Swarm Emerges as a Serious Social Search Tool

Opinion: Any business that operates brick-and-mortar locations should pay very close attention

Swarm Foursquare

Like many of my friends on the Foursquare Swarm application, I am an avid life-logger. I love the fact that Swarm makes it possible to check into locations and organize all of those check-ins into one convenient database that contains a history of my visits.

Swarm recently dialed up its life-logging experience by making users’ lifelogs more prominent in the app’s opening screen. In doing so, Swarm has elevated the app’s usefulness as a first-class search tool.

As Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley explained recently, lifelogging has always been an integral part of Swarm. Checking into places is a way for Swarm users to write our autobiographies in real-time.

I like how he put it in a recent post: “My check-in history represents both peaks and valleys, as it’s a record of where I’ve been and what I’ve lived through. Sometimes I search through it for nostalgia (‘where was my 30th birthday, again?‘). Sometimes I want to just remember the name of a place so I can share it with someone (‘wait, where was that Owl Café in Tokyo?’).”

I can relate. As I write this post, I’ve logged more than 18,000 check-ins in 4,319 places (and counting). I’ve been to TOHO Cinemas in Tokyo three times; The Highball in Austin, Texas, 16 times; and the Crema Coffee Roasting Co. in San Jose, Calif., 31 times.

My history of check-ins is my way of sharing who I am and what I do with my friends—an essential form of communication. My lifelog is also a way for me to enjoy that undeniable moment of reflection when you ask, “Where was I and what was important to me a year ago at this time?”

So, I was pleased to see Foursquare make it easier for me to find and use my lifelog, such as:

  • Featuring an interactive map where I can visualize my life through check-ins.
  • Giving me easier access to my historical stats across different categories.
  • While Snapchat keeps me focused on the here and now, Swarm provides context.

And there’s another big reason why the lifelog is important: social search.

If you use Swarm avidly, you might have noticed that the search bar is now featured prominently at the top of your screen. Making search and lifelogs more prominent positions Swarm as a powerful search engine for things to do and places to go—but with the added dimension of being a friend filter.

My Swarm profile is now a recommendation engine for my friends searching to do things in places I’ve been. If you’re in Austin looking for things to do, my lifelog curates this information for you. And you can judge whether I’m just a casual Austin visitor or an authority. I’ve checked into the Alamo Drafthouse 85 times. I just might be able to tell you something about the place.

By the same token, as I travel around the world, I can tap into my Swarm friends’ check-ins to learn more about places that might be interesting to me—like Yelp, but with a far more interesting user experience.

Any business that operates brick-and-mortar locations should pay very close attention to what Swarm is doing. At a minimum, you should:

  • Make sure your business is searchable. Make sure Foursquare has all the correct location data that people need to find you and check-in. Getting your location data right sets the foundation for you to be findable.
  • Encourage your customers to upload content about their experiences at your location, including photos and reviews. Locations rich with content are more trustworthy and legitimate. And when I see that my friends are talking about your business, I’m more likely to take a closer look at you when I’m looking for something to do in your area. Content is search currency.

Facebook could potentially provide this kind of interactivity. But Facebook typically keeps local search a lower priority. You don’t get that ability to do precise searches and call up your friends’ rich history of check-ins to curate your interests.

However, history shows that Facebook will watch what an app like Swarm is doing and then emulate it—and the social network recently demonstrated signs of doing just that with the relaunch of its Events app as Local From Facebook. If people are willing to add one more app to their crowded devices, Swarm may have a competitor.

Meanwhile, consider Swarm to be a bellwether for the future of social search.

Jay Hawkinson is a digital marketing professional with 20 years of sales, marketing and merchandising experience including organic search optimization, paid search advertising, local search, mobile and social media. Jay joined SIM Partners in 2006 as an equity partner and currently oversees mobile, social media and emerging technology as senior vice president of client success.