The location-based “check-in” app, FourSquare, today unveils a new app design and branding approach, along with a new focus and strategy for its core brand. Simply put, FourSquare is dropping the whole “check-in” thing in an effort to reposition the brand and app FourSquare as a “local search” tool, not a community and networking platform. A new app, Swarm, will be just like Foresquare but will continue to have the check-in function. The new branding and features are part of an attempt to help FourSquare get its mojo back.


FourSquare today has 50 million users worldwide, but has struggled with its business model. From a service designed to encourage and “gamify” the act of saying, “Hey, I’m here!,” the platform has evolved (some would say devolved) into a collection of features that seem to be chasing Yelp: reviews, photo sharing with a strategy that’s still stuck in its gamified past.

In other words, the badges and mayorships and competitive features have slowly been deemphasized. The ads and deals from nearby merchants have received more emphasis.

What is Swarm?

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During the past week, FourSquare has released a new app called Swarm, a name longtime users of FourSquare will recognize as a feature that kicked in when lots of users were checking in at the same location, event or activity. For its early and “power users,” the networking and community features of the site were its most compelling features. In recent years, location-based notifications on nearly every social network and app have lessened check-ins as a unique feature of FourSquare.

Swarm, as you can see in the photo above, is merely a version of FourSquare that retains the check-in feature as a major tab.

Why are they doing this and what does it mean for local small businesses?

The size of FourSquare’s user-base has enabled it to attract national advertisers, but the company’s “content” and business opportunity is obviously focused on gaining a bigger share of the massive local advertising budget pie.

Of course, you know that already: If you run a local retail business, eatery, bar or, frankly, public venue of any type, you have been able to sense that the battle over your advertising budget has heated up to a metal-melting temperature. Google and Yelp! are in the thick of the fight, as is Facebook and the legacy yellow pages, online at Twitter and Instagram are also in the fray. Bing. Yahoo! (Heck, we can remember when the only game in town was CitySearch.)

Will FourSquare’s strategy work? It will depend on two things? (1) Can it unseat Yelp! for the “nearby” search. (2) Can it get you to buy ads on FourSquare for your business? (3) Can it keep Google from figuring out why no one uses their “nearby” feature on Google Maps?

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