By Jonathan Pollinger, Speaker & Trainer, Intranet Future

On Monday 20 June, Foursquare announced that their community was now over 10 million strong and with a London office opening soon it’s only a matter of time before the 2 year old New York start-up enters the UK mainstream.

Simply put, Foursquare is a phone app that uses GPS (Global Positioning System) technology. It’s a mashup of a social network, guide book and game that in Foursquare’s words helps people ‘find their friends and explore their world'.

So how does it work? In the same way that youtube has videos at its centre and Flickr has photos, Foursquare has venues; like cafes, restaurants, bars, cinemas and train stations. A Foursquare user can share the places they have visited by ‘checking-in’ using their phone or tablet. As well as sharing with your Foursquare friends you can also post your check-in onto Facebook and Twitter. You can leave ‘tips’ about venues which have now built up into treasure chest of useful information. Tips are great for finding out WiFi passwords or where to get the best coffee when travelling. You can also view when and where your Foursquare friends last checked-in; handy if you want to meet up or contact them.

Foursquare also has a gaming side to it where you can compete with other members and earn badges. For example, after visiting my local cinema on the 10th occasion I earned the Zoetrope badge. Check-in after 3am on a week day and you’ll be awarded with a School Night badge. If you check-in to somewhere more than anyone else you become the Mayor of that venue. So you might be thinking, ‘Sounds like fun, but what has this got to do with business?

Well, this combined feature set has helped drive the Foursquare user base to 10 million in double quick time. Foursquare grew by 3400% last year which is faster than Twitter at the equivalent stage. If you’re an owner of a business particularly one that is venue based you can market your business to this growing number of people who either live near your business or who are passing by and for free.

To do this you can set up a Foursquare Special to encourage first time and repeat visitors. For example, in Cheltenham, the The Montpellier Chapter is offering a free lunch or tea if you purchase a massage in its Spa and The Tivoli offers a free glass of wine between 5pm and 7pm every night. To encourage loyalty Domino’s Pizza offers a free pizza for the Mayor of each store every Wednesday. Think of Foursquare as a digital loyalty card and you’ll get the idea. It’s a very flexible platform so many variations on this sort of offer are possible.

When opening Foursquare in your vicinity your potential customer will see your venue and be alerted to your Foursquare Special and any news you wish to publish. So for example, if you are a café near a concert venue you could let people know you are open after the gig or you could attract customers are quieter times. Everytime someone checks into your premises you receive free publicity across Foursquare — and potentially on Facebook and Twitter too. This is powerful marketing particularly if they leave a ‘tip’ about their positive experience at your venue.

Foursquare is not just limited to venue based businesses. Jimmy Choo ran a campaign in London to launch a new range of trainers. If you checked-in to a shop where the trainers were checked-in you won a pair. Brands can set up Foursquare Pages which their fans can follow (in a similar way to Twitter), allowing them to see tips that have been left at venues. Luis Vuitton have used their Page (see: Louise Vuitton as an example) to attract over 110,000 fans by leaving tips around tourist attractions in London.

So how can your business take advantage? You should check to ensure that your business is listed on www.foursquare.com so that Foursquare users are aware of you. You or your marketing representative should also ‘claim your business’. This gives you access to your business dashboard where you can set up Foursquare Specials and obtain metrics on your visitors, so you measure the success of your campaigns. See the business section at www.foursquare.com for more information.

Like all social media, used in the right way Foursquare is a great way to engage with your customers and develop your business.

Jonathan Pollinger has spent the past 13 years helping companies with communications, technology and more recently social media. In 2009, Jonathan set up Intranet Future to advise companies how to improve their communications, marketing and customer services using social media. Intranet Future provides social network setup, consultancy, workshops and strategies. Jonathan speaks regularly at events where he demonstrates how businesses can benefit by using use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Foursquare. Follow Jonathan on linked in @jonnop. Visit: www.intranetfuture.com

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