iMedia Connection

10 companies driving the SoLoMo revolution

iMedia Editors

10 companies driving the SoLoMo revolution



Introduction

SoLoMo. It's not a typo, nor is it an entirely new concept. A mashup of social, mobile, and local, SoLoMo is perhaps best understood as the next evolution in what we used to call hyper-local.

Last January, when the term first began to penetrate the digital lexicon, Opus Reserch senior analyst Greg Sterling told Mashable, "SoLoMo is a more mobile-centric version of the same concept with greater local precision. It's about getting nearby information on demand, wherever you may be."

Stepping back to look at the larger trend, Michael Boland, an analyst and program director of BIA/Kelsey's Mobile Local Media program, observed in the Huffington Post that SoLoMo is really about mobile apps casting off their ancestral links to the desktop and evolving into utilities that are firmly rooted in all three overlapping concepts.

"We're starting to see techno-Darwinism unfold as mobile apps are growing into their own skin," Boland wrote. "The reason SoLoMo matters is that it's unique to the mobile device; it doesn't make sense on the desktop the same way steering columns didn't fit nineteenth century horse-drawn carriages. Deals, suggestions, or events are pushed based on your check-ins or social activity as you wander across different tiles of the earth."

In essence, proponents of SoLoMo see it as nothing short of a revolution -- one that, as this Fast Company video illustrates, may come to transform every aspect of our lives.


Buzzword?

Of course, there's an alternative view when it comes to SoLoMo. And while detractors don't reject the idea that social, mobile, and local are interrelated, they do charge that SoLoMo is little more than a trendy buzzword -- something we'll all look back on with a snicker come 2013.

In a post explaining why he hates the term SoLoMo, TechCrunch writer Anthony Ha mocked the phrase, which doesn't exactly roll off the tongue (or the keyboard). But Ha's real beef with SoLoMo is that it's all sizzle and no steak.

"What I object to, really, is the way everyone is seizing on the term as a way to automatically hype up an app as innovative and exciting, in the same way that "cloud" was slapped on everything a couple of years ago," Ha wrote. "Are you about to release the millionth local deals app? Call it SoLoMo! What about a reviews app? Do the same! An app that lets you find which of your friends are friending the friends of friends around you? Come on baby, do the SoLoMotion!!!"

But even if Ha is right about SoLoMo, the fact is that the concept -- though maybe not the word -- is here to stay. More to the point, marketers will be thinking and talking about SoLoMo whether it's truly a revolutionary concept or a reheated take on an old idea. So it pays to have a good idea about what's going on in the SoLoMo space.

Here's our guide.



Highlight

More than any other app, Highlight embodies the essence of SoLoMo. Operating in the background of your phone, Highlight is a social utility that helps you learn more about the people in your immediate vicinity. The information consists of the user's name, photos, and anything else they choose to share. But the key thing to remember about Highlight is that the app is linked to the user's public Facebook account -- that's a lot of data about the handsome stranger at the end of the bar, but it's also a treasure trove for marketers looking to make real-time connections.  

Dubbed the star of SXSW, Highlight has become incredibly popular incredibly fast. But while its primary goal right now is to build a critical mass of users, the ways in which people, enterprises, and brands can deploy Highlight are still in their infancy. That leaves industrious marketers a lot of room to run with a powerful, popular tool.

But before anyone goes big on Highlight, they'll need to think long and hard about how they want to address privacy, which is something Highlight CEO Paul Davison discusses with Forbes in this video.



Glancee

At first glance, Glancee doesn't seem all that unique in the SoLoMo space. But two things are worth noting for marketers. First, the Glancee platform has baked in the idea that the people in our social network are most likely to hold sway over the kinds of things we choose to buy, eat, and do. And while the idea of recommendations aren't new, a platform built around helping users share their preferences with their friends who are in the immediate area can be a real boon for marketers -- assuming Glancee achieves critical mass.

But even if Glancee remains somewhat niche, it still may be appealing to marketers who run promotional events. The reason is that Glancee is already setup as an off-the-shelf solution for socializing an event. Marketers can not only use Glancee's event functionality to seed conversations and establish their street teams as community leaders, they can also look under the hood and get real-time data on their attendees, allowing them to target the most influential users right when they're most receptive to a message.



Kismet

Like many other SoLoMo apps, Kismet is largely about the people around you at any given moment. The app is still in beta, but one of the most appealing things about the aptly named Kismet (the word means fate) is that it already addresses the so-called "creepy factor" with privacy controls like geo-fencing as well the option to either run the app continuously in the background or open the app and check-in whenever the user chooses to engage. Along similar lines, Kismet places a high emphasis on events and invitations as a method for connecting people, which goes a long way to addressing some of the awkwardness around these kinds of apps.

But what's most interesting about Kismet is how the company is positioning the utility by emphasizing not just how you're connected to other people, but why you should be talking to them. That's probably a hard question for an app to answer with any kind of authority. But as apps improve in quality, it will be interesting to see how deep Kismet can go in terms of addressing a fundamentally subjective question -- why should you connect with this person, brand, or cause?



Sonar

Like its namesake, Sonar is about finding information around you that isn't necessarily visible at first glance. But what sets Sonar apart is its emphasis on utility. Even if you're the only Sonar user in the area, you can still get a lot of value out of the app because it draws on publicly available data published on other social networks. Sonar then sorts that information, prioritizing the available connections based on what it learns from interfacing with the social networking platforms many of us already use.

Right now, Sonar lives on top of some of the larger platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But as it continues to grow, it could become a valuable overlay for any social network. And that's probably where Sonar will likely have the greatest value for marketers. The app isn't so much a utility for connections and messaging as it is a treasure trove of analytics. Brands that can pair Sonar's powerful search functionality with the right social network will be rewarded with deep insights about their fans and customers.



Banjo

"Banjo gives you SuperPowers!" That's the app's tagline. And while there's certainly a fair amount of hype in that statement, it also drives at the core of what Banjo is all about -- using geographic targeting to connect users across multiple social platforms. Integrating multiple social platforms may not be unique in the SoLoMo space, but what sets Banjo apart is its search functionality. Users can search events by keyword, allowing them to pinpoint specific types of activity within a particular event, or they can take a wider view and shift their focus to events happening thousands of miles away. Banjo also prides itself on its alerts, which inform Banjo users about their friend's social activity (on any social network) if it occurs within a given proximity.

While it's easy to see how brands can use Banjo as a social listening tool, it's worth noting that Banjo has begun to position itself as an entertainment partner. Working with Blondie, Banjo helped the band bring a social element to its tour, connecting with users regardless of which social network they chose to follow the band on. The experience prompted Banjo to begin building an entertainment partnership program. And while that may not be a fit for every entertainment brand, it's certainly an intriguing tool for entertainment brands that emphasize touring.



Gauss

Technically, Gauss is an app, but its creators say they like to think of it as a "people magnet"-- which explains the logo. The idea behind Gauss is to connect people based on two key factors -- proximity and interests. But unlike other SoLoMo apps, Gauss puts a special emphasis on the user's ability to change and fine-tune their interest from one location to the next. So a Gauss user may select one set of interests at a work conference and then change those preferences later in the day when they meet friends for drinks. One additional selling point, the Gauss magnet operates in the background. When the magnet finds a connection, both parties get profile information pushed to them as well as a menu that facilitates a meet up.

Like a lot of SoLoMo apps, Gauss is a utility in search of a business model. But its founders have identified several areas for monetization, and first on that list is hyper-targeted advertising based, no doubt, on the stated preferences of its users. Of course, what gives Gauss an edge in that arena is that habitual updating and refining of preferences is baked into the utility of the app. But if Gauss is going to be a hit with advertisers, it will need to find scale, and at present that remains an open question.



Shopkick

Just like its name implies, Shopkick is an app geared toward improving the retail experience. Brands like Target, Best Buy, and Macy's have already partnered with Shopkick, which now has more than 3 million active users  who helped drive a reported $110 million in in-store revenues for the app's partners in 2011.

What's interesting about Shopkick is that it leverages the smartphone to act as a digital overlay inside the store. The app rewards users with points (known as "kicks") for entering partner stores, browsing selected items, and making purchases. Users can also read product reviews from the community inside the store before they make a purchase. And because the app can be linked with a user's Visa card, marketers have more than just a geo-targeted couponing platform -- they have a window into consumer shopping patterns at the point of sale. 

But putting insights aside, Shopkick has the long-term potential to revolutionize the way retail marketers approach another problem -- getting consumers into the store in the first place. Recently, Shopkick began experimenting with rewards offers designed to drive foot traffic on non-peak days. Dubbed "Black Friday 2," the experiment demonstrates the ability of Shopkick and its partners to transform a typical shopping day into a hype-worthy event. Of course, with the power to drive foot traffic at Black Friday levels any day of the year, Shopkick and its partners will have to drill down on targeting to make sure that they don't burn out consumers.



Wallit

Wallit is a SoLoMo app with an augmented reality twist. Billed as an app that lets you leave your virtual mark in physical locations, Wallit has pretty simple premise: With their mobile devices, users can post content (comments, audio, pictures, and video) at a real world location wherever there's a Wallit "wall." The content can be public or private, and anyone from around the world can view a Wall, but Wallit insists that posters be present at the location at time of posting to guarantee a highly relevant experience. Reportedly, the company also has some filtering software in place to keep spam and inappropriate content from gumming up the works.

"Think of a virtual wall on the face of the Golden Gate Bridge from one end to the other where people can leave sentiments, photos, movies and even audio that are persistent at that location, even though the people who generate the content constantly keep changing," Wallit's founder, Veysel Berk, told Reuters.

As of March 2012 (when the app launched) there are about 700 walls around the world. Because a wall needs to be built in each location, it seems only natural that brands would want to create their own virtual walls in retail locations as well as other physical spaces. Of course, it's also possible to imagine brands going big with the app by sponsoring Walls at events like football games or concerts.



Kibits

Creating real world groups on the fly is the primary function of Kibits, which is a relatively new entrant in the SoLoMo space. The app allows users to create both public and private groups for specific geographic locations based on contacts stored within their phones. Once groups are created, users can easily share any of the tools and media that are accessible from their smartphones. But unlike other SoLoMo apps, Kibits emphasizes group dynamics over letups and networking, which means that it's fundamentally geared toward providing users with a utility that solves a real world problem -- how to quickly and easily get recently formed groups onto the same digital page. The groups can be as small as a few friends using Kibits to link up for an afternoon adventure, or as large as the fan base for a particular band at a music festival. 

Right now, Kibits hasn't shed much light on its business model, so it's hard to say whether the app will make its way into a marketing brief anytime soon. But if it does, Kibits is most likely going to be an organizational tool. That said, it's not hard to see marketers devising programs based on the Kibits platform that retail managers can use to connect with users on the fly.



FourSquare

FourSquare was SoLoMo before SoLoMo was a buzzword. But even though FourSquare may no longer be on the cutting edge, brand marketers thinking about giving their messaging the social, local, mobile treatment should take a hard look at FourSquare for a few reasons:

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