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Recent publicity at SXSW gave the gang at Foursquare 100,000 new users in 10 days. Obviously people saw something they liked about the location based social networking site.  I was hooked back in October.  Not sure exactly when I signed up, but my first check in was at the local Noodles & Company.  You get lots of points for a first check-in somewhere.  After having used it now for 5 months I am by no means an expert, but I know I have a good enough understanding of the platform to provide some insight into the game, and how I would love to see it expanded upon and used by retailers, restaurants, and others in their marketing endeavors.

How to start using Foursquare: Like most other social media platforms, I started by visiting their website and signing up.  After creating an account I could connect with people I know on Twitter and Facebook who had already signed up, or I could invite new users through email.  Even though Foursquare has a well developed web presence and most of the setting and detailed information can be accessed through their website, most users download the foursquare app to their iPhone, Android phone, or Blackberry, and assumingly check in at or near the desired venue.  I would say that one downside to the app version is that there is not more capability to manage settings and account info though it seems that this is being addressed with every new update.

What? you say you don’t have any friends to invite?  You don’t necessarily need to invite or join others right away.  Foursquare will still work, you just won’t have a “friend” network to check your score against and you wont get pings from other users when they check in which I will get into later.

Foursquare- a pings and points game: Most of those familiar with the platform know that playing Foursquare means earning points for check-ins.  Depending upon whether or not you have been there before, you will earn a point for the check-in and “bonus” points for multiple check-ins during the day or, if its a new venue, additional points for adding it to the Foursquare database.  As you can see, those that visit alot of new venues and add them to the database will get many more points than someone who just checks in at school or work every day.  There is technically no “winner” at Foursquare.  Every Monday at 12.00am the points are reset back to zero.  There is no award for the person in your friend network, or in your local area for that matter with the highest number of points…. yet.  So you might ask.. “why play?”  Even though Foursquare is a “game”, first and foremost its a location based social network that can “ping” other users that you have added to your network.  Thanks to push notifications and DM’s via Twitter, when someone checks into a venue, their friends get a message that alerts them to the check-in.

Foursquare- for tips and shouts: In addition to earning points, users can provide information for others who check in at particular venues.  These “tips” or suggestions that pop up when the user checks in at or near a particular venue can tell them something about the venue that they might want to know or try.  Recently however this feature has been exploited with some users bad mouthing people that frequent a venue or, if they don’t like the venue, leaving derogatory comments about the venue itself.

Foursquare- for freebies and discounts: One aspect of Foursquare that intrigues me is the potential that is there for businesses to market themselves on this platform.  Think about it- People checking into your venue alerts others in their network that they are there or have been there.  This is akin to the pop-up in the corner of a TV program, but I think its particularly more targeted because specific check-ins occur at specific times.  I.E. at lunch someone will check into the local pizza venue which will ping someone else and perhaps make them say… “hey! Pizza sounds good for lunch today!”  This is especially effective when paired with other social networks such as Twitter and Facebook where this pizza place could tweet or post a special for the day.  Some venues have even offered discounts for people who check in at that venue or become mayor.  WAIT- whats this “mayor” you speak of?  I can’t belive I completely forgot about becoming “mayor” of a venue.  Maybe because it doesn’t mean squat typically.  At any given time I am mayor of 20-30 venues.  I can’t say that I have ever gotten anything because of it.  This could be because anyone with the most check-ins at a location can become mayor of that venue.  Discounts and freebies to mayors seem redundant to me.  These people already frequent your establishment enough to be mayor so they obviously are not there because of said freebie or discount.  Once they become mayor, do they keep getting this discount everyday?  How would that work?  And you are only catering to a single person.  Instead, check-in discounts for anyone who checks-in at your venue in my opinion is more appropriate.

Foursquare- the dark side: For every 10 people who want to play the game for what it is and be fair about it, you have one who is out there to take advantage of the platform.  Recently there was a guy who, through the Foursquare API, was able to become mayor of places without ever being there among other things.  One other thing I do not do is check in from my home.  Foursquare has the ability for you to go off the grid and not notify your friends of your location but still check-in,  but others who check in from home run the risk of letting websites like PleaseRobMe tell them when they are away.   Of course you don’t need a website to tell you when someone isn’t home as its pretty evident that if they check in at a venue that ISN’T their home, then they are not at said residence.  If you never check into this residence though, its harder for someone to take advantage of this absence to visit your home while you are away.  Finally there are always those who check in at places that they never even visited.  It would be nice if the geolocation feature somehow prevented check-ins over a 300 yard radius from the actual venue.

Hopefully this primer has made you want to check out Foursquare, or perhaps offer discounts to those who visit your store or restaurant.  If you are in St. Louis, feel free to post discounts you find in the area in the comment section below.  Next I plan on creating a “rulebook” for lack of a better term since Foursquare doesn’t have one on their site.  I personally think this is a little cavalier because what fun is a game without rules?  For instance… When/if you are at a mall, do you check-in at the store itself inside the mall, do you just check into the actual mall building, or do you do both?  See, not that cut and dried.  So subscribe to the blog and you don’t have to rely on Twitter or me spamming you when I finally get around to posting it.  Finally, you might have noticed there is a TON I didn’t touch on such as Badges, and exactly what IS Foursquare going to do with all this check-in data anyway?  This is for you to draw your own conclusions, read other blogs, and hopefully comment below on your own thoughts.  I personally feel like I need to use Yelp and Gowalla now to compare.  In the meantime… here are a few other blogs that discuss various aspects of using Foursquare.

thenextweb.com: 6 Innovative Ways Businesses are Capitalizing on Foursquare

From @doctorsound:  How I Use Foursquare and How You Can Make it Better

From Katie @ brainwoo.com:  How to Use Foursquare to Promote Your Business

Shoemoney- Jeremy Schoemaker:  Tell me How You Use Foursquare, Shoemoney’s Comment String from his question of “why?”

Scobleizer- Robert Scoble:  Foursquare: Will it be Bigger than Twitter?

From Jennifer @ Mashable: Foursquare: Why it may be the Next Twitter ( had I read this first I may have not even posted my article!)

7 Responses to “Foursquare- Is it more than just a game?”

  1. Laura says:

    Great post! I love Foursquare, and find it to be very fun. I have never gotten any discounts or anything, but I think it is really interesting. Just need some more people in my area to play. :)


  2. garrick says:

    Recently I checked in at my local Lion’s Choice, and later in the day I received a thank you Tweet from them. I was pleasantly surprised, and responded with some positive feedback about my visit. They said they’d pass it on to the store.

    I probably wouldn’t have taken the time to send the feedback (positive or negative) if LC hadn’t reached out to me first.


  3. Justin says:

    I’m curious how you feel Foursquare measures up against Yelp where there is an established community to interact with, complete with Community Manager. Not to mention a much more cut a dry purpose to Yelp–review local businesses for the benefit of others–while Foursquare seems to have taken a much more hands off approach to their service.

    Perhaps this is akin to comparing Facebook to Twitter. I was well established with Yelp before I ever begun thinking about Foursquare.


    admin Reply:

    I love Yelp with its ability for users to leave reviews of a place. I actually have used it on occasion just for that purpose. Since I have an iPhone I use Urbanspoon more for restaurant reviews and leaving comments there instead of places like Yelp. I like it more because its specific to restaurants. It would be interesting if there were an urbanspoon for retail stores. sort by what you are looking for perhaps.


  4. Great, and thorough post Jason. What do you think of the other location apps out there like:

    Or have you already declared Foursquare the winner?

    I have been playing with them all, but Foursquare is my main app right now. Gowalla forces the GPS issue so you can’t cheat, but it also won’t let me check in at a place because the coordinates are off so it it’s annoying.

    You might want to break up your paragraphs a bit so this does not look so intimidating. It is definitely worth reading!



    admin Reply:

    Your comment about Gowalla makes me want to use it just for the GPS function. I think that’s the major downside to Foursquare right now. The coordinates thing does seem like it could be a sticking point but if they could modify their radius somehow I think that would fix the problem. Of your list I have only used Brightkite. I like its ability to post photos with your check-in. Aside from that, it needs the “why” part to make it successful. Foursquare has addressed the “why” with both points for the game, and engaging retailers and restaurants to offer discounts and ability to market. I love the pop-ups that give me tips from other users assuming they are not berating other people in their tip.


  5. Timothy says:

    I have been using it for a little while. I’ve even bumped into a friend because we checked in at the same place at about the same time. That’s why I would check in to both the mall (for social connections) and the store within the mall (for highlighting that location).


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