How to Leverage Foursquare to Promote Your Small Business

No longer a one-trick pony, Foursquare is still innovating and helping drive foot traffic and engagement.
Foursquare offers benefits, specials and advertising other than just the 'check-ins' that were common five years ago. (Photo: Foursquare)

In September, geolocation social network Foursquare expects its 10 billionth check-in. That’s a lot of check-ins.

Launched in 2009, Foursquare introduced a concept that allows consumers to use the location feature of their smartphones to recognize a nearby location and “check in,” collecting real and virtual rewards in the process.

Since then other social networks, such as Facebook and Yelp, have incorporated check-ins into their services, diluting the novelty of Foursquare — and also forcing the company to step up its game. It continues to help businesses harness the power of location to find and delight customers and even increase a business’s profitability.

Here’s how to use it to best effect.

Claim your business

First, get your business’ profile on Foursquare. This process is called claiming your listing. You will need to validate your ownership of the business.

Do a search to see if a profile already exists. It may have been ported in from a business directory, or a patron may have added it — and it may contain missing or incorrect information.

Make sure your business is listed and described properly, with the correct contact information, street address, hours and the like. This is imperative, since this information will be used when would-be customers use the Swarm app to check in to your location. (In 2014 Foursquare split into two apps — Foursquare, the city guide app, and Swarm, for check-ins.)

Get recognized


(Photo: Foursquare)

To let customers know you are listed on Foursquare, affix the Foursquare sticker, known as a cling, to your front door or window. If you don’t have the cling you can request one from Foursquare.

Understand your Foursquare foot traffic

Foursquare, via its advanced Pilgrim Technology, can now recognize when users are in or near a venue without the user having to check in.

Your manager dashboard can provide a total view of foot traffic around your store or venue. This can be useful in developing promotions and also help you better manage staffing, merchandising mix or events.

Make it useful for customers

Checking in isn’t the killer consumer activity it was five years ago. With so many apps offering check-ins, consumers may be suffering from check-in overload. Heck, even Twitter allows users to geotag their tweets.

The Swarm app encourages engagement with gamification, providing virtual “stickers” or points as rewards for checking in multiple times to the same venue or type of business. There are also leaderboards, so users can see how they measure up against friends, and “mayorships,” a title bestowed on users for checking in the most times to a particular venue.

But business owners should do their part to encourage engagement (and sales). Find ways to get people involved by giving them a reason to interact, such as by pushing out coupons or discounts. A user will see the notification if they’re in the vicinity and have opted in to receive push notifications.

Foursquare also allows you to offer Specials in the Foursquare app and Perks in the Swarm app. Shoppers or diners will be alerted to the special if they are nearby. The special has a code that allows it to be redeemed at your POS system.

Encourage user content

For example, does your store have interesting displays? Is your establishment uniquely furnished or decorated? Are your employees’ uniforms interesting or do their T-shirts bear a funny quote? Small things like these are memorable — and people will want to do something to share them, such as taking photos or leaving a comment, tip or rating. (Tips are public notes users can leave at a venue to let other Foursquare users know about an experience they recommend, or recommend avoiding.)

“Content is what you should seek — it’s this media that helps sell your products or services to others,” advised Elissa Jane Mastel, chief marketing officer of chillMedia NORTH, a New York-based digital agency.

Don’t I have to pay?

Having a business profile on Foursquare is free, as is creating a special, but you can spend money on ads if you want to.

With Foursquare’s new advertising products you can turn a message of your choosing, or even a tip left by a customer, into an ad. You’ll pay for that ad only when users tap to see your business information or when they physically visit your location.

A combination of specials, ads and original content left by customers can serve to promote your business without having to rely on check-ins as a measurement of popularity.

“People are not bored with checking in,” noted Mastel. “It’s just that businesses need new ways to capture and track engagement.”

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