Everything You Need to Know About Swarm, Foursquare's Check-In App

Since the birth of many social media platforms in the late 2000s, many of those first networks have bumped into an awkward stage of adolescence. They’ve experienced growth spurts, developed new interests, and made new friends. But now, they may be questioning how they fit into the world around them.

The latest network to start questioning what it’s doing with its life is Foursquare. In the fall of 2013, the platform began expanding from its original concept as a check-in app to a resource for discovering local businesses. This year, Foursquare took the drastic move of dividing its functionalities into two separate mobile apps with the addition of Swarm.

What sparked the change, and what does it mean for businesses leveraging the platform? Here’s what you need to know.

True Mobile Platforms

True Mobile Platforms

Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley has given multiple interviews since the announcement of Swarm explaining why the company decided to divide. The reason boils down to the fact that the old Foursquare had two core functionalities: checking in and discovering local businesses. The company’s leaders decided that those two actions could be better served if they each had their own app.

In an interview with The Verge, VP of Product Experience Jon Steinback said that being a mobile app intensified the need to split. “We were born in mobile but we were born in this idea that each mobile app was kind of like a web property bundled up for mobile,” he said. Since the company launched, the expectations for mobile have changed. “You open an app to do a specific task and not as a gateway to a large complicated experience,” he added.

Social networks have been pushing hard of late to offer better mobile experiences since that’s where so many of their members are. In fact, many from the recent wave of new networks only offer mobile access. But as Steinback mentioned, the needs of a mobile experience are not the same as a web one. With the check-in feature the first thing Foursquare users would see, that created extra barriers to the fast activity of searching. Swarm took over that check-in activity so that Foursquare can be dedicated to discovery.

Foursquare Search

Search That Knows You

The goal of Foursquare now is to create a more personalized set of recommendations based on a person’s past activities. “If we all went to Google right now, or went to Yelp right now, we’d all get the same results, and that seems really really broken to me,” Crowley told The Verge.

This is the facet of Foursquare’s model that businesses will want to keep an eye on.

In the current system, Swarm members will be able to see a business’ name and address. To see a full listing of tips, photos, and other details, they’ll need to be in Foursquare. According to Foursquare’s support pages, the check-ins from Swarm will count toward the visit totals appearing on the full listings. Brands will want to make sure that they’ve claimed any and all Foursquare listings for their brick-and-mortar locations in order to keep tabs on what is happening across the two apps. That information is still the source for the Swarm check-ins, so be sure that it’s all up to date.

The ad landscape on the two apps will also be slightly different. For now, at least, Swarm will only display ads for some of its national partners after members check in to a related location. On Foursquare, search results and promoted places will include local business ads, so the original app is still your best bet for advertising to the network’s audience.

Will It Work?

As with any major business change, the key to success is getting your audience to believe in the idea. Social media networks have a history of upsetting their members, even with small updates to their layouts, so something as big as migrating users to a second app is a very risky maneuver.

Unsurprisingly, the splitting off of Foursquare and Swarm has been met with initial cries of derision. Mashable’s write-up of Swarm two months into launch found problems with the app’s user experience. Even more recently, as tech outlets covered the launch of Swarm for the Windows Phone, the response is still fiercely divided. Even though the original Foursquare had an audience numbering more than 50 million worldwide, Swarm has been riding a roller coaster up and down the ranks of the App Store for iOS and on Google Play for Android, according to App Annie.

The members who were primarily focused on the check-in element of the network are understandably the most vocally displeased. It’s certainly possible, though, that those who are willing to ride out the first kinks of the new service will start to appreciate the streamlining. Assuming, that is, that Foursquare can deliver on its promise of making the check-ins and the discovery process a fast and easy mobile experience. If members remain unhappy, then it’s unlikely that they’ll be willing to switch to Foursquare for the same type of service that they’re already familiar with at Yelp. Any change won’t happen immediately, so the continued response to Swarm over the coming months will be the best sign for the new app’s outcome.