A year ago, the future of the location-based social network Foursquare was uncertain. It was not due to any missteps on its part. Rather, it was the announcement that Facebook was launching a location-based feature known as Facebook Places. The dominant player in social networking was moving into the check-in space? With a miniscule number of users compared to Facebook, the question that loomed was how could Foursquare possibly compete?
Fast forward one year- Foursquare appears to have survived the Facebook threat. Facebook announced this week that Places will no longer be a stand-alone feature on mobile devices. Places never got traction among users. My personal experience was that it rarely worked on my smartphone. Technical glitches notwithstanding, my inclination to check-in is to use Foursquare instead of Facebook. Although my network is significantly larger on Facebook, in my mind Foursquare is the brand for location-based social networking.
Why did Facebook Places not crush Foursquare? And, why is Facebook Deals, a social coupon service, not causing executives at Groupon to lose sleep? The answer to both questions is that while Facebook is ubiquitous and a valuable tool for keeping us connected with other people it cannot be all things to all people. It is another example of a classic branding mistake that experts like Al Ries often lament. As a brand grows, it is natural to seek growth opportunities. But, as brand extensions inch further away from the core offering consumers are not as accepting of the brand’s capabilities. Google has experienced a similar fate as many of its brand extensions have met with less than resounding success.
The Facebook Flaw is not unique; it is same song, another verse of the perils of brand extension. Define what is great about your brand and be the absolute best- differentiate and dominate. But, avoid the temptation to think that your greatness will transfer to products that may be beyond the core of what attracts customers to you in the first place.
Have a great weekend! I’m off to a full day of meetings, but first I am going to check-in… on Foursquare, of course.