Are We Ready to Add Cause to Social Check-Ins?

There was a time when the phrase “check-in” was associated with things like the front desk of a hotel, the ticket counter at an airport or the main entrance to a conference center (“gotta go check-in and pickup up my badge to show that I’m a speaker and didn’t actually have to pay to get in like everyone else…”).

But with the advent of social media and location-aware applications, the phrase “check-in” took on a totally new, and much simpler meaning: “I’m here”. And now, I believe, it’s meaning might be about to change yet again, from “I’m here” to “here’s why”.

The evolution of the social check-in

The social check-in has been around since before the days of the pony express – we used the available media to tell our friends and loved ones that we had arrived at a particular destination. We were not only there, but we wanted them to know we were safe. It was a basic, and necessary, part of life as the world expanded around us. But with the arrival of social media, businesses began to realize that the check-in could be something more – it could be entertaining, it could be fun, it could be competitive and it could drive business.

Companies like Foursquare, Shopkick and Facebook gamified it, made it competitive and engaging, turning it into something that they hoped would drive their business, or the business of others (check out my post on Gamification and the Gaming of Foursquare for some background on that topic). And to an extent, they were right. Checking-in was Fun! You could check-in to your favorite coffee shop, broadcast it to the world and even get points, perhaps a discount on a cup of coffee or become the Mayor of Anywhere.

But what really is the value of being the Mayor of some local hangout? Not much, except perhaps the bragging rights within your own social graph (example: I have a couple of friends who are on a mission to see who can check-in to the most Starbucks).

I’m not sure people care about social check-in points or likes as much as they used to.

Most of the people I know check-in to engage with their friends, or to simply let them know what they are doing or where they can be found. Businesses assume that a check-in to their location is an endorsement, that they’ve captured another “potential customer” (a concept that my friend Alan Berkson, @berkson0 of the Intelligist Group, would argue is “so last century”).

In fact, I’ve seen more than a few people check-in with comments like “worst service ever” – so perhaps that endorsement isn’t quite as real as many people think (ironically, with Foursquare you can check-in, add a negative comment and still get your points – an interesting way of making YOUR point, especially if you rebroadcast that check-in through other, much larger, social media networks).

And it is here, where people are starting to use the social check-in as a statement, as a way to question what they see around them, that I think we are approaching the point where the check-in can become so much more than it is today.

The 4 components of the new social check-in

The emerging social check-in has four basic components (let’s toss aside points, likes, mayorships, etc. for a moment). They are:

  1. The personal check-in itself (somebody deciding that they want to check-in to a particular place/event/etc. and share it with their friends),
  2. The place/event/etc. where the check-in occurs (which could be a fixed location or a time-sensitive event),
  3. The people within (or in some cases peripheral to) the social graph of the person who will see the check-in, and (most importantly)
  4. The statement or comment that the check-in conveys to those who see it (the *influence factor* of the check-in).

With those four points in mind, let’s consider two different check-ins:

“It’s about me”

The all-too-common “Hanging with my friends at the Corner Bistro” – simple, to the point and letting people know not only who you are with but where you can be found. It’s an invitation (and yes, I made this one up).

“It’s about the world”

Now let’s consider another, this one via Twitter/Foursquare (that was an actual Foursquare check-in by a friend): “He’s here everyday not begging, just …dying? What do to? (@ Old Guy In bench)” – this isn’t a here I am, come find me check-in, it’s an observation, i t’s a social comment, it’s non-judgmental and it has both a purpose and meaning far deeper than Foursquare ever envisioned. This is what I consider a social check-in “with cause.”

Let’s check-in to social causes

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to chat with a few people inside the social check-in space. It was an informal chat that got me thinking about the value of being able to check-in to “social events”, not just businesses. When I came across the “Old Guy” Foursquare check-in, it sparked an interesting thought – we have the opportunity put real meaning behind check-ins. Consider the following:

  • Checking into “certified” Social Events would be a good thing. With most check-in tools, you can create your own locations, so setting up a location for a charity event is possible, but it isn’t necessarily time sensitive and doesn’t necessarily mean that the event is an actual charity (social good) event. I think we can improve on this.
  • Checking into a Social Event *remotely* (to show support for the cause) would be an even better thing. Call it a “like” or a “support” – but letting people express their backing for an event – while it is taking place – is something I consider worthwhile.
  • Checking into a Social Event (either on site or remotely) and being able to *donate via PayPal* would be a great thing. You’ve got my attention, you’ve got my support, why not give me the opportunity to contribute?

The ramifications of such a strategy could be a great boost for both charitable causes/events as well as business sponsors, looking to both give back to the social community and improve their image/position within their consumer community. In this light, the check-in could become a powerful tool of influence.

Can this be done? I believe so. But I’m just one voice. What do you think?

Would you as a business representative support or find value in supporting or sponsoring such a program? Would you as a consumer or individual be willing to check-in to show your support or give a donation to a cause or an event?

I know I would.


For an out-of-the-box insight on the whole notion of generational check-ins and the impact of pervasive social connectivity, check out Alan Berkson’s excellent post Turn On, Check In, Hang Out!


Photo courtesy of Travis Nep Smith

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  • Jesse de Agustin

    Hi Fred,
    I think of one “checking in” by means of saying “I’m here and here is why” as some kind of justification for said “check in” that is expressed through the social media landscape. I can also see this evolving to different instances – i.e. kids don’t tell their parents they’ve found their friends at the movies, they simply “check in”, provide justification and parents are notified like any other FourSquare check-in! I’m sure some parents would feel the “human” element of “communication” with their kids has gone awry. (Even though, according to “communications theory” the kids are still communicating.)

    I do think your argument can evolve the check in – my only concern is that when people check in it seems that it is a “stream of consciousness” type of thinking. Currently people don’t seem to (initially) tweet about why they’re checking in to a location…..maybe they want food….I’ll see people check in, (post to twitter) and subsequent tweets will give justification as to why they’re there. Having people check in “remotely” is an interesting idea – perhaps we’d need a way to differentiate those who are “there” (for support, but not physically at the event) and those who are actually there. I can definitely see those who are at the event “remotely” contributing to a cause. 

    But creating “locations” from events, or causes can provide a resonating “call to action” and a meaningful way for people to provide justification for why they are at a particular place – and make that social event even more memorable – through interactions with people at different vantage points. 


  • Jason

    First, I’ll specify that having lived in the mountains for a handful of years, I was technologically stunted (although I ran two blogs and a paid marketing company on Google Groups). Since returning to the real world I was slow to get in and now find my perfectly good blackberry to be a glorified rotary dial grandma phone with a typewriter function. And when I first tried 4square, I couldn’t get into it. I don’t use Facebook either evidencing my viewpoint not meaning necessarily anything bad for a company. That being said, here’s my point/counterpoint.

    I agree on the efficacy of such use for many social media platforms. If the sometimes comedic, sometimes dangerous Flash Mobs are possible, Flash Caring shouldn’t be that much harder. If I just coined a phrase, I would like to trademark that now. I’m no Einstein and thereby lack the patent office insider info to get it done right now, so you can just act as my back up once it’s stolen.

    The disagreement is why 4square? Why not hit up for a programmer to throw together your framework and start from “scratch” (quotes are only being used since I don’t personally believe in reinventing the wheel and most of the work is done for you). BOOM! is born.There’s probably a better name but its’ a little catchy.

    Anyway, the entire model can be the same as 4square for the most part (especially from a mobile aspect) and since it’s about charity and caring, throw in a feature like to let people tell their story and promote each cause to their email lists of friends and family for you. Throw out all the “check-ins” for the sake of “check-ins”. I don’t care that Johnny is Mayor of Haagen Daas in in Bronxville unless they’re raising money for something. 

    Maybe I’ve said too much. Do you have a link to start up VC firms?

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