When the Internet started gaining mass appeal in the late ‘90s, its main value was connecting people over longer distances. E-mail started replacing expensive long-distance calls.
Fast-forward to the past few years: the majority of people find great value in getting the whereabouts of nearby friends on Facebook and neighborhood restaurants on sites like Yelp. But what’s most interesting to me, though, is how these sites are helping neighborhood businesses too – giving people and businesses a way to communicate on a new level.
On that note, one of my recent technology favorites gaining a lot of buzz is Foursquare. Like many of the new-fangled smartphone applications, Foursquare is most popular on the iPhone. The idea is simple: Foursquare uses iPhone’s built-in location functionality to locate where you are and the businesses that are around you. Once you have this list, you can choose to “check in” at your location. Checking in shows your friends where you are and gives you the ability to share it on other platforms like Twitter. One example: I recently checked in at Whole Foods and a friend on Twitter realized we were nearby, so we met up.
Foursquare has made a game of hopping around the city and sharing that with friends. And that’s what makes it fun for users. As you check in around town, you’re awarded badges like “school night” and “explorer,” depending on your habits. If you check in more than anyone else at a location, you get the label of “mayor” there. You can also add location tips like “the chocolate cake here is a must-try.” You’re letting your friends know your whereabouts, you’re playing a local game, and you’re also receiving local tips around town. Innocent enough, right?
But that’s where it gets interesting – especially for local businesses. Some particularly savvy businesses are giving their location’s “mayors” certain incentives – say, free beer to the Foursquare “mayors” of their bars. Other places are giving discounts to customers that show their check-in page at that venue. More check-ins mean more social media traffic about the business. And we all know that positive word of mouth is a great thing for business. Of course, one day Foursquare will setup a system for small businesses to advertise to nearby customers. It’s coming… just wait.
If you have an iPhone, give Foursquare a try. And if you are a local business, at the very least you should make sure your business is listed so your customers can check in and proudly display their patronage. Keep an eye out for me – I feel a mayorship of Octane coffee coming on any day now.