People Will Do Virtually Anything for Virtual Incentives

November 29, 2010 / By

Credit: socialmediaexaminer.com

My older sister and I were very competitive growing up. We’d spend hours into the night playing games like Sorry or Battle, and after each game was over, we’d look at each other, yawn, nod our heads and set up to play again. The winner wanted to maintain the title and the loser wanted to take it away. One would think we’d outgrow our competitiveness through the years, however this Thanksgiving, we had a new game to conquer: Foursquare.

“I unlocked the Jetsetter badge weeks ago,” she bragged after I complained that I still hadn’t gotten it after a whole day of traveling. (Side note: she’s a flight attendant so of course she won that one over me… I have to remind myself of that so I don’t feel like I’m behind on the location-based game.)

We made it a contest to see who could rack up the most points during the holiday back in our hometown. It was a joyous occasion when she forgot her Blackberry one day and I checked in to 5 places she couldn’t [Insert evil laugh here.] I left a tip at my favorite tea house and vied to be Mayor of the Super Target before I left. I was thisclose to unlocking the Oversharer badge.

As I looked at my Foursquare activity on the plane ride home, I realized that the social networking service and it’s virtual incentives actually made me do things. It had controlled my whereabouts (“Let’s run next door – the ‘Special nearby’ looks enticing”), what I ordered off the menu (“Jack D. left a tip that says the sweet potato fries are legendary”), and advertised the place where I was to all of my friends (“Julie’s at Dairy Queen… I could go for a Blizzard right now, too”).

Dennis Crowley, founder of Foursquare, said on a panel once that that’s the beauty of his product: it’s a social network that actually encourages people to do things in the real world. Imagine that!

We can really utilize this tool and others like it in the PR world. Whether it’s offering virtual badges for visiting a particular destination or a special discount to entice people to try out a new product, we should be thinking of unique ways to work with location-based social networks. This was a good reminder to me that people will do virtually anything for virtual incentives.

So, what was the final outcome of my Foursquare competition with my sister? She won by 10 points and the Photogenic badge. Ugh… Guess there’s always next year.

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