Banjo CEO: Location Is Key for Social Apps

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The addition of location technology to social networks is transforming how both users and news outlets learn about the world around them. Banjo, one of a number of fast-growing location-based social apps, recently reached one million users just nine months after its launch.

The company’s founder and CEO, Damien Patton, talked to Street Fight recently about the impact of location technology, how advertising is evolving with social media, and the future of location-based social networks.

How is location technology changing the way we use social media?
For me one of the biggest things is that location is that missing key when it comes to social apps. What I mean by that is it makes our social networks more relevant. For example, when people are talking about a subject or visiting a place, if I know that they’re actually there, it makes it a lot more relevant to me because you know that it’s a first-hand report. Also, if you talk about just our close social networks or our friends, and things that are happening it puts context to a picture, it puts context to a story.

When people are just writing on a Facebook wall and just putting stuff out on Twitter or posting stuff to Instagram, you’ll see it, sometimes you’ll read it and you’ll make a comment on it, but you’re not really understanding the full context of it. All of the sudden with location, it makes a big difference. “Ah, the picture was from Hawaii; Ah, that post is from some cool concert or something you’re at that I didn’t know was taking place…” So, at the end of the day I think location makes our social networks more relevant and brings more context to the content that’s already out there.

With location apps like Banjo, it seems like you’re using social media as a tool to connect in the real world — do you see that trend continuing?
I do think the shift is going to continue. Think about the way we consume news stories. For example, if there’s a tsunami or a protest or an earthquake happening somewhere, the fact that you can actually go there, to that place [with an app], before the news even breaks and start consuming things based on activity at that location — and consuming it in the social feeds that we’ve become accustomed to.

It’s going to be more prevelant. We all want to where exactly “it” is happening, and the context, and you’ll hear, ‘such and such is happening somewhere.’ Well, what I want to know, I don’t just want someone to just tell me about it, I want to see it for myself. But, of course we all can’t be there.

If you’re doing something in a location or social space, really think about how do you connect those brands with their consumers in a way that makes an emotional connection as opposed to “here’s a coupon for 50 cents off your next cup of coffee.”

This is going to be an interesting year with SoLoMo because, think about this, the Olympics. The last time the Olympics came around, Facebook, Twitter, iPhone, Android, none of them were in the position they are today. I think London said they’re going to have 700,000 people come to London to check out the Olympics. Think about how many people are going to check out the Olympics now using social media, and using location-based applications, especially one like Banjo that lets you travel anywhere in the world and lets you see them in real-time.

How do you think location apps can be use to enhance journalism and hyperlocal content?
The news is already starting to use Banjo. A couple of weekends ago I had CNN on, on a Saturday, and one of the reporters was using Banjo to report on the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. He said with Banjo he could go there and he could actually search by the keyword “Trayvon” and he knew every person that was showing up, whether it was Twitter or Instagram or whatever the case may be, was talking about Trayvon and was actually in Sanford, Florida, and was therefore highly relevant.

Another news channel was using it to report on the weather where there were tornados. They couldn’t get to the affected area right away, but they could go there with Banjo.  I think it’s an amazing tool for media and for the news that Banjo gives you, because it really gives you the power to be at two places at once. You are guaranteed that the content you are seeing is relevant content from that source, and you can further filter it down by things that interest you by keywords.

How does Banjo’s business model work?
For us, it’s clear. The old ways of advertising of just putting up ads on a mobile device — we know this is not a way that is long-term sustainable. Users are just going to start tuning out if they continue to see more ads. So, if you’re doing something in a location or social space, really think about how do you connect those brands with their consumers in a way that makes an emotional connection as opposed to “here’s a coupon for 50 cents off your next cup of coffee.” That’s not going to create brand loyalty at the end of the day and not what either the consumer is going to accept and not what the brand is going to expect.

We took it from a different approach. I started this program called “Connecting Bands with Fans” because connecting bands with fans, artists and their fanbase on a global basis, does the same thing as connecting brands with their consumer base. It’s that  emotional connection that people have when identifying with a certain brand as it is identifying with a certain artist. So you can start to think about that connection of how that’s done and say, “okay, now you can make this happen when connecting people with the things that really matter to them the most and brands that matter to them most at the times they matter to them most?” Through that, there are plenty of ways to monetize.

So, you’re saying it’s going to have to start evolving beyond geo-targeted advertisements?
I’m not a proponent of geo-targeted ads, and I’m just not a fan of advertisements in general. I just think it’s very invasive. When I’m on my mobile device and I’m busy searching for something or I’m busy on an app doing something, the last thing I want is a coupon popping up. But, I mean some people do want that, right? So you have to understand, again those people that do want that, there has to be a medium and a place for them to get that.

Isa Jones is an intern at Street Fight.