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In the era when smartphones are highly accessible and affordable, the merging of location-based services (LBS) and smartphone apps further eases people’s lives and helps smartphone build its indispensable role in the very aspects of human society. The roles of locative media include sharing users’ everyday life and ‘local knowledge in relation to places they visit’, enabling user-generated comments about the places they visit, geo-tagging in social media posts about the locations where the users have been to and intend to share, and tracking the users’ ‘daily mobility patterns’ (Evan, 2015, cited in Perng, Kitchin and Evans, 2016: 1). People establish their identity through the above functions and socialise on the virtual platforms (Saker and Evans, 2016). In this essay, regarding the role of LBS and its data-driven characteristic, the agency of mobile users to actively construct their identity on social media will be discussed.
Locative social media
Sam Hinton and Larissa Hjorth introduce in their work the growth of mobile technology and the development and influence of LBS, and come up with the conclusion that locative media has significant impact on ‘cultural practice, place-making’ and the formation of human relationships (Cincotta et al. 2011; Farman 2011; Gordon and de Souza e Silva 2011; de Souza e Silva and Frith 2012; cited in Hinton and Hjorth, 2013: 12). With the empirical research on various social media platforms from different regions around the world that had enabled the ‘check-in’ and the geo-tagging functions, Hinton and Hjorth argue that the existence of LBS in mobile phones has changed the construction of meaning of place and the understanding of the meaning of the place that is associated with the people within someone’s social circle (2013: 6).
Michael Saker and Leighton Evans argue in their recent paper that the functions of LBS together with social media posts ‘feed into a sense of personal biography, again affecting their identity in a recursive manner’ (Cramer et al., 2011; Guha & Birnholtz, 2013; cited in Saker and Evans, 2016: 2).
Since the emergence of LBS and the growing popularity of smartphones, there have been researches showing an increasing data of the kinds of LBS, the number of social media platforms that include LBS as a feature, and the number of smartphone users who frequently use such functions (Wilken, 2014:1089-1090; Zickuhr, 2013:12 cited in Frith, 2015: 115).
Meanwhile, the use of locative media ‘creates a massive amount of continuously updated “locative” data about everyday personal, social, temporal and spatial practices’ (Kitchin and Evans, 2016: 2), which enables social media platforms to analyse and provide suggestions catering the ‘avatar-selfs’ created online.
Location Based Services on social media platforms
Facebook in recent years has deliberately established itself as ‘a location focused platform’ (Wilken, 2014: 1087). Not only has it move its focus onto the local recommendation business (working with Foursquare, Yelp and Groupon), but it also has changed into a local ‘mobile advertising portal’ (Wilken, 2014: 1088).
Image: Facebook automatically suggests Ads according to the target audience of the advertising company.
Apart from the most earliest LBS like ‘check-in’ and geotagging, recently, there have been more and more features on Facebook which are all location-based, including the Nearby Event, Nearby Places, Find Wi-Fi, Nearby Friends, and even Shops (Wilken, 2014). The purposes of the features may differ, but it is telling that the practice on Facebook is not fully under the control of Facebook users. Facebook analyses and calculated the locative data and suggests the friends near you, ads that within your proximity, places with Wi-Fi, and even local events you may be able to attend. The data-driven Facebook posts not only shorten the decision-making time of the users but also create economic benefit to Facebook as a company (Wilken, 2014:1088). Although most social media users regards their social media Profile page as ‘a memory “backed-up”’ of their personal and social life, which shows the record of their ‘movements, mobilities, and locations’ (Saker and Evans, 2016: 7; Farman, 2012: 59), which could be said to represent one’s self, it is usually ignored that ‘the corporate acquisition’ (Wilken, 2014: 1093) that social media, as well as the advertising companies, gain during the process.
Image: Almost half of the ‘Explore’ features on Facebook are locative services.
Dymocks Café in Sydney CBD gains its popularity through the ‘check-in’ function on Facebook. Customers are required to check-in on Facebook and follow its Facebook page to be accessible to the Café’s Wi-Fi. The check-in post shows the rating and location of the Café, and when people click into the post there shows the Facebook page of it listing all the positive reviews and pictures of food that provided by the café, which is an effective and economic—free—step of the Café’s marketing strategy. Visiting the café is the locative practice of the user, which is a part of his/her life and is consistent with the social media timeline as a personal ‘memory back-up’ argument. The Café provides free- Wi-Fi in exchange for a free promotional Facebook post, which, in this sense, is controlling the online practice of the mobile users.
Images: Check-in post and the Facebook page of Dymocks Café.
It is not an uncommon case that cafés or restaurants making use of LBS on social media platforms to promote their business. Many restaurants in China use this marketing stunt as their marketing strategy as well. On the Valentines’ Day of 2017, Beimenshuanrou (a Beijing traditional hotpot restaurant) held an event saying customers coming in couples could get a ￥21.4 discount if they post a positive review on Dazhongdianping.com—a Chinese local recommendation app. A lot of positive reviews appears on the app under the restaurant which help higher the rating of it as a result.
Images: The Valentines’ Day promotion of Beimenshuanrou restaurant at Beijing and the social media posts.
Reflection and Conclusion
From the above examples, it is clearly to see that location-based social media is already at the centre of business marketing success (Wilken, 2014: 1098). This statement is also suitable for any social media campaign. Every stage of a social media campaign is about finding the right way to control the online practice of the target audience, especially in the step of target audience analysis which is about to look at the interest of the targeted and to make them naturally do the promotion for the client online with no cost at all. The point of structuring a campaign is not about catering someone’s taste, but to make someone feel that he/she is actively willing to do something positive for the client without being aware that there is a group of campaigners controlling their online behaviours. As for our own work, promoting the CON’s student concerts, creating Facebook/Google+ Events is making use of the Nearby feature of social media to make the event visible to people who have location proximity with the CON. Our work should have been better designed with more tactics related to LBS so as to make our campaign visible to a more possible audience of the CON.
To conclude, when ‘the storage, retrieval, and sharing of location that is possible through the use of LBS’, users no longer have to be physically present with their friends to share certain information (Saker and Evans, 2016: 3, 5). The sharing of location online constructs part of the user’s identity (Saker and Evans, 2016: 5), but such identity is a complex of the agency of the users and the data-driven experiment which is usually a part of a chain of corporate strategy.
Perng, S., Kitchin, R., & Evans, L. (2016). Locative media and data-driven computing experiments. Big Data & Society, 3(1), 205395171665216. doi:10.1177/2053951716652161
Saker, M., & Evans, L. (2016). Locative media and identity: Accumulative technologies of the self. SAGE Open, 6(3) doi:10.1177/2158244016662692
Frith, J. (2015). Smartphones as locative media. Hoboken: Wiley.
Farman, J. (2012). Locative Interfaces and Social Media. In Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media. New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203847664
Wilken, R. (2014). Places nearby: Facebook as a location-based social media platform. New Media & Society, 16(7), 1087–1103. doi:10.1177/1461444814543997
Hjorth, L., & Hinton, S. (2013). Social, Locative and Mobile Media. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 120–135). London: SAGE.