There has been lots of talk in the press lately about location-based applications and Foursquare seems to be earning the lion’s share of the coverage, even though there are others in the space, like Gowalla, Loopt and Brightkite, with similar offerings.
So what is Foursquare, anyway?
Foursquare is a location based service with a bit of goofy competition thrown in for good measure. You load up the Foursquare app on your iPhone, Blackberry or whatever you carry around that is GPS-enabled. When you arrive at a destination that has a “hang out” quality to it (think bar, restaurant, book store, museum, clothing store or anyplace you might be awhile) you “check in” at that place. If you don’t find the place already listed within Foursquare, you can add in the name, address, phone, etc., of the place, and THEN check in. All of this activity earns you points and helps you unlock different badges (this is the goofy competition part). Additionally, you might find that your other Foursquare friends are hanging out in the same place or, perhaps, they are somewhere nearby in the neighborhood. There are literally dozens of badges and the more times you visit a particular place, you end up becoming the “mayor” of that place. Here is where Foursquare gets interesting for businesses. (Click here to see what Foursquare is doing to help businesses take advantage of their service. They make it VERY easy.)
Every successful business has regular customers. Now, via Foursquare, you can reward those loyal customers and their friends. 10% off an item of clothing if you’re the mayor of a local clothing retailer. Bring in 3 other friends and your meal is free. You get the idea. It’s a new twist on loyalty programs, but in a much more public forum. Your Foursquare updates can be tied to your twitter feed and posted to your facebook page, letting people know about the places you like to eat, shop or hang out. Why is this significant? Because people trust the recommendations of their friends and peers more than they do celebrity endorsers or commercials. And if you are a local business, you’re not going to have a celebrity endorser anyhow. (I love this Jimmy Choo treasure hunt around London using Foursquare.) Foursquare also allows users to leave tips about different businesses in sometimes clever ways. I was recently having lunch and when I checked in, someone had left a tip that automatically popped up that said “Make sure you try the ice cream across the street at Miss Mooie’s.”
Location based apps have a certain creepiness factor, but I see them as a huge boon to businesses of all sizes. Foursquare does allow for advanced privacy settings, so you don’t have to broadcast your whereabouts to the whole world. Maintaining connections to customers is so critical for the survival of ANY business, and Foursquare enables those connections, and also helps with the important work of having your customers act as your marketing street team. As Twitter and facebook continue to integrate location into their services, Foursquare is a logical complement. For business owners, it is not a silver bullet, but IS a clever and effective way to engage and reward your most loyal customers, and steadily build a new customer base.