Foursquare Gamification Lessons Learned

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Foursquare's Ambassador Program

Foursquare's gamification failure, and its subsequent user engagement decline, are mainly attributed to its limited motivation features. However, it is unknown why many restaurants ceased to offer rewards and promotions. A detailed description of Foursquare's Ambassador Program's failure is provided below.
  • Two years after Foursquare was launched, the company expanded its Ambassador Program in 2011. Through this program, users were given Ambassador Cards to hand out to their favorite local businesses, which could "get details about their foot traffic and loyal customers."
  • The company also allowed users to earn “badges” and “mayorships” through gamification, while businesses were able to use Foursquare as a marketing tool to attract, reward, and engage customers.
  • By 2013, Foursquare had attracted over 40 million users, from 10 million in 2011, who checked-in over 4.5 billion times. This year, 50% of users lived outside the US.
  • It is not known how successful the Ambassador Cards program was. However, many restaurants started seeing success after implementing special rewards and promotions to mayors. For example, Luke’s Lobster in New York was able to open five restaurants after giving rewards and special promotions and registering 11,000 check-ins in Foursquare.
  • Foursquare motivated users to check-in at the restaurants they visited, and those who had checked-in more times became "the mayor" of the venue. However, in 2013 the company started experiencing loss of users and check-in engagement.
  • Bryan Naas from Lessonly attributes Foursquare's gamification failure to "the extrinsic motivation of the badges and mayorships," which only provided a "temporary engagement incentive for their users that ultimately wore off."
  • According to CustomerGlu, a growth/retention expert company, and Ricardo Russ from KeepThemEngaged, as some users had checked-in so many times at a specific restaurant, it became impossible for other users to become the mayor. This lead to "a huge disappointment amongst users and they eventually quit." This was corroborated by some users online.
  • CustomerGlu states that if Foursquare had offered other statuses other than Mayor, users could have stayed motivated to check-in at different places.

Research Strategy

Detailed information regarding Foursquare's Ambassador Program launch and ultimate failure is scarce in the public domain. After searching through news outlets, expert blogs, academic studies, and reports, among other related sources, we were unable to provide answers to the questions: Why did the number of restaurants offering rewards and other promotions on Foursquare decline? And How successful had the ambassador program been, where customers suggest restaurants start using Foursquare? Why did the plan fail?

Despite the little information available, we were able to provide some additional details, apart from the previously provided, regarding the program's launch, as well as experts' opinions on the reasons behind the gamification process failure, by searching through sources published in the years close to the program's launch and failure.

From our research, we could conclude that the reason why the number of restaurants offering rewards declined may be the reduction of active users who, as we now know, lost interest in Foursquare's limited gamification method.

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