In today’s blog post, Allison explores a very specific subset of social media, the location based social network tools.

In order to get someone to do something–click a link, buy a product, check in on Foursquare–you have to prove that it has benefits to them. Let’s call it the “what’s in it for me?” principle. And here’s where location-based networks like Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR and all the other imitators are failing, plain and simple.

When the forerunners of the location social networking craze started, they were very much structured as games. Check in at a bar and get a “crunked!” badge! Play a scavenger hunt in the real world! See where your friends are! Even the language surrounding these networks was all about taking the digital gaming experience into the real world.

But here’s the thing: lots of people don’t have time (or don’t want) to play games in the grocery store, mall, or gas station. They want to get in, get out, and get back to doing things that are actually fun instead of pretending that these mundane tasks are fun. No, what people want is something useful that will help them get in, get out, and maybe save some money.

Ultimately, that’s why adoption rates for location services are so abysmally low, even among the plugged-in social media crowd. They don’t see what’s in it for them. They don’t want a game, they want a benefit. So stop thinking about how people can have fun with these networks, and think about what else they can do.  For example:

  • A grocery store app that takes your list and creates a map of your store, showing them the fastest way to do their shopping.
  • An app that offers me a buy one, get one free coupon when I walk past a shoe store, or a free soda at a restaurant.

Show people the benefit of location-based networking, and I guarantee it’ll catch on. Keep treating it like a game, and they’ll keep treating it like kid’s stuff.