What Local Small Businesses Need to Know About Foursquare

Foursquare logoI don’t usually post about things like this but I feel like an exception needs to be made here just for the advances in technology and privacy alone. The newest darling of social media seems to be Foursquare, a location based game that is driven by your GPS location on your smartphone. I am not going to explain all of the ins and outs of the application because if this is something you are interested in you can go signup and check it out. I am going to explain why local brick and mortar stores should be paying attention and entertaining thoughts of what this could mean for technology in the future.

Public is the new black

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have made it possible for people to share with anyone online just about everything they do in their daily lives, and some people do just that. People are being hired and fired from jobs because of Facebook status updates and Twitter accounts. Whether or not you are a fan of this type of behavior, there is a shift in the way we communicate and what we are willing to share. Some people are willing to share everything.

Online, public is the new black. Companies are getting recognized for being ‘transparent’ and open with their customers. It is becoming more common, especially for younger generations to become very open about all of their activities (now only if we can teach the younger generation the ramifications of their actions online, but that is another blog post altogether). “If someone is NOT on Facebook they are considered weird and it must be because they don’t have any friends” said Chuck Klosterman, author of Eating the Dinosaur, in a recent interview on NPR.

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is an application you can add to your smartphone (iPhone, Android, Blackberry or Palm Pre). When you ‘check in’ the application pulls your actual current location from the GPS on your phone and you get points for going to different locations and businesses.

Here is how foursquare defines themselves:

Foursquare is a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things. We aim to build things to not only help you keep up with the places your friends go, but that encourage you to discover new places and challenge you to explore your neighborhood in new ways.

Did I lose you?

How about this real world example:

  • I am going to meet friends at a local restaurant called the Corner Room (it is delicious).
  • When we arrive to the restaurant we ‘check in’ on Foursquare.
  • Our location status is updated in Foursquare and your network can now see it. This can also be synched with Twitter and Facebook so those networks can be updated with your status as well.
  • We get a certain number of points for ‘checking in’, which is tallied against our other Foursquare connections.
  • After we check in, you may or may not get an alert from one of your Foursquare friends. This alert could be anything from a recommendation for an item on the menu, a tip about lowering your bill or a suggestions for another nearby location.
  • If you check in to a place more than anyone else, then you become the Mayor of that spot.
  • As you check in more you can also receive different badges to display on your profile.
Foursquare screenshots

The Mayor of my local gym? So what?

Foursquare mayor drinks for free
Photo credit: Amit Gupta

The whole outline above is an example of what checking in on Foursquare is like. This becomes a game, who can get the most points in a week, who can become the Mayor of the most popular spots in town etc. Why does anyone want to be the cyber-mayor of their local gym, favorite restaurant or grocery store?

Think about the marketing here. Once someone checks in at your business, a note is sent out to their online network. Each check in is essentially a mini marketing piece crafted for you with the value of a referral because ‘if my friends like eating there, maybe I will too’.

Some businesses are catching on and rewarding the Foursquare mayors with drink specials, gift certificates and more to keep the buzz going about their business. Think of the opportunities available here for local brick and mortar stores. The opportunity to bring these online relationships through your front door!

So what? How does this affect me?

It may not affect you at all. Foursquare is still in the early adopter stage. For me, it was just an eye opener on the technology that is becoming available to everyone. There are other GPS driven application like Foursquare including Loopt, Gowalla, Brightkite and more. This isn’t groundbreaking. GPS’s are using your speed and travel information to post traffic reports, Google maps have made it possible for us to add our businesses to online maps, Twitter has been allowing people to update their status and location for awhile now but it is the opportunities that present themselves with blending these technologies that has my head really spinning about the opportunity here for small local businesses.

How Foursquare can help small businesses

  1. Recognize and possibly reward your brand evangelists.
  2. Free way to list your business, location, specials, offers and information.
  3. Take online relationships (facebook fans, Twitter followers etc.) and watch them walk through the door.
  4. Games make people competitive. People can and will compete to be the Mayor of their favorite spots.