A new report from Forrester says that geosocial apps a.k.a. location-based social networks can "help increase in-store visits, your brand's visibility and consumer word of mouth by connecting people with their locations and their friends." Yet consumer adoption of location-based apps is very slow. In 2010, only 4% of U.S. online adults used geolocation apps monthly or more; that number grew to 6% in 2011. In 2010, 84% of US online adults did not know what geosocial app like Foursquare or Gowalla even were; that percentage has changed to 70% in 2011.

This study comes out at an interesting moment. Foursquare recently announced that it has hit 15 million users. Its competitor, Gowalla, is joining forces with Facebook. The two less-talked about yet equally as relevant location-based social networks include Loopt, a location service that tracks where users are without manual check-in, and SCVNGR, which started out as an enterprise-based SMS service and went to the consumer side of things this past May. It offers location check-in based scavenger hunts.

When It Comes To Apps, Geosocial Is Not Geolocation

The study also differentiates geosocial apps (LBSNs) from the broader picture of geolocation mobile apps, a category that includes apps for navigation, map viewing, local search and local daily deals. Geosocial apps are far more powerful because they provide information about location and the user's social graph.

Social networks do offer location features, but location is just baked in. A few examples include Facebook Places, Google+ check-ins, Twitter posts with locations, Apple's Find My Friends app and the nearly dead Google Latitude. Location, however, is not central to Facebook and Twitter in the way it is to Foursquare and SCVNGR.

Geosocial apps also let you share your location out to your social networks, but many prefer to keep location where it's best used - in the location-based social network. Says Loopt: "There is a level of privacy people enjoy on geosocial apps."

Who Is Actually Using Geolocation Apps?

Forrester finds that people using geolocation apps are influential, connected and young.
Three-fourths of geolocation app users range from ages 23 to 45. Forty-three percent are Gen Y (ages 23-31) and 18% are Gen Z (ages 18-22). Gen X users are using geolocation apps less this year; in 2010, 42% said they used them versus only 32% this year. Not surprisingly, only 1% of seniors ages 67 and older used geolocation apps in 2011.

There is some good news for marketers. Geosocial apps are edging closer to mainstream American demographics. In 2010, users were only 22% female, and the average user's household income was $105,000. This year 37% of geosocial app users are female, and the average user's household income has dropped to $92,000.