The Science of Check Ins



Whatever your personal opinion is on foursquare and Facebook Places, there is no doubt that there is a marketing paradise just waiting to be tapped into.  Location-based marketing is slowly emerging with the rapidly increasing popularity of these services.  While some companies have had small stints of success in this field, we have yet to see a major breakthrough in this market.  In order know how to be successful, it is important to understand how and when users “check-in” in varied locations, along with which specific service they choose to use and why.


The first location-based service to be introduced to the market and reach a height of significant popularity was without a doubt, foursquare.  Foursquare was created and introduced to the public in 2009 and it is no secret that they have gained immense popularity. In a mere two years, foursquare has registered its 10 millionth user as of June 2011.  An article from states that, “According to Foursquare, the company has seen 358 million international check-ins,” and at the high rate of 3 million check-ins per day, that number is sure to increase in time to come.



Facebook Places is the next major competitor when it comes to location services.  According to, Facebook check-ins only average out to about 750,000 per day; well behind the 3 million that foursquare currently is raking in.  However, Facebook has the sheer power of numbers as a strong aide in this fight for control.  Foursquare’s major landmark of 10 million users is simply petty when compared to Facebook’s 500 million active members.  Another plus to Facebook’s behalf is the fact that the average user has about 130 friends, whereas foursquare’s average tops out at 5-8 people.  While the impression percentage is definitely going to be higher for Facebook Places, Dennis Crowley, co-founder of foursquare, claimed that this is in fact a benefit for his company.  “That is what we want. Facebook is like everyone you have ever made eye contact with in your entire life. Foursquare is the people you see at a bar and don’t avoid.”


This brings us to the interesting topic of where people are checking in and which specific service they are using while doing it.  A quick stop at showed that Facebook Places’ top fifty check-ins in the world are primarily at airports.  Sporting arenas nab the second highest check-in spot but are far behind the first category.  Upon reading this list, I took to researching these airports in order find a connection between them.  In fact, there is a major factor that ties these top transit venues together.  These airports are all linked insofar as they are all hubs for major airlines such as Delta, Continental, American etc.  Foursquare’s statistics, however, yielded different results.  According to a figure they released, the top categories for check-ins on their website were food, work/office, and shops, in that order.

As can be inferred from the data, Facebook Places is primarily used by travelers and people who are broadcasting to a larger pool of people.  In Facebook, your post is viewed by all of your friends (on average, 130 people) and can be “liked” or “commented” by these people, which can be seen by all of your friends as well.  Essentially, Facebook Places is used as more of a proclamation to announce where you are; comparable to a status symbol on social media.

Foursquare is a website where individuals broadcast to a much more intimate crowd of 5-8 on average.  Dennis Crowley, co-founder of foursquare states, they are focusing on the individual’s “inner circle,” or the group of people of whose activities and whereabouts they actually care to follow and know.  These inferences are evident when examining the areas where people check in as well.  Checking into airports and sporting arenas are a way of saying “Hey look at me, I am doing something cool and I want to tell you about it,” which provides a very different implication than checking into a bar or restaurant.  These types of check-ins are more personal, as if saying “Hey guys, I am having a couple drinks at the local bar, come by and have a few.”  By posting their location they are in essence sending an inviting message to their “inner circle” whom are likely to be around them.

What it comes down to is that there is a deep-rooted psychology behind “checking in” that caters to different types of people.  Facebook has reached its level of success because it is not only based the real world, but our ideal version of it.  Also, is provides us with a system in which we get feedback for what we choose to post.  Because it has become incorporated as a norm in today’s society, any activity we add is an addition to our own identity, which is why we choose to share positive things.  According to Internet psychologist Anders Colding-Jorgensen, “people don’t share stuff because they have tried it, they share stuff that makes them look good.”  This can be translated over into the check-in system as well.  People are choosing to share things that make them look good.  For this reason, it makes sense that travelers choose to share check-ins at airports on Facebook because it makes them look prominent.  Those who are checking into restaurants on foursquare are also making themselves look good, but only feel the need to present it to their close friends.

Overall it is without question that location-based services such as foursquare and Facebook Places are changing the way businesses choose to market their products or services.  The important thing is to recognize which crowd you are aiming for and what they interests are.  Foursquare users are more likely to try products or services that are geared toward personal interaction.  Foursquare is a much more personal site where users communicate with a small group of people they consider to be their inner circle.  Facebook Places users, however, are a crowd that is more status-driven. It is a geosocial service that allows Facebook users to communicate their location with their entire social circle.  In this sense they are more likely to find interest in products or services of prominence and class. In the end it is an untapped market with the potential to prove quite lucrative to the right business model.  It is just a matter of who figures it out first.