All of the fuss over Foursqare reminds me of three years ago when Twitter was starting to reach critical mass and altering the social media landscape.  In the advocacy community, the main question about Foursquare is the same one we were asking about Twitter back then:  How does this change the game for advocacy campaigns?

In terms of advancing social advocacy, Foursquare looks to have even more potential.  There are a number of important new capabilities that Foursquare ties together to bring new opportunities to the social media space that could be game changers for advocacy campaigns.

Location Based Check-Ins

The main feature of Foursquare is “checking-in” via mobile device at nearly any location (businesses, parks, restaurants, coffee shops, stadiums, schools, etc.).  This allows users to broadcast their location at any given moment.  Think of what this type of real-time location sharing could mean for DC Fly-ins, or an organization’s town hall meeting strategy.  Most importantly, privacy concerns are minimal because the application does not track a user’s movements automatically; it only reveals location when a user elects to “check-in.” 

Competition

While most coverage of Foursquare focuses on its’ social application of geolocation tools, it is also important to recognize the social media gaming aspect of the platform.  Users accumulate points and badges and try to become the “mayor” of locations by visiting most often.  Most advocacy campaigns to-date have been unable to incorporate gaming and competitive elements at the core of their efforts.  Foursquare may present an opportunity to change that. 

The current badge system is user recommended, but requires approval by Foursquare, meaning you can’t just set them up on your own, but just think of the possibilities.  You could try to set up special points and badges for visiting a combination of events (meetings, rallies, state/district Congressional Offices, town hall meetings, etc.).  Users would compete to earn badges that distinguish their activism and an organization could even offer incentives or prizes for reaching certain levels. 

Mobile Platform

One of the challenges of updating campaign related activity offline is that a computer (with an internet connection) is not usually convenient to lug around to meetings and events.  Current self-reporting tools ask advocates to update their activities when they return to their home or office.  Anyone who’s attempted to do this on a large scale knows that it’s a struggle and only a fraction of actual participants will remember to log in after the fact to report activities.

Foursquare is different.  It is almost entirely a mobile device focused platform, and almost everyone carries a mobile phone with them when they’re on the go.  A proper integration of Foursquare would allow activists to “check-in” and comment in real time.   They can also use other features of the platform to leave recommendations for future activists and tell them about other activities they can engage in nearby.

API and RSS Feeds

For organizations, one of the keys to making a platform like Foursquare work for advocacy campaigns is the ability to collect and aggregate activist data.  Foursquare looks to be up to the task by offering everything from a published API for programmers down to simple user based RSS feeds for those less technically inclined.  Even through use of just the RSS capabilities, organizations could aggregate all of the activities of their known activists in real time and feed that information to a database or even a widget or map on an advocacy website to demonstrate the momentum of an ongoing campaign.

To be fair, Twitter offers geolocation for Tweets and is also designed for updating by mobile device, so these capabilities are not unique to Foursquare.  But what is unique is that all activity and content on Foursquare is tied to specific locations.  Twitter is content centric and Foursquare is location centric.  As a tool to tie in to larger advocacy campaigns, the location centric aspect makes for a much more focused content and a cleaner integration with other advocacy efforts.

Also, don’t discount the social gaming feature.  In advocacy campaigns, especially timely events with group participation, the gaming aspect has a wealth of potential to help make motivated activists even more engaged.  The devil, as always, will be in the integration, but geolocation and social gaming look to be the emerging technologies that will drive the next generation of advocacy campaigns.