Checking In Or Checking Out? Predicting The Future Of The Check-In Industry

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When was the last time you had a friend check in somewhere on one of the social media location-based properties?  No, really.  Can you remember the last time?  I have about 160 friends on Facebook, a little over the average of 130, and I maybe have had 1 or 2 friends in the last month check in somewhere.  Even the few friends that I do have on Foursquare, few are still checking in.  This is bad news for Foursquare and all of their competitors, especially given how hot checking-in was only 12 months ago.

But what’s going to happen to these companies?  And where is the industry headed (besides off a cliff)?  To help answer that, I tapped the collective wisdom off the staff at Anvil Media and our sister company, Formic Media to help predict where the check-in industry is headed over the next couple years.

Prediction 1: The check-in bubble will burst

Universal consensus between the two agencies was that there are too many players and too small of a market.  Here’s a partial list of current check-in services: Foursquare, Gowalla, brightkite, loopt, Yelp, where, Booyah, Facebook Places, Google Places.  There’s simply not enough demand for check-in services to justify this many players with nearly identical features.  A few of these companies will survive and be acquired by either Google or Facebook who will incorporate some of their features, but many will simply disappear into that Pets.com oblivion all too common in Silicon Valley.

Prediction 2: Coupons and Deals will become the reason to check-in

Badges are stupid.  There, I said it.  It might have been cool at first to earn badges by checking in to show off to your friends, but only in the way that POGs were cool 20 years ago (aka not cool).  Not surprisingly, people have learned that earning badges doesn’t get them much for their time.  Sure, there are some coupons available now, but the only way check-in services are going to survive is if they offer people something for their time while sharing that deal with their friends (think the power of Groupon, with the reach of Facebook Places).

Prediction 3: Data aggregation

Once the field shrinks to Google and Facebook, aggregating check-in data across existing offering will be crucial.  For example, search for “Portland pizza” and get not only the standard Google Places info on nearby pizza joints, but which of your friends have checked in at nearby pizza places in the last month.  This aggregated data would be incredibly powerful social affirmation that the restaurant you want to go to dinner at is popular with your friends and others in your local area.  Google Places already does some of this data aggregation, combining reviews from TripAdvisor, Yelp, and others, so it’s not hard to see how they could incorporate check-ins as well.

Bottom line: the industry is overheated

The economic recovery has started to take hold, but the writing is on the wall for check-in companies.  My advice to them: start getting your business pitches ready for Google and Facebook.

Think I’m wrong?  Where do you see the industry headed?

About the Author

Ben Leftwich is an Account Executive with Anvil Media, Inc., a leading search engine marketing company. Ben helps Anvil’s clients increase ROI through social media marketing, PPC management, and search engine optimization.

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