I was sitting in my office recently when a co-worker came in and dropped a printout on my desk. "This is why I want to work at The Onion." he said. On the top of the printout was a headline that ran in the news outlet in May: "New Social Networking Site Changing the Way Oh, Christ, Forget It. Let Someone Else Report On This Bull." Known for its tongue-in-cheek, push-the-envelope brand of journalism, most stories in The Onion taste best when taken with salt. (Case in point, that same week carried the headline, "Report: Majority of Government Doesn't Trust Citizens Either.") The jaded journalist that was, er, reporting on the latest social networking tool got a double chuckle out of me that day; the article was about Foursquare, a service that lets users "check in" via their cell phone when they arrive at a restaurant, bar or other social hot spot. The service lets users' friends know where they are in case any of their pals in the area want to stop by.
Although many of us may feel like we're just about at social-net overload, this is one tool that is full-on entrenched in the hospitality industry. Foursquare awards points to players depending on how social they are. The more they go out in general, and the more they visit specific places, the more points they earn. Once a user has visited a particular location enough, a socialite can be crowned "mayor," which can become very competitive depending upon the locale.
Until now, many of the IT executives with whom I've discussed social networking have admitted that, at their companies at least, most initiatives are really more under the wing of the marketing department. By taking location-awareness to a new level, perhaps Foursquare will inspire restaurant IT executives to loop the tool into their own rewards programs, POS systems and customer profiles. For now, at least, the ones I spoke to are still woefully tasked with policing employees from social not working on company time.