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I’m penning this post as I fly above Western Canada, preparing to cross the Gulf of Alaska, en route to Singapore for the GSMA Mobile Money Summit. It’s quite difficult to type as the plane bumps along buffeted by the arctic winds. But my thoughts are not on the glaciers below or the bumpy ride; they’re on my recent experience at the 2011 Mobile Money Forum in Montreal, Canada. My thoughts are wrapped around the idea of the convergence of social media, mobile capabilities and payment technologies, more simply described as social, mobile and payments. My mind is awash with possibilities of the changes that will occur due to the conjunction of these individual elements.
At the 2011 Mobile Money Forum I listened to many presentations, and spoke with individuals from various companies involved in the mobile payments space from around the world. But my mind keeps returning to the presentation given by Patrick Ramsey,vice president of strategic partnerships and business development, American Express. One of the opening slides in his presentation showed a map of the world projected over a child’s face and read, "If Facebook were a country it would be third most populated in the world, ahead of the United States." Then below, the clincher: "Only China & India are more populous!"
By now I’m sure that you’ve read or heard about the tie-up between payment provider, American Express and location based social media property, Foursquare. The concept is fairly simple: consumers that utilize both services interconnect their card and check-in accounts. When card holders use their mobile devices to alert their social network as to their whereabouts at participating merchants they receive specials, discounts and deals. It’s a win-win-win relationship for everyone involved – retailers, Foursquare and Amex. I could waste a bunch of time at this point and go into a detailed explanation as how this mash-up benefits the parties, but I think you probably understand these concepts. Besides, I’d probably get something wrong or miss some important aspect of the collaboration, so it’s probably better that I point you back to the news articles and press releases posted on Mobile Payments Today to glean the details for yourself.
What I’d like to focus on is the drawing power these social media startups have amassed, how they are not only drawing in the public, but also economic powerhouses that want what these networks have – active participants! Networks are powerful things, and social media is drawing people in droves. People everywhere are sharing triumphs and tragedies with family, friends and complete strangers around the world. Whether it’s the birth of a new baby, or the passing of a beloved family pet, we’re sharing intimate details of our lives with our social networks. If you really stop and think about it, marrying shopping with social networking is kind of a no-brainer. Other than going to work, shopping is probably one of the more social things most of us do on a reoccurring basis.
While in Canada for the event I had dinner with a friend in Old Montreal. Walking back to the hotel after a scrumptious meal he pointed out several historic landmarks to me. One of them was an etched stone placard attached to a building commemorating the first public square, dated 1676. I took out my mobile to snap a picture to share later with my Twitter followers. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn to the plaque and moved in closer to get a better picture of it. I think you could ask almost anyone to define what a public square means to them and they would say a marketplace where people meet to buy and sell goods.
When you examine it, shopping and social are pretty much hand and glove. How many of my female readers regularly go "shopping with the girls?" What percentage of this activity is social versus spending? Have you recently chosen to stay home, and not go out, because you wanted to save money? Going places and doing things usually involves spending in one form or another. One of the things I always make sure I have with me when I leave the house is my wallet. Having my identification with me isn’t the primary reason for this last minute check; it’s more the unspoken admission that when I get out and interact with the world, some type of purchase or payment is probably going to occur. Although I probably won’t share the list of items purchased at the supermarket, I often tell friends about new gizmos I’ve acquired, or talk at a social gathering about the great deal I got on a new shirt. Without looking up stats to back up my statement, I would venture to say that approximately 75 percent of the check-in activity, since day one, on Foursquare has been from some sort of retail establishment.
Will Amex gain new card members from the Foursquare community? Absolutely. Will existing card holders join Foursquare and start checking in to get great deals on products and services? Without a doubt. Will retailers gain new customers from the increased visibility and viral marketing power of the collaboration? The answer is a resounding "yes!"
Social networking has been occurring in marketplaces for centuries. Since the dawn of man we have bought and sold goods in public squares around the world. Adding in the power of mobile technology with its dynamic information sharing capabilities allows purchasers to spread the word farther, wider and faster than ever before. Adding the "Network Effect" to social and shopping will result in a new realm of unimagined, real-time interactivity between products, payments and the public.
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