5 Reasons Higher Ed Can Forget about Location-Based Services

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Seth Odell, a Media Relations Assistant at UCLA, specializing in digital media marketing. He also blogs at AsMediaChanges. In this post, Seth opines about the undeveloped state of location based services in higher ed.

Location-based services are all the rage. Whether it’s Foursquare, Gowalla or MyTown, tech blogs are bombarding us with every reason imaginable for why these mobile tools are the future of marketing. But before you buy into the hype and sign up for all the geo-focused social networks you can find, here are my five reasons why higher ed can, for now, forget about location based services.

1) ROI? There is no ROI

You’ve gone out and gotten your university’s dinning halls, campus buildings and student store set up on your favorite location-based social networking game. Now how are you going to measure success? By counting the number of times John Q. Freshman checks-in at Jamba Juice? The truth is that it’s hard to assign a value to a check in, probably because the value of a check in is close to nothing.

2) Why pitch the niche?

Before we even start to integrate Foursquare, or any other location-based service, into our broader communications efforts we should stop and ask two key questions. First, how many people on campus are actually using these mobile games? And second, why are we spending our time and marketing resources pitching this tech-centric niche of our broader audience?

3) This is one organic garden that doesn’t need our help to grow

Users are already filling up these games with our campus locations. They don’t need us to do it for them. This is a very different platform than Facebook or Twitter and there just isn’t the same type of opportunity for an institutional voice to be heard.

4) When it comes to campus tours they just don’t cut it

One of the big ideas for higher ed that I keep seeing tossed around is that marketers could use services like Foursquare or Gowalla to produce self-guided campus tours. In case you missed it, BlueFuego’s Howard Kang debunked this myth back in April with a great blog post outlining exactly why self-guided tours built around these platforms will fail.

5) There’s still no clear leader

Even with Foursquare ahead of the pack in regards to marketing power, it’s far too early to tell who will be the last location site standing. Rather than run out and sign up for Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown, Yelp, Brightkite, Orbster, Cause World, Whrrl, Rally Up, DeHood, SCVNGR, Loopt, WHERE, Skyhook Wireless and now Pespi Loot, maybe we should take the “wait and see” approach and let it play out a bit more first?

While they might not be a marketing goldmine for higher ed, location-based services are far from dead in the water. But let’s face it, we’re not Starbucks and we’re not giving out frappacinos. You’re welcome to keep the technology on your radar, but for now keep it out of your marketing playbook.

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  • http://ericstoller.com/blog/ Eric Stoller

    That’s why I think that augmented reality apps like Layar are going to have a much larger impact on the higher ed market.

    If you haven’t seen Layar yet, here’s an ad that Verizon recently ran about the app:

    Imagine campus dining services showing up as a layar…I do know that there are a few schools out there that are currently using Layar for geo-based information:

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  • http://www.nichols.edu Justin G. Roy

    You do bring up some great points here, but I wanted to mention the following:

    The value of a check in is difficult to measure but it sure does help with current students feeling like they are part of the campus. We (here at Nichols College) have a few active users of FourSquare who have also connected/met online (then offline) because of the site. Could it be a potential retention tool for those turning to the internet to meet new people and friends (now feeling part of the campus)? Not sure and too early to say.

    Another benefit is the ability to see who is on your campus and the ability to reach out to them. Alumni, prospective student, or whomever. I have met new people based on their “check-in” and met them for coffee on campus.

    You can also learn who potential influencers (and persons with knowledge of social networks) online are in your student body and reach out to them in efforts of building your presence on the web.

    We do not spend a lot of time and resources on location-based services, but setting up searches we are notified when somebody is using the service on our campus. Little spent and to be determined on return right now.

    – Justin

  • http://www.asmediachanges.com Seth Odell

    Thanks for the comments guys!

    Justin – The way you guys are using location-based services at Nichols sounds cool. Our differing opinion on its value may be, in part, due to the varying size of our campuses. I’m curious, are you using Twitter in the same manner? At least from my experience, Twitter would be a far better tool to help you see who is on your campus and to reach out to them to open a discussion.

    The fact that you’ve found a way to turn a check-in into a tangible face-to-face relationship is awesome and absolutely makes those check-ins valuable. Obviously doing that every time wouldn’t be practical, but identifying key times to invest your energy to do so might make sense.

    Eric, Layar looks awesome, but I have to think we are years away before that type of technology is widely useful on a college campus. For the schools using it now it’s probably fun, but I’d doubt they are seeing much use at all. I absolutely could be wrong on this one, but I just don’t see a student walking around campus looking at buildings through their smartscreen. Again, might just be me on that one.

  • http://www.nichols.edu Justin G. Roy

    Seth –

    Our campus is about 1500 students and located in a rural area; there would be a much larger audience and potential for a city-based (and larger) college. For other colleges it would depend on the audience (students) and their use and practicality of presence.

    At first I did not think it would be worth the time, but after researching [and being surprised] how many were “checking in” here the decision was easy (be where your audience is)!

    I agree on making the decision when to reach out and when to just sit back and watch (you cannot spend all your time meeting with every check-in) and that goes for all social networking sites.

    We use Twitter in a similar manner; connect with students, parents, alumni, local businesses (potential places for interns/careers for graduates), let people know what we are up to, etc.

    Another huge component of our use of Twitter is to build our key words and phrases for search engines as well (there HAS to be strategy in tweeting). Some of the connections and conversations there started with a check-in (I have too many constant searches going on to monitor our brand and keywords we want to see/reply to).

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  • http://foursquare.com/tamu Diane C. McDonald

    Howdy from Texas A&M! We are the third school (behind Harvard and Stanford) to launch an official presence on FourSquare. Check us out at http://foursquare.com/tamu.

    Diane C. McDonald
    Director of Social Media & Marketing Programs

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  • http://www.facebook.com/louisjm Louis Joseph Martin III

    I know this is a late comment, but I was doing some research on the demos of foursquare for my campus. What I found that is , to me, a deal breaker is that THE MAJORITY OF FOURSQUARE USERS ARE IN THEIR LATE 20’S AND ALREADY HAVE A COLLEGE OF POSTBAC DEGREE. Although that doesn’t make foursquare useless, it does make it much less desirable from the standpoint of time and resources.

    • http://www.brandoncroke.com Brandon Croke

      Thanks for for commenting Louis. Your comment is timeless in the sense that it is crucial colleges look to see what students are actually using in order to prioritize time/resources as you said.