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Initial thoughts on Foursquare…

I’ve been using Foursquare (http://foursquare.com/user/gcagreg), one of the more popular up and coming location based social networking sites/applications for a couple of months now, and maybe I’m just a social geek, but I’m hooked.  I’m sure Foursquare understands what they have on their hands, but I’m not sure most of the literally millions of businesses listed on their service, many of which are user added, have any idea of the nearly free marketing gold mine operating right under their noses.  For me, Foursquare and it’s mayorships and reward badges, is like internet crack.  I want more. No, I need more.

Many businesses struggle to get visitors to become frequent, repeat customers.  In the age of ubiquitous internet enabled smartphones, support of Foursquare users is an easy and inexpensive way to drive just that type of business.  Some businesses are starting to see the value in rewarding Foursquare users, like Beggar’s Banquent in East Lansing, Michigan (coincidentally in the same city the most awesome college in the world is in, but I digress…), which offers 20% off the mayor’s individual bill when they visit. (http://foursquare.com/venue/172434) Among Foursquare users, this type of offer, especially in a college town, starts the equivalent of a frequent visitor arms race to see who can get the coveted discount.  Other venues have promoted the opportunity to earn a ‘Swarm’ badge (earned when 50 Foursquare users are checked in at the same venue) if they attend on a certain night, event, etc.  And events, like the 2010 SXSW in Austin, TX had vendors create specific badges for visiting their convention booths, businesses, etc.

Unlike facebook, where friends are most likely to be ‘real’ friends and acquaintences, twitter, where followers have a common interest with you, and LinkedIn, where connections are for business, Foursquare friends are location based.  You find and become friends with people who visit the same businesses you do.  For a business looking to increase it’s customer base, marketing to Foursquare users is a self feeding proposition, users want to hang out where other users hang out.  The more people you draw in, the more people you are going to draw in.  (A side note on Foursquare friends, are most people’s friends from the opposite sex, or is it just me?  Yet another hook to draw customers in…)

Of course there are criticisms; it’s easy to cheat (you can simply drive by a place to ‘check-in’), and some have complained that Foursquare shout-outs are choking ‘legitimate’ twitter posts (‘Who cares if you just became to mayor of Diapers-R-Us?!?’).  What can’t be denied is that Foursquare, until something bigger and better comes along, is a great way to increase your customer base and virtually reward your visitors with very little out of pocket expense.

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