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Foursquare: The Red-Headed Stepchild Of Social Or A Local Marketing Ally?

By January 14, 2013June 28th, 2015Social Marketing
Foursquare: The Red-Headed Stepchild Of Social Or A Local Marketing Ally?

If you haven’t used Foursquare for business then you probably know it as that annoying thing you see in your Facebook and Twitter feeds that’s constantly telling you who “checked in” where.

You may often wonder why you care whether Billy Bob checked in at the Gas-n-Go in Wichita, or moreover, why Billy Bob (or the Gas-n-Go) cares.

Who are these people who are constantly checking in to places, and what are these businesses doing anyway?

I admit, I created a personal Foursquare account a hundred years ago (in internet years) and couldn’t quite get into the hang of checking in at every location from the local pancake house to my chiropractor’s office. I didn’t need badges that badly.

The only thing Fousquare seemed to be worth was competing with my husband for “Mayorship” of our local breakfast joint and getting a free basket of plain tortilla chips at Chili’s.


Fortunately since then, Foursquare has rolled out better tools that make being a user a little more fun and a business a little more interesting. You still get to be the Mayor if you obsessively visit and check in at your favorite local hangout, but there are some nifty things that businesses can do with their marketing beyond bestowing silly titles on their most loyal customers.

As to whether or not Foursquare is still just a dopey badge system or a real marketing boon, I’ll leave that to you to decide. But here’s my opinion and a couple of ideas you can use to try it out for yourself.

Pro: You Get To Have A Mayor

As a customer it’s kind of cool to be the Mayor of my favorite deli. (It’s a constant annoyance that my husband always beats me on the breakfast joint, especially since I tend to go there more often. He just happens to be better at obsessing about checking in.)

It’s a throwaway perk but it’s part of the new culture of gamification.

Hooray, I have a title that nets me exactly nothing! And I love it!

The good news is that you don’t have to do a single thing to bestow this honor on your guests. Foursquare tracks and does the work for you. This can help create a little fun and maybe even competition around your business for those obsessive types who check in everywhere.

Con: You Get To Have A Mayor

If you use Foursquare you know that inevitably there’s that one guy who is always Mayor and no matter what you do you can’t seem to unseat him.

We visit our local Starbucks daily, often multiple times a day. But no matter how many times we check in (sometimes we even do a drive-by check in, even if we don’t actually go in… cheating, I know) the same guy is always Mayor.

I have a suspicion it’s one of the managers.

If the same guy seems to win all the darn time, after a while it’s just no fun anymore.

Tip: Use Mayorship As A Marketing Advantage

Yes, Foursquare does the tracking work for you but it doesn’t do the marketing for you. If your manager is always Mayor, or there’s little more than a fake title to go along with it, your customers are going to lose interest.

As the business account holder, you have the option to remove someone as Mayor and note your reason (Employee? Guy who does nothing but drive-by check-ins?) and I suggest you do that.

For starters, employees should never be able to usurp the Mayor spot. There’s no marketing advantage to that. If you want to build team spirit, try something else.

Secondly, you should be checking your “Top Visitors” so you can see who is checking in and how often. If your top visitor has 600 check-ins and your next most-frequent visitor has 10… you may want to rethink your marketing strategy! Time to offer more incentives for people to check in. Or delicately unseat your top visitor with a free sandwich or something and make room for the competition.

It’s almost a no-brainer to set up a deal that unlocks whenever someone becomes Mayor for the first time. A coupon, a freebie, a discount. Give people a reason to check in at your location and they’ll be more likely to do so.

Badges are nice. Free stuff is better.

Pro: It’s Free

There’s no cost to create a Foursquare account. You do need a personal account before you can “claim” your business listing, but both are free.

It’s also free to run deals. Unlike Groupon, which gets a cut of your deal, you can run coupons and specials on Foursquare without kicking back to anyone else.

If you’re smart about creating your business listing (with a good description, profile photo, appropriate category, etc) then you even get a bunch of free advertising by association.

When you log into Foursquare as a user, you see places nearby, specials nearby, places your friends have visited and now even “Recently Opened” which can be a boon to new businesses trying to gain a foothold in a local area.

Of course, there is an advertising option but there’s a lot you can do without spending a cent.

If I check in to my local Starbucks and your business happens to be in the area, I’ll be able to see you even though I wasn’t looking for you. Maybe you’re a photographer. Every time I check in to Starbucks, I notice you, the photographer, right in my town.

Next time I need a photographer, guess who’s going to pop up in my mind?

So having a Foursquare presence is not only good for you when people are searching locally for your type of business, but it can be good exposure to start building awareness even when they’re not.

Con: It’s Not Really Free

Nothing is ever really free.

Free comes at the expense of effort. You can’t simply claim a business listing and hope that people notice that your Dry Cleaner is nearby next time they’re at the pet shop.

It’s called marketing because it is marketing. It’s not “throw business name out into public, wait, and hope.”

There’s an inherent amount of effort involved in monitoring your check-ins, creating specials and educating your employees about how to handle people who come in to claim the free chips.

And there’s also the expense of the deal. If you’re giving away free chips, that still costs you something and should be factored into your budget.

This backfires with Groupon deals sometimes. You may have heard stories about businesses that put out an offer for say, a half price pizza, and so many people claim the offer that the business either can’t fulfill the offer or ends up losing a ton of money on it.

If you offer something free on check-in, be prepared so if 50 people check-in to claim your free $5 item, you don’t send yourself to the poor house.

Tip: Set Up Enticing Specials And Monitor, Monitor, Monitor

Foursquare gives you a bunch of options for setting up specials, so think about what will work for you.

There’s the basic check-in special (check in and get 10% off your next purchase) but there are much more interesting ideas, too.

There are “friends” specials, where you can offer a deal if multiple people (say, 4 friends) check in at once. This is great for getting more people into your business and making it social.

There’s the “flash” special, where you offer a deal to a certain number of people at a certain time (for example, the first 5 people who check in before noon get a free appetizer). This is great for enticing people into your location at a time that is normally dead.

You can even set up “loyalty” specials, say 10% off to every customer on their 10th check-in.

It’s important that you pay attention to your response rate and deactivate any specials that seem to be “too popular” for your budget.

Pro: You Can See What People Are Saying About Your Business

People who visit your location can leave “tips” for others who may want to visit.

“This Dry Cleaner gets my collars white every time.”

This can serve as good advertising and it can also give you a window into what people are saying so you can capitalize on your strengths and improve your weaknesses.

In a related-but-different perk, you (as your business) can also leave tips about other local businesses. That gives you a perfect opportunity to build local business relationships and also to keep your business in front of people even when they’re not visiting you.

Of course, a dose of “if you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything” would come in handy here. If you  have a horrible experience at the car wash next door, don’t complain about that via your business account unless you want a cranky neighbor.

Con: You Can See What People Are Saying About Your Business

Yes, that means even the bad reviews that say “Forget customer service, you’ll wait for a glass of water for a half hour every time.”

On the plus side, you’ll have every opportunity to correct the flaws and improve your service.

Resist the urge to get defensive and run around deleting anything hinting of a negative review.

Use them for what they’re worth. After all, if your customer service really does stink then it’s not the Foursquare review that’s going to bring you down.

Tip: Pay Attention!

People are going to talk about your business, so when they do, pay attention.

If it’s good, keep doing it. If it’s not, fix it.

If you’re using Foursquare like a superstar, then take it offline, too. Ask your customers what they like or don’t like about your specials. Ask them if they’ve posted a tip or review and what they think.

Engage people in real life to find out what they’re doing and saying online. If you see a customer who’s given a previous bad review, ask about it. If you see a customer who’s given a good review, thank them!

This involves quite a bit of paying attention, as I’m sure many businesses can’t tell a loyal customer from an egg. Challenge yourself to monitor Foursquare to see if you can match the photo of someone who has checked into your location online to their presence in real life.

And The Verdict Is…

If you know me or have read any of my other blogs, you can probably guess what I’m going to say about whether or not you should be using Foursquare for your business.

And the verdict is… Maybe!

If you’re a local business, you’ve got an opportunity. Create your profile, set up a special, post some helpful updates, connect with other local businesses by way of tips and see what happens.

Are people checking in? Taking advantage of your specials? Are you making connections and money?

That’s what’s going to make up your mind for you. Not what I – or anyone else – tells you to do.

It can be a slow process at first so if you don’t see massive check-ins and a boon of foot traffic in the first week or month or even several months, don’t give up. Adjust your strategies and go again.

Maybe you need better educated employees who can help you promote your specials. Maybe you need to print out one of Foursquare’s very helpful flyers and pop one into the shopping bag of each customer so they know you’re even on Foursquare in the first place.

If you’ve given it a good effort and aren’t seeing results, then move on.

Over to you… are you using Foursquare, either to check in to your favorite places or as a business? What do you love or hate about it? Can you think of any ways that you can use it to boost your local traffic?

Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Hi Carol,

    As I was reading the first couple of paragraphs of your post I was telling to myself, where did I hear about Foursquare before? Then it downed on me that it was when I had to do some research this past summer to write an article about Foursquare for a client.

    Because of this, I can say that your article is way more complete than anything I found back then to give me information to write my article. I have to say that before I research for that article I had absolutely never, ever heard about Foursquare. It is definitely the kind of tool that local businesses should look into, and your post is giving all the details as usual. Great stuff!

    • Foursquare has also changed a lot recently. They’ve given businesses better tools and made it a lot friendlier for people to use and find things. It can definitely work, I’ve used it with clients, too. Now you have a source for your next article 🙂

  • Donna Merrill says:

    Hi Carol.

    So that’s what Forsquare is! I haven’t paid attention to it. I know my daughter has it and raves about it all the time. But now I have a great education due to you!
    I have to tell my local business friends about it because they are working so hard in this economy. Also now I can finally understand what my daughter is talking about. She had mentioned she was Mayor once, but I thought she was taking about a game.

    So, after reading this, I’m out of the dark and hip to it! Thanks so much for explaining it to me,

    • haha, I’m so glad I could get you on the same page as your daughter 🙂 Yes, it’s worth checking out for a local biz, see if it can bring in some extra business or build awareness. Good luck, I hope your friends will find it has some value!

  • Stacy says:

    Hi Carol,

    I’ve heard about Foursquare but never knew anything about it until now. It sounds very interesting. I’m curious to check it out, it sounds like a good tool! Thank you for taking the time to explain it so in depth!


    • I’m pretty surprised at how many people aren’t familiar with Foursquare! Well then I’m glad I could help 🙂 If you want to market a local biz it’s worth a look! It can also be fun to use (and help you find businesses in your area).

  • Adrienne says:

    As I’m reading this Carol I honestly admit that the majority of the time I kept thinking to myself, who cares. Okay, you know I’m old school so to me the whole thing just seems silly.

    Now if you have a business and are trying to get attention then I can see where this may come in handy. Thank goodness that’s not me.

    I too appreciate this post because I honestly just thought people checked in to wherever they were and that’s it. Big deal, again I could care less. But obviously it does have a point to it.. Leave it to you to be so thorough in explaining this service.


    • Some people like to get those badges! The way a business uses it will make it more useful or not. For example, if you get a free appetizer or a discount or coupon for “checking in”, I bet you would do it! Then your friends will see that and next thing you know, that business has more business!

  • I use Foursquare daily, but have only used it personally. I had no idea you could unseat a Mayor as a business. What a great idea if said person is a manager or the “drive-by guy” as you called him. That made me laugh simply because anyone who has spent time on Foursquare can relate.

    Thanks for an incredibly detailed and well-thought-out article. It’s not something you see very often with Foursquare so great job!

    • Yes, it’s a good idea to get rid of the perpetual mayors! You’re right about there not being a lot of info out there. I was doing some research and was actually surprised by how little I found. Seems like a good topic to start covering!

  • Sherryl Perry says:

    Great examples of how a local business can use FourSquare. Personally, I don’t use it at all. Like you, I set up an account and I did dabble in it a little when I was researching an article about SOLOMO (Social, Local and Mobile) advertising. I think there’s huge potential here for businesses with brick and mortar locations. However, I haven’t read anything on how (or if) a service related business or an online business could tap into this resource. I would be interested in finding more out about that.

    Thanks for such a useful article. I’m bookmarking to share it in the future when I have questions from clients about marketing locally.

    • Hi Sherryl,

      Brick and mortar businesses definitely have an advantage here. Part of the benefit is the ability to get people into your location. As a service business, you can still use Foursquare if you want to list your address and be found locally. Think of it like Google maps – some people who work virtually or out of the homes don’t necessarily want business people showing up on their doorstep or knowing their address. But if that’s ok with you, then you can still use it as a marketing tool. You probably wouldn’t do anything with checkins, but you could still post updates about your business, leave tips for other local businesses and basically interact so your business is in front of people. Think of the photographer in my example. He is interacting and posting and when people search in his area, his business comes up as “nearby”. It’s mostly about exposure. take a look and experiment, that’s really the best way to test it out!

  • OK well not having come across Foursquare before I was intrigued to know what the heck it was! Having read your excellent article, I’m still not sure I care! LOL – Evidently, I’m not their ‘target market’! Nevertheless… thanks for a good read Carol Lynn ~Robin~

    • You’re not alone, Robin! As a customer I could never really get into it because getting a “badge” for doing some meaningless thing always seemed like too much effort for nothing. Sadly, that’s because so many businesses have no idea it exists, let alone what to do with it! If more local businesses were using it to offer incentives, deals and coupons, I bet more people would care. If my favorite local restaurant gave me a 10% discount on my meal just for signing into a social app, I’d do it. Businesses have to get on board first! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙂