-Joselin Mane, Director of Social Media Strategy, 451 Marketing
Every year, technology innovators and early adopters from around the world converge upon the city of Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest interactive festival (the first in a series of festivals focused on interactive technologies, music, and film, respectively). This year, the 20,000 in attendance represented a veritable who’s who of Social Media and Digital Technology. Surprisingly, it was my first year attending the festival, but it more than lived up to the hype. The overarching theme – new technologies that take social networking offline and convert online interactions into real-life behaviors. Applications that can help businesses and individuals capture value in their day-to-day social networking. (I can’t say I was surprised – I’ve been going to, promoting, and hosting hosting TweetUps for the past few years that have made this same online-offline conversion). Here are a few of the applications and companies that caught my attention at this year’s festival.
Addieu is a free application that enables you to connect with someone on all social networks at once. I really liked this application and met one of the founders while I was in Austin. “With just a few taps, you’ll be friends on Facebook, following each other on Twitter, and sharing your location on Foursquare.” Bye-bye, business cards.
Hurricane Party was an application that I saw in action many times while I was in Austin. It’s a free iPhone app that helps friends find, share, and create spontaneous parties – “Life moves fast – hurricanes move faster.” Hurricane Party serves to replace email chains, voicemails, and confusing group chats with a single place where you can discover where your friends are going while simultaneously letting them know your plans. Hurricane Party can help businesses by increasing visits on a slow night, raising awareness about a new item on the menu, or promoting an event. For me, what really stands out about this app is the map view, what they call a “Forecast” – you can see parties around you with different colors indicating how many people have signed up.
Car2go is a company in Austin similar to ZipCar with one major difference: you can leave your car anywhere (well, anywhere in Austin, that is). Whenever you need a car, you can book one of 300 Car2go’s in the city, drive where you want and for as long as you want, and simply park the car at your destination – no need to return to a pre-determined spot. Also unlike Zipcar, all the cars are the same make and model – smart fortwo. These cars are so small they could be parked almost anywhere – two of these could be parked side to side in the same space a normal 4 door sedan would take up. Again, I love the simplicity of the map view which allows you to see where the closest vehicle is in relation to you at any given moment.
Yobongo is a place for people to share ideas, talk about what’s happening, and connect with interesting people nearby. Basically, if someone asks a question, people using Yobongo can answer them as if they were a friend. I’m actually in a group with the founder of the application. Unfortunately, this app is currently only available in San Francisco, Austin, TX, New York, NY and Long Beach for TED conference.
Beluga is an app that helps groups of friends stay in touch on the go. For instance, you could use it to plan a night out or just share updates and photos. In Beluga, ‘pods’ are private groups of friends. Within a pod, all members see all updates, photos and shared locations, but no one who is not a member of a pod can access its data. Even though a very similar service called GroupMe won this year’s breakout award, most of my friends opted to use Beluga because instead of giving out your phone number you provide an email. Beluga was great tool to use in Austin because it was an easy way for me to privately talk to my friends and determine whether it was worthwhile to travel across town to an event. It was also great to know where everyone wanted to meet for lunch. There were times when Beluga users became very active and many popup notification messages would appear in a very short period of time. However this didn’t happen too often. And even though the groups were create at SXSW, I am still active with 2 of my Beluga pods.
LevelUp (a SCVNGR property) works with businesses to create the best deals within a city. Each business has three levels of deals: good, better and best. When you use a deal on LevelUp, you’ll “level-up” to get access to the next level deal at that business. You get introduced to the best places in town with an unbeatable deal that gets better as you use it. Think of it like getting rewarded for becoming a regular at the places you love. Currently it’s only available in Boston and Philadelphia. I haven’t found any deals that have appealed to me but I will keep checking it.
Foursquare isn’t new to the scene, but there are some interesting developments in the application. As before, by “checking in” via a smartphone app or SMS, users share their location with friends while earning virtual badges and points. Foursquare’s new version has 3 major changes: “personalized recommendations” which now makes it easier to look at friends’ check-ins/tips to get ideas of good restaurants in a given area; an updated point system to reflect more of the things users are proud of; and, most importantly for business, six new ways to reward user loyalty: Check-in Specials, Friend Specials, Flash Specials (e.g. the first 10 people to show up after 5 p.m. get a free drink), Swarm Specials, Newbie Specials, Mayor Specials and Loyalty Specials. Foursquare had many custom badges for SXSW in addition to many promo’s. Interestingly enough, my friends’ activity on Foursquare didn’t seem to be as high as I would have suspected while I was at SXSW.
Last, but definitely not least, Gowalla (a local Austin company) is another “check-in” location-based app that does more than just “check-in.” You can take photos, comment on places friends go, and share highlights from your life. You may also find virtual items left around the world like digital souvenirs. Many items are redeemable for real-world rewards such as apparel, movie tickets, gadgets and more. Check in with Gowalla on your phone to stamp your Passport at each place you visit – kind of like stamping your passport in real life. Since Gowalla was a local Austin company, there were more local brands using and promoting them.
So, how are these technologies helpful for businesses? With an integrated PR, Social, and SEO strategy, fear of diminished foot traffic fades away. It’s no longer cool to just sit at home on a computer and socially network – the new social media is actually social and applications foster meeting up with other users, enjoying special offers at business you love and discovering new places and venues with your friends.