‘Checking In’ with location-based social media (2010)


The following was a piece written for Army.mil and can be seen here.

‘Geo’ is this year’s Twitter

If 2009 was the year of Twitter, then 2010 is ramping up to be the year of location-based social media services. Geo-location services like FoursquareBrightkite and Gowalla have rapidly been adopted by users, and many of the sites you’ve likely already heard about like FacebookFlickr and Twitter have either already integrated this capability or plan to do so in the near future. These services typically let users ‘check-in’ at their current location, identify where they are on a map, share that information with their social network, and provide additional comments on what they are doing.

Location-based social media services access your current location either through GPS or a cellular signal. Most of the major cellular networks have the ability to pinpoint your location, and the social media applications that utilize this capability are available for most cell phones on the market. These geo-location websites can either be used alone or can be linked into your other social media feeds like Facebook.

The video here is from the most recent South By Southwest Conference hosted in Austin, Texas and is a great visual that shows a large number of people checking-into eight different social media sites over the course of one week.

Why do it?

Sharing your current location within your social network is just an additional way to connect with friends and family. Most people already provide written updates about where they are and what they are doing, and having a virtual ‘push-pin’ on a map is just a natural progression. In addition, photos that contain geo-data can be integrated into services like the one Flickr provides, in order to plot your photos on a map for yourself, your own network or the general public.

As for its organizational use, these services have large potential for the private sector. For example, businesses can provide incentives for ‘checking-in’ at their various location. As for its application towards the Army, we might want to utilize it for community relation events, FMWR or Family Readiness Group events just to name a few. As the usage increases, the collective ‘we’ will undoubtedly identify more ways to effectively use this type of service.

Proceed with Caution

As a member of the military, you may have some concerns about you, your family or your Soldiers broadcasting their current location in real time. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. PleaseRobMe.com was created earlier this year and it aggregated publicly shared check-ins in order to help expose the dangers of location-sharing. Every new technology brings about its own concerns, so here are three things you may want to consider before posting your current location on a social network:

1. Who are you informing? Remember the extent of your network and whether it’s closed or open to the public. You may not mind revealing real-time locations with close friends and family, but you may want to be somewhat guarded with your check-in’s if your network is large and/or publically viewable.

2. Where are you checking in? A good rule of thumb is to never check-in at your place of residence or at work. Revealing these locations, even with a limited network of people, can enable those with bad intentions.

3. What are you revealing? In addition to privacy concerns, those of us wearing the uniform need to remember Operational Security (OPSEC). There are times when we don’t want anyone to know in real-time where we are or what we’re doing. Just be aware of what your sending, when your sending it, and keep in mind your fellow Soldiers who also have the capability to broadcast sensitive information.

As with any new technology, people are experimenting with these services and finding new ways to integrate them and increase their potential. ‘Proceed with Caution’ should not be taken as ‘do not do it’. On the contrary, when it comes to social media my opinion is ignorance is not bliss.

If you are already utilizing these services or just want to give it a try to see what it’s about, feel free to connect with me on my Foursquare account.

Mike Nicholson

I've spent my career working in a variety of Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Public Affairs, Information Operations, and Executive Outreach positions. With a history of planning, preparing, executing, and assessing communication strategies in the U.S. and abroad, I use this site to write, think and share lessons learned on organizational communications.

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