Ironically, on the same day Facebook sprung a major announcement — the unveiling of Deals as a natural extension of Places — that could have thunderous effects on popularizing social location tools, the Pew Internet & American Life Project released a survey that suggests LBS has a way to go.
The study, which polled approximately 3,000 adults, reports that only 4 percent of U.S. adults in total use “geosocial” services like Foursquare or Gowalla. Note that surveying began in early August, before the official rollout of Facebook Places.
Among Pew’s other notable findings:
– Early adopters of location-based services skew young (no surprise), male and Hispanic. Eight percent of adults 18-29 use these online services, double the standard rate. Speaking of double, men double up women in LBS adoption (6 percent to 3 percent). And top users are Hispanics at 10 percent.
– Unsurprisingly, active social media users have a greater attraction to LBS. Among Twitter advocates (which surged from 6 percent to 24 percent over the past 25 months), 10 percent utilize geosocial tools. Facebook and other social network users are less inclined, but still show a higher affinity (6 percent) than the general population.
Pew’s numbers underscore a theme BIA/Kelsey has accentuated for months — that popular adoption of LBS is not on par with the electricity surrounding these platforms. Funding for companies such as Foursquare and Gowalla has been robust, but advertisers remain curious — and some speculative — if the status updates, check-ins and virtual rewards propagated by these brands can mainstream.
As BIA/Kelsey’s Mike Boland has emphasized, virtual rewards (badges, mayors, etc.) will have a limited shelf-life if not ultimately backed by more alluring, tangible rewards.
Many businesses already realize that and are incentivizing virtual, social currency with real inducements. Now, with Facebook adding Deals to Places and opening it up to its 20,000 SMBs to customize check-in deals (four different categories) for consumers, mainstreaming to scale could occur more quickly than research studies would suggest — both from SMB advertiser and user perspectives.