Foursquare for Cafe Owners

Like most social media start-ups, Foursquare faces its fair share of eye rolls and abuse from all kinds of naysayers. Yet despite the criticism Foursquare is poised to become a necessity for retailers across the country, taking its place beside Facebook and Twitter.

Foursquare is the best and most-popular example of location-based social networking that encourages customers to check in using a GPS-enabled mobile device each time they visit an area, specific place or, most apropos, your business. The real genius of Foursquare is not that it can pinpoint a user’s location but that it creates a fun competition from visiting places as many times as possible and encouraging exploration.

Foursquare users start by downloading the application directly to their iPhone, Blackberry or Android smartphone and setting up a personal profile. Whenever they visit a restaurant, park, grocery store, cafe, smoothie shop, etc., the user can choose to check in or log their visit using the app. Their location is pinpointed and verified by the GPS capability of their smartphone. Most Foursquare users also choose to integrate their updates with Twitter and/or Facebook, alerting their followers and friends of what they are up to.

Upon checking-in, the user is able to unlock special discounts, share helpful tips to potential new customers, compete to be the “Mayor” of a business, win badges for being active, etc.

So, how can this technology benefit you? Foursquare has the potential to be an incredibly handy tool to increase sales, especially in the world of specialty beverage retailing. I spent a weekend using the app on my phone to do some research. Truthfully, I was a previously vocal critic of the app before I became a participant. I thought it was slightly ridiculous. I now consider myself a convert.

Over the course of my first weekend using Foursquare, here is what I found to be extremely useful from a retailer’s perspective:

-Foursquare notifies users of places nearby that offer discounts for checking in. I chose to visit a restaurant that offers free chips and salsa with a lunch purchase for two over a multitude of other available options. I probably wouldn’t have visited the place otherwise and now I’m much more likely to come back.

-I synced my Foursquare account with my Twitter, so when I visited a place, it tweeted my whereabouts to my followers. This is optional and a user can choose to check-in privately. For fear of annoying my friends (and allowing too much of my personal info to be made available for all to see), I chose to only tweet my location out a couple of times. Essentially, I put the name of a business in front of a bunch of eyes. Maybe they will join me next time or visit on their own.

-You can get real-time updates of your customer base using Foursquare’s analytics. Find out what time of day most people check-in, who your most regular customers are, how many check-ins are being posted to Facebook and Twitter, etc.

What to look out for:

-The person who checks in the most at your location over the last 60 days becomes the “Mayor” of your business. A few retailers choose to offer big discounts to their Mayors only, but I think that is a mistake. Why? Because smartphone technology relies on cell phone towers to locate users, Foursquare can’t pinpoint exact locations. For example, from the desk in my office at Stockton Graham I can check-in to over 25 places without ever setting foot inside. Better to offer a smaller discount or special for all check-ins that encourage and reward visits rather than a big discount to someone who could cheat their way to the top and abuse your generosity.

Geo-locating applications like Foursquare can be a boon for business. If you’re interested in getting started, head over to the business page at foursquare.com to learn more and claim your venue. Also, feel free to contact me at (800) 835-5943 ext. 3552 if you have any additional questions or comments.

Mike Adams
Stockton Graham & Co.