Under Starry Skies Above … Do Geo-Fence Me In!

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It hasn’t taken long for developers to start to think about ways to use the marketing possibilities opened up by social apps becoming available on smartphones. One of the features capable of changing the marketing landscape is “geofencing,” a concept that has been around for some time, but really needed the iPhone’s 4.0 iOS to allow it to become feasible for developers to dig their teeth into. As ReadWriteWeb describes it, “Geofencing, or a geofence, is exactly what its name implies – a virtually fenced-off geographic location. When this concept is applied to mobile phones, it refers to a device’s ability to receive automatic alerts or notifications when entering, leaving or moving within a specific geographic area.”

This combination of technological advances means that the fenced-in area can be tracked and maintained without quickly draining the smartphone’s battery, and the multitasking ability of 4.0 means that geofencing can be operating in the background while other apps are being used at the same time. As one might imagine, the possibilities for social networking applications are extensive. Check ins at locations such as restaurants using FourSquare may be accomplished automatically as you enter the defined perimeter, so you no longer forget and miss out on points and value-added items that reward you for taking part in on-location social media. It may even become possible to check to see if your friends are still in the area or if you are so late in dropping by for that drink that they’ve moved on to the next spot in their plans for the evening. Your favorite restaurant could see that you’ve entered the defined area and send you notice of the day’s drink special or appetizer. Press a button or two and your order will be waiting for you when you slide into your chairs at the restaurant five minutes later. More routine, practical applications are likely to become very popular — things such as turning on house lights or a computer inside your home office when your smartphone senses that you are within 100 meters of your garage door.

As with so many things associated with social media, privacy is a large issue. On the one hand, we all want to feel special and be singled out for rewards, but do we really want any business to be able to intrude upon our evening stroll to congratulate us for becoming the mayor of our local Starbucks as we cross into the geofenced area? And what if we’re trying to avoid a specific person from our usual crowd of friends just now? Our social lives tend to be very complex as we mix together business and non-business social obligations and activities, but if we are being tracked through our smartphones, any gaffs we may make could become more public than in days past. We will all need to carefully craft the web of people to whom we want to give full access to all details of our activities, those we wish to only have limited access, and those we want to exclude totally.

For businesses, on the other hand, the addition of location-based tracking is a gold mine. Data gathered that indicates how long people have spent in a given business, traffic flow patterns through a Saturday evening, what type of coupons work best with those people already close to your business versus those who aren’t anywhere nearby — any and all of this kind of data can be extremely useful. On a practical level, restaurants may be better able to foretell the beginning of the lunch rush or dinner rush and plan staffing accordingly. Dessert bars will know when the optimal time is for restocking versus when they will be over-run with those seeking a sugar fix. It will be easier to track items like coupons for a special item or product, with very specific details on when and where the coupon was used. Tracking of advertising campaigns can move from the online to the offline instantaneously. Feedback can be gathered before patrons leave the area and problem/complaints can be dealt with immediately.

Geofencing has a lot of positive applications for consumers and businesses both. Balancing the pluses with the desire for privacy is a part of any component of one’s social networking endeavors, and will be a large part of the adjustments that we all will ultimately make in the decisions of how much involvement in our personal life we want to allow the technology in our life to have.

About the Author

Frances Krug has worked in market research since graduating from UCLA with an MA and CPhil in Latin American history. As an editor and online content provider for the last 7 years, she currently is Associate Editor at iNET Interactive, where she also directs Search Marketing Standard's email marketing program.

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  1. OnSpot is a form of marketing that ties your physical location to your potential customers while they are nearby or in your location. OnSpot unlocks special promotions and coupons and delivers them to the user's smartphone.