Oh, Foursquare. Originally known for being a simple, sensibly designed app for checking in and discovering the places around us, Foursquare has now split in two. Two apps, that is. In May, the company released a new app called Swarm for check-ins and kept the original Foursquare for discovering places. Why, you ask? Users are still trying to figure that out months later.

Foursquare’s intent was to move away from the check-in option that they pioneered and into the jam-packed realm of apps that help users connect with local businesses. When sites like Facebook and Yelp added
a check-in feature, Foursquare was no longer unique in that aspect and had to re-invent itself to compete with other recommendation services. This included rebranding Foursquare entirely, complete with a brand new logo, app design and purpose. Foursquare’s app is now strictly for recommendations which has forced users to download Swarm to continue checking in.

This didn’t go over so well.

Many of the over 50,000,000 Foursquare users were upset to say the least. While some may have migrated over to Swarm without a hitch, a number of users united in digital outrage that could be seen in angry tweets, one-star app reviews and posts on Foursquare’s Facebook page. The change and confusion over the two apps also prompted a breakup letter, parody video of the CEO apologizing, the #failsquare hashtag, and a “Kill Swarm” Twitter and Tumblr.

Foursquare has posted a series of blogs explaining the rebranding of the original app and features of Swarm in hopes that users will come on board with the idea. Although reviews have slowly become more positive for both apps, users are still questioning how necessary it is for them to be separated. One reviewer wrote: “Was Foursquare broken??? NO. But you felt the need to get rid of all the things that made you great. Why would I want two apps that used to do one thing?”

The most popular check-in app now has many of its loyal users checking out. Amid all the backlash, there are business lessons to be learned from Foursquare’s mistakes.

Listen to Your Swarm (Customers)

It’s not too late for a happy ending, but the rebranding process would have gone much smoother for Foursquare, had they paid attention before the one-star reviews started rolling in at a prolific speed. There are more sites to leave reviews on than we can count and more ways to communicate with customers than ever before (through various social media outlets, for example). Getting customer feedback, and relating it to your business plan is key in making sure your product or service works for how customers want to use it.

Stick with What You Know

Innovation is a great thing and is meant to have a positive effect on the look, function and financial success of a business. It requires the ambitious choice to take a risk and try something new, as Foursquare did. However, when the “something new” diverts from what your company is known and loved for, it can have the opposite effect. To paraphrase the breakup letter, you begin to fail at everything you were once good at. The innovation strategy has to be properly executed with prior questions about rationality and the means for a smooth transition from old to new. You have to ask, “Does this idea match my business model?” Your customers come to you and stay because you have proven to offer what they want. Why take it away?

Keep It Simple

Foursquare became so caught up in competing that they didn’t think about what made sense for their app and neglected what made them successful in the first place. Foursquare and Swarm have now been described as “counterproductive” and “too complicated” for existing as two apps to do the job that one new-and-improved app could have done.

Be practical and use logic when making decisions for your business, whether for marketing or developing a new product. Your customers want more features and new versions of your product or service, but only if they make it better and easier to use.