“Kyle. That sounds a little creepy. You mean to tell me that people are “checking-in” to locations via their mobile phone? They are telling the world where they are at any given time?,” said the unbelieving business owner.

“Yes. I do it all the time,” I replied “and yes… It is a little creepy.”

You may have heard the rumbling through the ranks of mobile and social users. Foursquare has officially blasted onto the retail scene representing the growing segment of location based social and marketing services. The location based social networking site had 381,576,300 individual user check-ins, 6 million users and a 3400% increase in 2010 alone. It grew even faster in 2011!

This article is meant to walk you through the steps and tips to using foursquare and being a “little creepy.” But before we get into the benefits and tips we need to define the site and give you a few details to understand the process. The best way to describe the service is to actually use the source via Foursquare.com.

People use foursquare to “check-in”, which is a way of telling us your whereabouts. When you check-in someplace, we’ll tell your friends where they can find you and recommend places to go & things to do nearby. People check-in at all kind of places – cafes, bars, restaurants, parks, homes, offices.

You’ll find that as your friends use foursquare to check-in, you’ll start learning more about the places they frequent. Not only is it a great way to meet up with nearby friends, but you’ll also start to learn about their favorite spots and the new places they discover.

“You’ll find that as your friends use foursquare to check-in, you’ll start learning more about the places they frequent.” This defines the overall value of the social networking site. Your customers have the ability to check-in to your location, leave tips, take pictures, and share to other social network sites.

Location-based customer advocacy.

Just so we are clear, I have witnessed Foursquare being used successfully from restaurants to garden centers. As a consumer, I use Foursquare as a way to keep track of where I have been and what I have experienced. This also involved what I have purchased and what experience I enjoyed.

Remember that the experience of your business is paramount to any other marketing vehicle. The more tools you have at your disposal to enhance the experience the better. Let’s get the party started! Follow this ten-step process to solidify your company’s position in the foursquare environment. This will not necessarily pump your sales full of adrenaline but it will give you a leg up on the competition.

1. Create Your Business on the Foursquare Platform

Before you start making piles of money using foursquare it is important that you setup your business/location on the website. Go to foursquare’s business page  to setup your account. You have the opportunity to setup a venue or a brand. Start the process and get rocking!

Be sure to read the guide supplied by foursquare. There is a basic guide to help you through the process of creating and managing your branded page.

2. Encourage Foursquare Users to Check in and Post Reviews about Your Location

Foursquare allows a user to view where their friends have been within 3 hours of a certain update. This could have huge potential for service based organizations. Inc Magazine has an excellent article discussing the use of foursquare for business. I encourage you to go check it out. Go to Google and type How to Best Utilize Foursquare for Business. 

Example : Give users of Foursquare a discount on their purchase for a favorable tip update. (This could also be applied to any social network)

3. Use the Points Structure of Foursquare to Support a Local Charity

Users will gain points when they accomplish certain activities like checking in, making multiple stops in a day, adding a new venue, making a repeat visit, or consecutively checking into a certain location. Encourage users to rack up the points and put a value to the points they are accruing (Ex: $0.04 per point). At the end of the promotion donate the amount of money to a charity. This encourages visits to your business and gives back to those who need our help!

4. Use the “Mayor” Status as a Perk – You Become an Authority Figure

The user that checks in the most at a certain location will gain the notoriety of becoming “mayor” of that location. I have actually witnessed people fight over becoming mayor! Again, a little creepy. If you offered special perks to the mayor of your location (ie: name on a board, gift certificate for the month, or maybe a puppy!) it will encourage Foursquare users to visit your location more often.

Tip : Encourage your employees not to take the mayoral position of your location. Employees have the tendency to be given mayoral status because they are at the location every day of the week.

5. Use the To-Do List

Each business has the potential of creating a to do list for Foursquare users. If you visit a Foursquare page for a business you will find a button to create a to-do list. This could be utilized as a contest for people visiting the location. You could offer perks much like the user became a mayor of your location.

Example : Give a to-do list of what the location wants to improve upon in terms of service. Allow users to help improve those services by viewing the to-do list.

6. Link Your Profile to Twitter

Foursquare gives you the opportunity to link your other social networks to your Foursquare account. This is important because it gives users the same experience/name over all of your individual accounts… from Facebook to Foursquare.

7. Say Thank You To Your Top Customer

Badges, becoming mayor and gaining points allow you to see who are most active within your business. The people with the most points receive badges or become mayors of different locations.  You may (or may not) want to give them discounts or specials but you can definitely say “thank you”. It will help build relationships in the future when you recognize your strong supporters.

8. Listen to the To-Do Chatter

Along with saying, “Thank You” to your loyal foursquare supporters, listen to them by reading what tips have been written, if you’re on their “To Do” lists and how often people are actually checking in. By paying attention to these details your business can gauge why, how and what makes YOU stand out. Listening goes a long way in a culture of noise.

9. Use Analytics to Master the Domain

Foursquare has an analytics feature that allows businesses to track trends, usage, demographic, total check-ins, if information was shared via Facebook and Twitter. So when planning campaigns, marketing or just raising awareness this feature can help determine where to start.

10. Partner With Other People!

Restaurants, nonprofits, and businesses have been getting along for years. Now team up in a non-traditional way! For example, when people check-in to your location let them know that a 15% of the purchase will go to a cause. This is a vague example but you get the idea. Set a goal and team up with another business to create awareness, increase donations or interact with supporters. This will also provide another opportunity for your business to say, “Thank you.” It will also help in the community

Foursquare is an infant compared to social media sires like Facebook, and Twitter. However, it is leading the revolution of personalized experiences. Customer produced data is key to the success of your business in the coming years. It is also important to remember that the site is growing and people are using it.

Will you?