as more people use FourSquare it gives you another place to be seen, and if you are a real estate agent who is the Mayor, you must really know the building. I think that is a great application. But does that translate well to my market in Wilmington, DE?

Here in the land of the subdivision, you really can’t check in to a single house, so I suggest that agents consider creating check-in points at the entrance to a community, subdivision or neighborhood. Then you are not putting an individual house on the map, but are also giving people in those areas a place to check in, perhaps keeping them from listing their own home. Personally, I would love to see FourSquare develop a real estate application for their platform, I have a few suggestions, if I can get Dennis to get back to me (call me, Dennis!).  For our offices it is obvious, a place of business and such, showing that we are professionals and checking in places applicable to the business is a great use.

Con FourSquare:

When you check in you are not home. There are a lot of people who seem to have concerns about this possibility, yet some of those same people are on Twitter (also a public channel) broadcasting their whereabouts. It really is simple, don’t check in at your home, and check in when you leave a place (other than an office, etc.). Check-ins are visible to others at a venue if they know you.

A major con for a real estate agent is the visibility. The consumer is in the social spaces and is potentially watching us, or auditioning us for a chance to be their agent, what will they think of you checking into Neiman Marcus at 1pm on a Wednesday. Does the consumer understand we work all hours of the day and night? Not necessarily, so strategic use of FourSquare is recommended. You can “hide” your check-ins, but you need to look carefully at your settings, if you hide a check-in but become the Mayor (the person who checks-in the most at a venue will become the Mayor, it gives it a game or competitive feel and entices us to go back to places) and it is set to broadcast to Twitter or Facebook, it will still broadcast to those places even when hidden. Oops, not so hidden then.

I could go on for a while with pros and cons, but I want to address another wonderful feature of FourSquare. While I was in New Orleans for NARdigras, it got to be a bit difficult at times to keep up with my friends. FourSquare was the tracking device. If I wanted to know where people were, I checked on FourSquare. I was able to catch up with friends, see if people were near by to grab coffee, who was on the expo floor or who was doing the lobbycon thing. Very useful for finding people, but also useful for information gathering. Knowing where and who people were with, seeing how late or how early they checked in somewhere. What hotel they are staying at, etc.

The hotel check-ins are risky. I don’t know if it has been fixed, but when you checkfoursquare playerpls in at a location and send the message to Twitter, it will say “with 4 Others” if you do not know the people, or list the names if you do. In the case of one friend last year at ICNY, she was in her hotel and working, and decided to check in about 1:30 in the morning. When she did it broadcasted that she had checked in with three men (all mutual friends of ours) and unlocked a badge indicating a check-in with “3 members of the opposite sex.” This was seen by her spouse and a very angry phone call was made. So to check in or not to check in, that is the question of impropriety at times.

My recommendation, as a technology for real estate agents, if used strategically, intelligently, FourSquare can be quite useful, if you tie it into your Twitter account and broadcast to it, showing you as a “busy real estate agent” will help some consumers see you as “in demand.” In the social spaces it is ALL about perception, isn’t it? So whether you check in to Neiman Marcus, Marshalls, and then your office, you don’t HAVE to check in everywhere, just the places that help define your professionalism.

As a consumer it is a great tool to find special offers at venues all over the place. As a bank, would I perhaps offer a discount on a mortgage application or appraisal to someone checking in? As a real estate office, would I offer a “Free Market Analysis” if you check in? Maybe those kinds of things would drive traffic. As a social application, FourSquare is wonderful, but for real estate, we really need a better defined and specific application.

There are some new geo-location based options coming in the near future, keep an eye out.