Businesses or consultants who work in the social media space know that one of the difficulties is keeping up with all of the new tools and websites and deciding whether it’s worth investing time and energy into using them. In this column, I’m going to take a look at Foursquare and some of the tools that local businesses can use to their advantage.
For those people who aren’t familiar with Foursquare, it a location-based social media tool that allows people to “check in” and broadcast their location to their friends or to the world. The service was built by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai. Dennis Crowley was also the creator of another location based service called Dodgeball which was bought, ignored, and eventually shut down by Google .
Foursquare works by allowing people to use a GPS based smart phone to verify their location (called checking in) and earn rewards. The rewards come in two forms: badges and mayor-ships. To earn a badge, you have to check in a specified number of times–for example, 10 check-ins earns you the adventurer badge. There are also location specific badges, such as the “Brooklyn 4 life” badge, which requires 25 check-ins from Brooklyn New York. The second type of reward is being declared mayor of a location. To become mayor, you have to have checked in at a location at least twice and be the person with the most check-ins over a 60 day period.
Now that we’ve covered how Foursquare works, why is it important for (local or neighborhood locations of regional or national) businesses to join Foursquare and how can they get the most out of it? Since Foursquare is based on getting people to your place of business, it’s going to work best for places which people actually visit regularly, such as a gym, coffee shop, restaurant, club, bookstore, day spa, or hair salon. If you run a business and you see a meaningful portion of your customers using smartphones when they are there, it’s probably an idea worth exploring.
Claim your business on Foursquare
Foursquare allows business owners to claim their business. Once they do, they can create incentives. For example, a business can offer a discount or free item to anyone who proves they are the mayor, or to anyone who visits a certain number of times.
The premise behind Foursquare is that when users check in, they broadcast or share their check ins with their Twitter stream and/or Facebook stream. For good or bad, oversharing is a hallmark trait of social media, so much so that foursquare has an oversharing badge for anyone who checks in more than 10 times in a 24 hour period.
If the user has a Twitter stream every time they become mayor it is automatically shared, so it’s a good idea to use that promotion. By enabling the “X number of visits” or “every X number of visits” discount, you are encouraging repeat business and repeat broadcasting of your business. On their business page, Foursquare has more information and links to Foursquare advertisements you can use to let people know you are on Foursquare.
Strategic business partnerships
Foursquare is currently working with several partners for special badges. For example, if you check in to four different Starbucks, you get a Barista Badge. Check in to 5 Zagat rated restaurants and you’ll get the Zagat foodie badge. They also have partnerships with Bravo TV for checking in to locations related to Top Chef, Real Housewives, and other shows. Foursquare has also started partnering with real world publication like Spin Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Earning these special tie-in badges requires that you are friends with the publisher.
Life on Foursquare isn’t all a bed of roses. Danny Sullivan had a first hand experience with someone exploiting a bug in the system and ousting him as mayor. Additionally, there was bit of negative press from the site PleaseRobMe.com earlier this year when the site pointed out that telling people you are “out” tells them you are not home.
Should your business join Foursquare?
The answer depends on what type of business you are and the demographic of your customer. Local consumer oriented busineses that depend on foot traffic will get the most out of Foursquare, especially if your customers are gadget-friendly, smart phone owners. However, your business has to be something that people want to tell others about. It might be pretty hard to get someone to check in to a dry cleaner store, but if you offer check in incentives (like dry cleaning coupons), Foursquare just might work for you.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.