Thanks for checking in: a look at Location

A new vehicle in the advertising realm, one that should not be underestimated, is location-based applications.

Location-based applications allow users to ‘check-in’ via smartphone and share their location with other users of the service or other social networks. Users are able to see who else is checked in at a given location (from all users) or friends in nearby locations. By checking in, users receive points and/or badges and can unlock certain specials determined by the retailer.

The most publicized of these location-based apps is Foursquare. Today, there are a reported 8 million Foursquare users, up from just one million a year ago. Foursquare’s growth is a reflection of not only the company’s success but the adoption of smartphones and our increasingly mobile lifestyles.

Foursquare was created in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadura. Prior to Foursquare, Crowley founded a similar service called Dodgeball, which was acquired by Google in 2005. Google has since shut it down. Foursquare, which is free for both users and merchants, is now the hottest thing on the block (literally).

 Four steps to Foursquare

  1. Check in
  2. Get points and badges
  3. Get rewarded
  4. Become Mayor

 Thanks for checking in

After joining Foursquare and downloading the free application for smartphones (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Palm, Ovi, Windows Phone, etc), you’re ready to check in. While you’re going about your business — going to work, to the store or to a restaurant for dinner — simply launch the Foursquare application and view the Places around you. Foursquare determines a user’s location based on the phone’s GPS location.

For those that believe 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 or not to check in.

When checking in, users can add comments and/or tips for other users for that particular location. Or upload a photo. If the location you’re visiting isn’t in the Foursquare system, the application allows you to add it yourself.

Users find friends by linking Foursquare to their email, Twitter or Facebook accounts. Users are then able to view their friends’ latest check-ins. And even compete with them in a points contest on the Leaderboard.

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 or the highest percentage off a purchase. All rewards are determined and set by the business owner.

A user becomes “Mayor” if he or she checks in more frequently at a location than other Foursquare users. And can be ‘ousted’ as mayor if someone checks in more frequently than the current mayor.

 Will you be the next Mayor…of Walmart?

Check in at Walmart and you’ll earn points. Check in often enough and you’ll become Mayor. If you’re lucky (by achieving certain milestones), you’ll get a badge. Sounds a little childish, I know. (Besides the mayor part. Who wouldn’t want to be Mayor of Walmart?) But there is actually a benefit to checking in. Many retailers are embracing Foursquare as a way to connect with customers. A small but growing percentage of businesses on Foursquare are even offering discounts or Specials for checking in. Watch for this to expand rapidly as both smartphone adoption and Foursquare use increase.

Foursquare’s message to businesses:

“As a business owner, you can use Foursquare to engage your increasingly mobile customers with foursquare ‘Specials,’ which are discounts and prizes you can offer your loyal customers when they check in on foursquare at your venue. Don’t forget to show extra love to your venue’s Mayor! Additionally, if you offer foursquare Specials to your customers, you will be able to track how your venue is performing over time thanks to our robust set of venue analytics — for free!”

 Well isn’t that Special?

From my home in Bellefonte, Pa (Foursquare specials vary depending on location) I can view 18 Specials nearby including: Gordon’s Jewelers – Check-in and unlock $50 off your $300 purchase; Radio Shack – Check-in and get 20% off your qualifying purchase; Penn State Book Store – A free Snickers Peanut Butter Squared Pack when you check in. Forever Tanning – Free tan or 10% off a hair cut with every third check in.

You’ll see there are both national chains and local businesses taking advantage of Foursquare Specials. In a post on Sept. 3, 2010, titled, Finally a reason to be on Foursquare, I first looked at Foursquare’s growth in my area (State College, Pa aka Happy Valley).

 New and improved

Foursquare has rolled out new versions over the last three years, each update improving upon the last and bringing new features to the table. The current version features five main categories on the mobile application:

Places: showing businesses and landmarks around a user’s current location. After selecting a location, this is where users check in. And choose to comment and/or share with Facebook and Twitter. A new feature to the check-in is the ability to take a picture with a smartphone and upload it to Foursquare. The photos are then displayed on both the user’s page and on the location’s page.

Friends: displaying the user’s friends; much like Facebook, friend requests must be sent and then accepted. Here users can view a friend’s Foursquare feed, displaying all of his or her check-ins.

Explore: a service similar to Yelp (founded in 2004), showing nearby businesses in a given industry like Food, Coffee, Nightlife, Shops and Arts & Entertainment. Like Yelp, Foursquare Explore finds your location with your smartphones built-in GPS. Once a category and location is selected, say Pizza Hut, Explore will tell you how many of your friends have checked in, and name them specifically. Explore also displays how many times you’ve checked in to the location as well as what Foursquare calls Tips (essentially comments) made by your friends.

To-Do: the to-do tab is a bookmark, allowing you to note a location and what you’d like to do there the next time you’re around.

Me: serves as the Foursquare user’s Dashboard (showing total number of Check-Ins, Badges, Mayorships, Points, Leaderboard, Most Explored Categories, Top Places, Tips and Friends).

The Leaderboard on the Foursquare Dashboard (the ‘Me’ tab) ranks you among your friends by total number of points over the last seven days. It offers a fun way to gauge your Foursquare influence among your friends. Points are awarded for checking in, adding a new venue or traveling.

 Who’ll come out on top?

Foursquare is gaining fame at a fast rate. And where there’s success, imitators won’t be far behind. With the introduction of Facebook Places and other location-based services like Whrrl, which was acquired by daily deals service Groupon in mid-April, companies are copying Foursquare’s model. And vice versa, as evidenced by Foursquare’s recent inclusion and emphasis on its Yelp-like service directory Explore.

Our favorite services are attempting to do it all by folding social networking, location applications and daily deals into one. What will win out? User base or functionality? Quantity or quality?

For a direct link to Foursquare’s business page, click here.

Source:,, Foursquare application, YouTube

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