One of the biggest misconceptions about social networking is that it’s all done behind a screen. Many people imagine that your Community Manager sits at his desk, under the light of a single, flickering bulb talking to people on Facebook whilst occasionally looking up to munch on some candy or perhaps make a witty Star Wars comment or two (does no one else work like that or is it just me?)

The truth is that a great deal of social media can take place in the real world too. Yes, you want your customers to like you on Facebook and follow you on Twitter. They’re amazing platforms for you to listen to your customer’s complaints (or compliments) and send out special offers and coupons. These should always be your first point of social media contact as they are the two dominant services. However there is a whole range of services which take advantage of the GPS chip in modern smartphones.

Geolocation based social networking is a rapidly growing section of online marketing. Whilst they don’t work for every industry and client they provide an incredible boon for those that can take advantage of them. The largest, and most popular, is Foursquare.

As this video explains Foursquare is a checkin service which allows customers to alert their friends that they’re at a particular location. Doing so will allow them to accrue points, badges and ranks within the game.

As the video mentions one of the most popular aspects of Foursquare is the ability to leave tips. This means that whenever someone looks at your restaurant, cafe, store or place of work they will see whether or not people have had a good experience there. This is something that should be at the forefront of every brand’s mind. Consumer to consumer recommendations have a higher level of trust than any other form of advertising. Only two to four per cent of dissatisfied customers complain directly to a business, however dissatisfied customers tell up to 20 different people that they have had a poor experience. In the pre-social media world this would have had little impact on a company’s bottom line yet today, with everything and everyone  connected, it can be the difference between a company succeeding and a company failing.

Foursquare currently has more than 25 million users throughout the world. That may not sound like much (especially compared to Facebook’s 1 billion) however the benefit of Foursquare is that it automatically connects to your various social media channels….plus the people who use Foursquare are quite fanatical about it.

So how can you leverage geolocation based social networking?

Cafes, restaurants and bars have begun to offer deals to the ‘Mayor’ of their establishment (if someone checks in X number of times to a particular venue then he will be the ‘mayor’). This is a point of pride for the Mayor as he believes that he is considered an outstanding customer. Some restaurants also give discounts to people who check in with X number of friends. Having deals on Foursquare means that the restaurant can convince people to continue awarding their repeat/group customers with perks that they otherwise would never have gotten. This means that they will be more willing to return to the restaurant and tell their friends about it.

Before you go about signing up to Foursquare it’s important to follow a few basic rules:

1) Tell people. It may seem obvious but a lot of merchants forget that they need to inform customers that they are able to check in. You can purchase ‘fourquare stickers’ online which you can put on your shop window.

Let your customers know that it's safe to check in.

Let your customers know that it’s safe to check in.

These stickers are able to gently remind your customers that it’s alright to whip out their phones and tell all of their friends that where they are (and perhaps that they should come and join them).

2) Train your staff. If you’re a cafe that allows their customers to check in via Foursquare, and you advertise specials through the service, then it’s important to train your staff that the guy shoving his phone in front of her face is actually sane. There’s nothing worse than trying to redeem an offer from an establishment and being told that the cashier has no idea what you’re talking about. It screams ‘rank amateur’.

3) Own your spot. Remember that the average Foursquare user can easily add a business to the Foursquare universe. All he has to do is create it. Businesses have to make sure that they own their particular spot because it will allow them to create specials, to create uniformity within the system and, most importantly….

4) Don’t forget Data. Data is, and has always been, one of the most important aspects of social media. For business users the data that Foursquare provides is invaluable. If you have claimed your business then you will have a list of people who have checked in, their gender, whether or not they are repeat customers and whether or not they let all their friends on Facebook and Twitter know.

The Foursquare dashboard allows you to see exactly who your customers are.

The Foursquare dashboard allows you to see exactly who your customers are.

As more and more people use the service to check in at your location you will be able to get an incredible insight into your customer base. You can tailor specials to a particular gender if you know what time per day they’re coming in, you can view the tips that people leave and adjust your business accordingly and you can get an overview of whether or not their check ins are being sent out to the wider community.

This is one of the most important benefits of Foursquare, the data.

For small businesses that can take advantage of Foursquare it is highly recommended. It is a win-win for both the customer and the brand. The customer gets a special discount and the brand knows more about their most loyal patrons.