Communities Go Mobile With Real World Exploration Apps

Thanks to a new set of location-based mobile applications that have cropped up over the past year, our social interactions online are beginning to impact our real world lives in very real ways. Here’s how they work now:

  1. Users open a location-based mobile application like Whrrl, Foursquare or SCVNGR and find recommendations from other users for how to experience different places near them.
  2. Within the applications, users bookmark recommendations that they want to do.
  3. Users then use their virtual to-do lists to explore the world around them.

Here’s a use case: I’m waiting in line at the ticket booth of the San Diego Zoo. To kill time, I open my Whrrl application. I view a few recommendations from other users who have been to the zoo. One recommendation from a friend of mine says, “Get to the back of the zoo right when it opens. You’ll get to see the lions eating their breakfast.”

I think to myself, “I don’t want to miss that!” and I dog-ear that recommendation. Forty minutes later, I’m watching the lions chow down with a few other spectators who were wise enough to download Whrrl. The rest of the park is waiting for the sloth exhibit in the front of the zoo to open. I click the “I did this” button on Whrrl and my friend who made the recommendation about the lions receives a reward within Whrrl.

That reality is evolving quickly, and with it, affiliate marketing is about to change forever.

Recently, Foursquare released its “Add to Foursquare” button, which allows anyone to tag places (and eventually recommendations) into the Foursquare network from anywhere on the web. Here’s where the fun begins. Remember that old  pay-per-click model affiliate marketers used to base their income on? It’s about to be taken to the real world. Here’s how these location-based exploration apps are going to work after a couple of more years of innovation:

  1. An affiliate marketer or influencer will be given designated links to specific recommendations and will plant those links using technology like the Foursquare button.
  2. Users will add those recommendations to their virtual to-do lists, and the marketer or influencer who planted the recommendation will be compensated for the real world “click.”
  3. If a user acts on the recommendation on his/her to-do list, the marketer will be paid even more.

When this world becomes a reality, my friend who made that recommendation at the San Diego Zoo will be compensated with a real world reward (monetary or otherwise). That new incentive may be enough motivation for mass adoption of mobile applications that guide real world experiences.

This is how technology will drive real world action. This is how social influence online can translate to the real world. So what does it mean for your social community? It means that with every new innovation in location-based technology, we are closer than ever to breaking down the boundaries between online and offline experiences.

Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups are on the verge of becoming experience-based, not just interest-based. Niche social networks on Ning will provide digital incentives for real world experiences. Facebook groups will be married to verticals of exploration and activity. As community managers, we no longer need to limit our thinking to what our communities can talk about on discussion boards, chats and blogs. We can now start to strategize about enriching our community members’ lives while they aren’t sitting at their desks pounding away on their laptops.

If you haven’t tried out a location-based app like Whrrl or Foursquare, I highly recommend it. Understanding the dynamics those applications use will be key to running a successful community in the very near future.

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