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Eric Zimmett’s Tech Talk: Foursquare and Location-Based Services for your Business

on April 29, 2012 6:40 AM

In marketing school it is taught that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. One new way has emerged in recent years to specifically identify new customers, or at least those who opt to check-in.

Location-based services (LBS) allow users to check-in at businesses via smartphone and share their location with other users, in addition to posting photos, comments or reviews.

According to the annual Mobile Life study, published this week by research group TNS, there are six billion mobile users in the world. Among them, one fifth (19 percent) are already using LBS. They’re already “checking in.” And three times that number (62 percent) is planning to do so in the future, according to the same report, available at www.tnsglobal.com/mobilelife.

The most publicized of these LBS is Foursquare. Foursquare was founded in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadura.

Prior to Foursquare, Crowley co-founded a similar service called Dodgeball, which was acquired by Google in 2005. Four years later, Google shut it down and replaced it with Google Latitude.

There are a reported 20 million Foursquare users – up from eight million just one year ago – according to a Foursquare report released on April 16, 2012, a social media holiday also known as Foursquare Day. Foursquare's growth is a reflection of not only the company's success but the adoption of smartphones and our increasingly mobile-tech lifestyles.

Foursquare, which is free for both users and merchants, is now one of many LBS including Facebook’s own check-in feature – a 2011 revamp of Facebook Places – which allows users to tag a location in any update or post.

Four steps to Foursquare for the user

1.    Check in

2.    Get Points and Badges

3.    Become Mayor

4.    Get Rewarded

Check-in here

After signing up for Foursquare, and downloading the free application for smartphones, users are ready to check in. This is done by simply launching the Foursquare application and viewing the Places around you. Foursquare determines a user's location based on the smartphone's built-in GPS.

For those thinking Foursquare is a bit too personal, keep in mind that the check-in is a manual process. Users decide when and where to check in.

When checking in, users can add comments, tips or photos for a given location. If a business isn't in the Foursquare system, users can add it themselves.

As I noted in my April 1 column – 5 Things Small Business Owners Should Be Doing Foursquare is mostly user-generated. Users check-in on their own; unlock specials that merchants have created and compete with friends on their Leaderboards.

By checking in, users receive points and badges based on where, when and how often they check in. The Mayor often receives the largest reward. All rewards are set by the merchant.

A user becomes “Mayor” if he or she checks in more frequently at a location than other Foursquare users in a 60-day period. And can be ousted as mayor if someone checks in more frequently.

When a special has been unlocked, a clear message will display on the user’s smartphone screen notifying him or her of the accomplishment. To get rewarded, the user must then show the screen to the merchant to receive the unlocked special.

Four steps to Foursquare for the merchant

1.    Claim your venue

2.    Get your stickers

3.    Create a special

4.    Track its success

Merchants can create a venue or, if it’s already been created, search for it then claim it. Once you’ve found your venue on Foursquare’s website, click the link to let Foursquare know that you manage the venue. (Foursquare also makes it easy for merchants with multiple locations.)

After a few quick confirmation steps, you’ll be ready to use Foursquare for business.

Foursquare will verify that you’re the business owner by providing you with a verification code by phone or mail.

If the information for your business listing is incorrect, you’ll be able to edit it and continue claiming the venue. In many cases, Foursquare users create venues with incorrect or missing information.

Once a venue has been claimed, Foursquare will send you a Foursquare sticker. A window-cling that reads: “Foursquare Check-In Here. Check in to unlock specials, meet up with friends and explore what’s nearby.”

Creating a special: Foursquare allows merchants to create specials for Foursquare users to unlock and redeem. Specials like a discount with a minimum purchase (spend $25, get $5 off); a free offer (check in and get a free gift); specials for return visits (free coffee on your fifth visit); or specials for achieving Mayor status. Foursquare has a group of specials at your disposal and a step-by-step guide for creating them.

Once you’ve completed the above steps to claim your venue, and created a special, it would be a good idea to notify all of your staff of Foursquare and the special you’ve offered. Foursquare makes this easy, too, with informational Employee Flyers for your staff.

Track the success: You’ll have access to real-time Foursquare analytics showing the total number of check-ins; most recent visitors; most frequent visitors; a demographic breakdown; activity across other social networks; as well as the success of any specials being offered.

And it’s all free. Get started at http://foursquare.com/businesses.

Thanks for checking in

With Facebook and photo-applications like Path and Instagram all incorporating location features, other services are following Foursquare's lead.  

This results in customer activity that’s happening as close to the register as it gets.

Location-based services are attracting users at an unprecedented rate. Businesses would be smart to jump on the location-bandwagon now before their next would-be customer checks in across the street.

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