social media how toFor the first time in history, the Internet is focusing in on local business in a major way. And Foursquare is leading the trend.

Instead of competing in a “global marketplace,” local business owners now have access to geotagging, local search, and location-based services. All of which make the Internet more useful to small business than it has ever been before.

Imagine being a hotel owner with several rooms available at 8 o’clock one evening. You know there are a couple of big events happening in town and people are going to be looking for rooms to “sleep it off.” Because of location-based services like Foursquare and Gowalla, you can now advertise a special for those rooms to people who are close enough to take advantage of it.


Would you like to offer a loyalty program to customers without having to print those annoying punch-cards? How about Foursquare for Business… Their free business program keeps track of all the stats for you and even sends you messages to tell you who your most loyal customers are!

New possibilities are being explored every day. But before you jump in and start geotagging, here’s what you need to know.

What Is Geotagging?

It’s a good question because there are really two answers.

First Answer: Geotagging is an added feature for Twitter (and other social media sites) that lets you identify your tweet location by town, neighborhood or precise location.

Second Answer: Geotagging is also an element of mobile applications (Foursquare, Gowalla) that enables real-time sharing of your activities, and promotion of real-time location-based rewards and specials offered by merchants.

Basically, geotagging takes advantage of the GPS technology that’s built into smartphones to build community at the street level instead of just at a global level.

Getting Started

The great thing about a service like Foursquare is that you can’t cheat. It operates based on the physical location of your phone, so you—or at least your phone—has to be where you say it is.

To use any of the location-based services, the first step is to download an application to your smartphone. For example, Facebook is introducing a location-based feature for the approximately 25% of users who post updates using smartphones.

Those people using older cell phones will need to update to an iPhone, Android, Palm or Blackberry before they can join this newest game. But a business owner can join the fun at any time.

For The Business Owner

Yes, even as a business owner, location-based services are going to be easier to use with a smartphone, but you can get started without one. For example, Foursquare is walking business owners through the free signup process and giving them advice for setting up a reward program.

Business owners already using Foursquare can go straight to the venue signup page to get started. All Foursquare is asking right now is that business owners limit themselves to places where people tend to gather; i.e., coffee shops, restaurants, cafés and bars. Other storefronts (hardware stores, salons, etc.) will be able to join and participate as they develop their capacity to handle more traffic.

How it Works for Consumers

Naturally you start by getting a location-based app account. There are lots of apps to choose from:

Once a geo-based application is downloaded to your smartphone, most of the work is already done. For example, all you do is login to Foursquare and the application tells you what businesses close to you are registered.

Foursquare also tells you what rewards or specials each business offers to Foursquare users who check in. For example, 15th Ave. Coffee & Tea in Seattle offers $1 macchiatos before 4pm and $2 off beer and wine after 4pm. The Mayor gets a free pastry! (“The Mayor” is an automatic designation Foursquare gives to the person who checks in to a specific location the most often each day.)

MSNBC’s Today says Foursquare just might be the new Facebook.

To make it more fun, Foursquare also offers badges based on how often and in how many places you login. For example, you can be a Super Mayor by achieving Mayor status in 10 or more venues at once. You get your first badge—the Noob—for making your first check-in, and there are badges to show your progress all the way up to 50 check-ins.


There are even corporate badges and badges based on conferences (SxSW and CES).  You can see a (mostly) complete list of Foursquare badges at IWasAround. It’s a little hard to keep any list like this complete because it’s always being added to. Foursquare is even looking at allowing business owners to develop their own badges.

Why Be Involved?

Let’s start this by pointing at a great article Clement Yeung wrote that’s all about Foursquare. Clement gives a 5-point action plan for using Foursquare and makes some sensible suggestions for ways businesses can partner to be more attractive to customers.

The main reason to get involved is this: The cell phone is the point of convergence for technology.

Things that are happening right now are:

  • Websites being optimized for mobile display
  • Foursquare and other location-based services becoming popular
  • Location and activity-based advertising
  • Real-time, local search capacity for consumers

And all these things revolve around smartphones.

AdMob Mobile Metrics is a business dedicated to tracking how people are using their smartphones. Interestingly, their January 2010 metrics report says:

  • Almost twice as many iPhone and iPod Touch users regularly download paid apps as Android and webOS users.
  • Men are the biggest users of smartphones (but only by 10-15%).
  • Smartphone users are evenly split across age groups.
  • The vast majority of smartphone users are happy with their toy and iPhone leads the satisfaction pack.

Foursquare and Gowalla connect to Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is also launching a location-based widget! So everything you’re doing with social media is easily applicable to location-based marketing.

In fact, my assertion is that the “big players” have finally woken up to the untapped market of small business owners. This is why location-based services are being developed.  Location-based services make it possible for you and me to make meaningful online connections with the audience that lives within 10, 20 or 50 miles of us.

And I have a special assignment for your local business: Watch your customers today, and tell me how many walk in with a smartphone. Even better, tell me how many are using that smartphone while they stand in line! They are your captive audience.

What do you think about Foursquare? Have you put a reward program in place for your loyal, local, online customers? Are you just finding out about this stuff and have questions? Go ahead and share what you know in the comment box below.

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  • eliazbeth

    How do you think geotagging can work for political campaigns?

  • Guest

    Actually, you can cheat. Sadly, there geotagging only seems to work if you check in using the app. It doesn’t work via text or checking in via the mobile web – yet.

  • newsconsumer

    I could even see geotagging working for news organizations to mobilize citizen journalists who happen to be near an unfolding news event.

  • I agree with Dayngr geotagging is not perfect yet, but Foursquare is certainly heading in the right direction. I think the potential is there but many businesses are failing ot see it. Having said that I am from London and the amount of people using Foursquare is far too low for businesses to try and use this for marketing. I definately see it growing over time.


  • philiphotchkiss

    Nice piece. Customer loyalty rewards and new customer acquisition for small retail businesses in particular, is where I see Foursquare’s greatest promise.

  • This has great potential with small artisan businesses who cannot afford to advertise on a large scale.

  • Using Geo services is great, and offers lots of possibilities… but I think the need to share your check-in info on Facebook and Twitter is very much up in the air. I’m not a fan of the updates as they seem like a form of push. I’d much rather know what you’re doing at location X rather than simply reading that you’re there. I recently wrote about the issue here:

    What’s your take?

  • peterlincoln

    Interesting post Conrad, thanks for sharing it!

    I understand your overviews about geotagging and foursquare as a powerful business tool but how is the business owner supposed to take action when he finds an opportunity like the one you mention on the hotel´s example?

    That would be an interesting conversation to start on Q&A. I think that could help many business owner define their strategy and take action more than just have a presence there and wait for results.

  • They are working on the cheating thing… See

  • I agree geo-tagging is awesome for some things, but I don’t really see a strong benefit to the Foursquare approach. It seems more like a game, but I guess that’s how most people use Facebook, too, when there is true business potential there, too.

  • As it applies to my business, Real Estate, Foursquare is a glimpse into the future for us. Mobile aps will rule the day, and using Geo-Fencing, as Foursquare does, will lead to a hand help ap for home Buyers where they can be notified as they pass over into a neighborhood where a home , matching their criteria, is for sale (or Open House). very very powerful!

  • Yes I love my iPhone and it loves me thx for the update I will make sure I check in more often

  • That is definitely the future for SMEs! It is crazy though how the digital world is getting closer and closer to the real world.

  • Hum, when you say you can’t cheat with Foursquare, that’s not true. Some people have become the “Mayor” of the North Pole, and other silly locations. I am personnaly the mayor of the French equivalent of “Home Sweet Home”: «Maison, sucrée maison» and a few others:

  • burkys

    Once they get the cheater code down me and my business will be on board 110%!!! As of today you can not only check in to anywhere from anywhere, but you can check in multiple times in a short duration. Once they make it so that you can only check in once in a 2 hours span and only from that location then I have some great promotions I would love to run. I have really been talking it up at the restaurant, so I hope it happens soon!

  • I agree with you here Philip. Most definitive can see this as a additional tool to provide an additional customer experience. It’s all up to your imagination.

    But as other has mentioned here, at the moment Geotagging is not to reliable. And 4SQ is more a game.

    But it has some great potential. And I have seen rumors that some of the big players shall be interested in purchasing 4SQ. So we will see.

    It is fun and addictive at the moment.. tehe..

    Cheers.. Are

  • @garyvee describes how big brands perk up when they hear about Foursquare, Gowalla, etc.. because they get it right away. They understand how the channel can be monetized. This in comparison to Twitter, where many companies struggle to develop a strategy/process/etc..

    Loyalty applications and developing “hub audiences” are key with geo tools/sites.

    Aside: The mobile app for Yelp! is quite good. I just sussed out a restaurant with it. I’ll go there and review… then check in at Gowalla, FourSquare and others (I’m phildunn on those, if you care to connect). Nice post Conrad!

  • Hi Eliazbeth,

    As with Facebook or Twitter, you can receive updates from friends about where they’re checking in with Foursquare. So you can use it to meet up with friends at a rally, or ask volunteers to check in while they’re canvassing. Then you’ll know which neighbourhoods have been covered.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Dayngr,

    Truthfully, you can always cheat. Just hand your phone to a friend to check in while you’re otherwise indisposed. I didn’t spend a lot of time on it because it’s no different than worrying someone will steal your e-book, white paper or lunch.

    Locks are meant to keep honest people out.

    Conrad Hall

  • That’s an interesting thought. I wonder if the function will help rescuers locate people? For a citizen journalist, that could mean showing a safer way into an area. For a victim, it could mean faster rescue.

    Conrad Hall

  • Guest

    I still don’t understand how a new customer of mine that wants to take advantage of a special that I have for Foursquare ONLY will differentiate themselves from all my other customers. How do I prevent everyone from taking advantage of the special?

  • There is definitely strong potential here for small businesses. They have an opportunity to test promotions and get daily feedback. If tracked correctly it could have a huge impact on their marketing. And for now the services are free except for the time involved. Can you imagine how valuable it would be to know that promotion X got 25% more response than promotion Y? This has implications beyond just digital media and advertising as the information collected could influence other promotions, pricing, direct marketing, and more traditional media advertising as well.

  • Hi Sandeep,

    Yes, it will grow over time. For now, Foursquare is asking business owners to restrict themselves to being owners of community spots. e.g. coffee shops, taverns, restaurants.

    They want to expand their service to include every kind of retailer and business. They’ll get it done.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Phlip and TwtrCoach,

    Yes, Foursquare is a game. That’s how they want it. So far, they find the fun element is one of the keys to their growth. I’ll find out more when we do an interview together. I’ll ask Mike to let everyone know when it’s scheduled.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Anthony,

    Yes, definitely. I”m looking forward to seeing what happens when Foursquare is able to include all business types.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Ryan,

    You’re right, knowing what someone is doing can be useful. For example, Foursquare showed where the hot social spots were at SXSW this year. That’s great for everyone who just wants to follow the party.

    And a lot of the venues are fairly obvious about what you’re doing. If you’re at a coffee shop, you’re probably getting coffee. But what if that coffee shop is having a fundraiser? This is one of the things I’ll be asking about when I interview the folks at Foursquare.

    It would definitely be good to be able to check in at a special event in addition to a location.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Peter,

    Thank you for the comment. Sure, I’ll be happy to start that conversation at Startups. Thanks for suggesting it.

    For now, let me clarify that local, real-time search is a little different from Foursquare. The pattern would work like this:
    1. the hotel owner advertises the available rooms after say 6pm
    2. a traveller finds the room special by doing a local search for hotel rooms
    3. the traveller checks into the hotel, and checks in using Foursquare
    4. the traveller’s community sees the room special and begins to associate the hotel chain with the special and with good service.

    Does that make sense?

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Vasser,

    The strong benefit comes from what the individual retailer does with the application.

    If you get a free donut for being the mayor, then there isn’t much benefit. But a free coffee and discounted food raises the ante.

    What if being the mayor of your favourite pub meant you’d get a free meal? Would you compete against your friends to see who could check in the most often?

    Remember, Foursquare put the game element into their application deliberately.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi CBCA,

    You have a good take on it. An article I saw recently about Foursquare being the new Facebook is a little premature. The folks at Foursquare know there is A LOT they can connect to and provide value to users. Just imagine how well targeted advertising can be when you know where someone is and what they’re doing.

    Let me know if you any questions or suggestions for Foursquare. I’m scheduling a BTR interview with them and will be happy to pose your questions.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Heather,

    iPhones are great. Check in as often as you like.

    Conrad Hall

  • Which came first – the electron or the update?

  • Hi Orenoque,

    Yep, you’re right. When you cheat at solitaire, does anyone care?

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Burkys,

    That’s a good way to approach it. Invest the time and energy to understand an application and how it can benefit your business.

    I’d say you’re miles ahead of your competition.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Phildunn,

    Thanks. I appreciate the comment and the compliment.

    I have to admit leaning more on Foursquare than the other services. I’m more familiar with Foursquare than the others. You’re right on the money with looking at the other apps. Foursquare’s a leader, but so was MySpace once upon a time.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi MsFields,

    Think of it as sending a coupon to only one zip code. Other people can hear about the coupon, but the only way to get one is if you know someone in the special zip code.

    Let’s say you offer free cookies to everyone who checks into your bakery between 3pm and 4pm Friday afternoon. First, they have to check in to Foursquare to be eligible, right? So someone who comes into the bakery without checking into Foursquare can’t get free cookies, right?

    Or is it?

    Someone just happens to come into your bakery between 3pm and 4pm Friday afternoon. They don’t check in to Foursquare – they don’t even know what Foursquare is. But they certainly see everyone getting free cookies.

    Are you going to turn them away? Or will you tell them about Foursquare and explain the promotion? Then give them a free cookie, encourage them to tell their friends about Foursquare, and forewarn them that they need to check in next time.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Gavin,

    It’s an interesting thought, but a little skewed.

    Split testing is standard for testing one campaign against another. But finding the campaign that works best with Foursquare doesn’t automatically translate into a winning campaign for another media form. Several companies have tried doing that by pulling the audio track from TV commercials and playing them as radio spots.

    There’s an insurance company that tried it. I haven’t heard those commercials in a while.

    Remember, it’s the:
    Right message (ad)
    at the
    Right time (placement)
    to the
    Right people (audience)
    in the
    Right way (media)

    Especially now, we can’t assume that a winning Facebook campaign is going to work in direct mail, or anywhere else. The technology penetration is still too lopsided.

    That was driven home to me with the last junior college presentation I did. The only person in the room with a social media account in addition to Facebook was the organising faculty. The world is not as thoroughly connected as we sometimes like to believe.

    Conrad Hall

  • Thank you for posting this article. I love using foursquare because I think that it is fun to connect with friends from out of town to see what they are up to. I also like to use foursquare to check out the ‘tips’ that other users have posted about the establishments in my area. It is fun to see what people think of certain places, like the local Mexican restaurant or if a store is having a sale. I think this is a great opportunity for small businesses to make an impact and connect with their customers in a whole new way.

  • Guest

    Thank you Conrad, I’m trying to think through this for my business and honestly – I’m getting stuck. We own a successful laundromat in a town that is having a Foursquare Day. Like everyone else, we are slow due to the economy and a new competition. But when folks come into our laundromat, they are shocked at how clean we are so getting new folks in the store is key for us. We have a great wash/dry/fold drop off service too. I was thinking, why not a promotion 50% off $10.00 laundry card (no quarters) or 50% drop-off service. BUT, the more I read, the more it seems like it’s directed mostly at restaurants, retail stores – the in and out type business.


  • Hi MsFields,

    You’re right on the money. Foursquare has a request on the sign-up page that asks business owners to restrict themselves to registering restaurants, pubs and coffee shops – places of high traffic and community.

    Let’s look at the promotion from a different angle. You want people to come into the store, and you’re looking at people who will use your facilities. But there are a lot more people in your community than that.

    Find a community-based reason for people to come to the laundromat. Make it a place to get girl scout cookies, or give to a food drive. And remember to contact your local media when you do these things – they’re news stories.

    Put a call out to all the soccer, field hockey, football and sports moms. Have a day at the start of hockey season to clean stinky hockey gear. Then have another mid-season, and one end of season. Give away a special detergent to clean the gear and get the stink out. (much cheaper than discounting the machine cost.)

    Now let’s look at how to use Foursquare to make a community based interest.

    How about a scavenger hunt – and you include the “typical” Foursquare businesses. Make it for teenagers and their parents. The teens have to find a pair of underwear in each shop. With each pair of underwear is a laundry tip. The first person to check in at the laundromat with all the tips – in the correct order – wins a prize. Maybe a free laundry card – maybe all the underwear.

    (Loral Langemeier would slap me for giving away all this material for free!) 😉

    Let me know if this helps.

    Conrad Hall

  • Hi Dawn,

    Absolutely. I agree 100%. Each business owner is only limited by their imagination.

    And for anyone lacking in ideas – look at some of my replies here. Still stuck? Hire me. I’m not cheap, but I”m cute. 😉

    Conrad Hall

  • Excellent post Conrad. I have been researching this very phenomenon and it is going to be huge. Thanks for the concise information and a great overview of location based marketing and networking.

  • This is fascinating stuff, Conrad! Thank you for the great post. You know… I continue to be amazed with the innovation and ingenuity I’m seeing in the social media world. Very cool.

  • jimredmile

    I use Foursquare personally, and my business,, is mainly B2B with little walk-in traffic and virtually no “gathering.” So thanks for the informative article and great comments. As a business leader in the community, we could surely use the information and some of the suggestions to become a Foursquare leader too.

  • Conrad, great post. Foursquare is just touching the tip of the iceberg with so much more to come. It is worth local businesses taking advantage of it now so as it grows and changes they are already ahead of the game. It can make a huge impact on their business when following a special Foursquare strategy. Thank you.

  • “The great thing about a service like Foursquare is that you can’t cheat. It operates based on the physical location of your phone, so you—or at least your phone—has to be where you say it is.”

    Actually you can cheat with Foursquare, especially if the place is in your history you can check in from anywhere. To test it I just checked into a place that is 45 minutes away. I was there 4 days ago. Gowalla is much more stringent, but I’ve found their mapping software to be very inaccurate at times. I can be standing in a Starbucks and it will tell me I’m too far away to be able to check in there when both Foursquare and Brightkite can locate me. Unfortunately I’ve also seen people check into 5-10 places in one minute. I’ve seen that mostly on Gowalla.

    Sorry this post seems very negative. I’m actually an avid user of geo-tagging apps. Although I do believe they are still in their infancy, which means there are a number of bugs that will eventually be worked out. I also think they have great potential.

  • bvhunt

    An idea for the laundromat owner above is to partner with a nearby coffee shop who is already in Foursquare and do a joint promotion.

  • Mary Fletcher Jones

    My problem with foursquare is that I feel it fails to be relevant and useful to the community in which it is broadcast. If you’re putting out content that only serves a few (like the participant, the business owner, and maybe a couple of people who MIGHT find that kind of update interesting) but you broadcast those updates to 100s of people, you are undermining the whole point of social media. Niche interests/niche updates -> niche audiences.

    I think I would feel differently if I subscribed to foursquare updates and elected to receive them. But as it is, it infects my Twitter stream and to me that feels like SPAM. It may not technically be SPAM, but that’s how it feels to me.

    I just find it annoying, myself, because whether people have just visited a gym, gone out for coffee, or whatever is not that interesting or relevant to me. A review might be, but just someone logging a visit doesn’t really teach me anything.

  • Hi Kathleen,

    You’re most welcome. Please do let me know if you have questions or suggestions for using Foursquare. The community will love to have your input.

  • Hi Kathleen,

    Thanks for the compliment. Please do let me know if you have questions or suggestions for using Foursquare. The community will love to have your input. (And I did an oops – hit reply to an earlier comment and typed a reply to you.)


  • Hi Ed,

    Yes. The developments are incredible. Wait until you see what’s happening with smartphones in the next 18 months. It’ll be stupendous if iPad gets their kinks worked out.


  • Hi Jim,

    Thank you for the comment. You’re right. You can use Foursquare for events as much as for your business. Book an event at a restaurant, public library or college and have people check into the event.


  • Hi Mary,

    Yes, you’re right on the money. I was just talking with Andrew Ballenthin yesterday and saying that all the “experts” and “gurus” have been way off base. For about 20 months, they were saying businesses would get left behind if they didn’t adopt social media. HA!

    How short sighted!! The wave for social media is only beginning to build now. Local search, geo-tagging and real-time results are making the net commercially useful to local business owners for the first time. And the level of technology penetration is no where near what people think/say it is.

    All we’ve seen so far is a pop. The explosive growth has yet to happen.


  • Hi,

    Yep, you can cheat. Locks are meant to keep honest people out.

    You can bet Foursquare – and all the other services – are working to fix that. That’s part of why they’re asking businesses to limit themselves to community-type places. It’s the ideal sort of place to work out the bugs.


  • Hi BV,

    Sure, absolutely. The only limitation on any promotion is our imagination.


  • Hi Mary,

    That’s interesting. I’m not experiencing overlap between the two services. I’d be interested to know how you’ve connected the two. And if you disconnect them, will it cure the problem?


  • timk10

    Great topic and good read for someone exploring this as an option for different businesses.

    @Mary – I would say I agree with you to a point. I don’t really get excited seeing my buddy checked into the gym at 11:00. I disagree with you on the effectiveness overall.

    The fallacy is assuming something will or will not work because what appeals to us. Two reasons:

    A) We don’t necessarily represent the masses so maybe it doesn’t impact you/me but what about my buddy’s other 250 friends on FB.
    B) Even if the process generally doesn’t appeal there can be the one time you see someone’s post about a place you were unaware of and it creates interest so you search out more info.

    In either of these scenarios there is a potential for gain without significant negative impact. You aren’t going to stop going to a business because they have 4SQ are you?

  • Hi Tim,

    You’re right on the money. All of us are guilty of believing an audience
    will or won’t respond based on our own reaction.

    That’s why the L in the G.L.A.D. system is for Listening to Your Audience.
    As small business owners, we have daily contact with our target market. Make
    the time to speak to them and ask what they’re doing online.

    Yes, FB has the largest audience. And you might find that your existing
    customers use YouTube or another site more often. Naturally, you’ll go where
    your audience is.

    Great comment, Tim. Social media services are changing so rapidly it’s
    impossible to make a long-term decision on how to use them. We have to use
    what we have today, and simply keep revisiting services to see how they

    Conrad Hall

  • Conrad
    I agree with Mary above. I think this app would be more useful or fun if you could configure it on facebook to receive feeds from the region you live. If I start getting updates from everyone on my facebook page every time they go somewhere and 1/2 of them are 3,000 miles away, that would quickly become annoying. If you could configure the settings with some filtration that seems more logical.

  • That’s right. You can also cheat by checking into the same place multiple times in a row to steal a mayorship. Another way to cheat is to check in from the phone by clicking on a previous stop in your history. It will let you check in on a place you’re nowhere near.

  • Lucio Flavio

    It’s pretty easy to see how restaurants and hotels could benefit from this action.

    However, how do you think big companies as Wal-Mart, Sears, Best buy etc could use geotagging?

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  • Waynze

    Looking for someone that can setup Facebook places to loyalty reward program.