Blog Post

How to Use Location-based Social Networks For Business

I just started using Foursquare. I know, I know. You hate it. Or you love it, and you can’t believe it took me so long to get onto it. Foursquare just became available in Alaska so I’m on a mission to visit and list as many places as I can with tips and reviews so that by summertime, Alaska businesses will reap the rewards.

My feelings about location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite and the like have been mixed. I’ve avoided them to date because of that knee-jerk “it’s too creepy” reaction that one gets when thinking of letting others — especially strangers — know one’s exact location. Maybe it’s because, frankly, many women I know (myself included) have been stalked.

But lately, because of Fourquare, I’ve been looking at location-based social networks in a different way. I recently wrote about Foursquare on my personal blog and concluded that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks.

Here’ s my take on the benefits of location-based social networks like Foursquare from a work standpoint:

  1. Connecting. With business travel, particularly to conferences, I find that I often don’t even know some of my friends and colleagues are in the vicinity. Foursquare notices that appear from friends on the network allow serendipitous discovery and can lead to impromptu meet-ups that can prove fruitful for work.
  2. Socializing. A few years ago, Twitter took SXSW by storm, with attendees utilizing the microblogging system to track people down. I’m wondering if Foursquare will be this year’s Twitter at SXSW, or maybe it is already over in those more techie circles and everyone has moved on to the next app. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing when someone I know is at a nearby cafe or restaurant. I’m assuming it would then be socially acceptable to just show up and say “hi,” since they’ve publicly announced their location.
  3. Discovering. Gone are the days of being on a business trip and having to rely on the concierge for restaurant suggestions or the wait staff for meal recommendations. I’m already enjoying the Foursquare tips that show up for establishments nearby. I’ve also used Around Me on recent trips, but Foursquare’s recommendations of friends popping up when I’m in a new area is far more compelling than simple listings.
  4. Promoting. What is really interesting about an application like Foursquare is how local businesses can leverage it to attract more customers. The concept that Foursquare members can get discounts and perks from businesses by becoming “mayor” or frequenting a place often is genius.

In an age of marketing when consumers are digesting information in new ways, taking advantage of hybrid applications that combine online and offline elements is smart business. For example, Yelp’s Monocle mode augmented reality feature is dramatically changing the ways we think of “online,” “offline” and “location.”

While privacy and safety issues still exist with any GPS-enabled application that lets you broadcast your stats to your friends or the world, I think we are going to location-based apps continue to become more mainstream. And I, for one, am eager to see where else this can take us, and how it will affect the way we network and work.

How do you feel about location-based social networks, and how do you leverage them for your work?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: “Call it Real-Time, Squared, or NewNet, The Web Is Changing

12 Responses to “How to Use Location-based Social Networks For Business”

  1. I like how you’ve assessed it simply as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks – pretty simple and straightforward.

    The drawback I’m slightly concerned with is if you forget once in a while that you’re publicly available at a location (and you didn’t intend to at that time) then other you may know simply feel that they can come up to you to connect.

    Again though I have to agree that the benefits are more.

  2. My issue is that I only see the notifications in my twitter stream. To me a “hey, I’m at the Caribou on X if you want to stop by” is much more useful and inviting than the forced tweets I see direct from the services. Those don’t tell me if you’re just running in and out or are actually looking to connect so provide no value to me at all in that context and really just introduce a lot of noise there.

    In the context of the apps themselves the check ins are fine, and while I like the possibilities of the spontaneous meetups and such, do people really want folks running up and down the aisles at the supermarket trying to find them?


  3. I’ve been sitting on the FourSquare / GoWalla fence for awhile now. Each initially seemed solely like a game, but as I watched them evolve, I saw greater benefit behind that fun veneer. Since then, I’ve just been wrestling with the privacy issues, and how to get benefits without irritating people following my stream. You bring up some great points, though, which compel me to give it a deeper try at SXSW!

    It seems to me that one thing that could increase adoption (and utility) would be for any of these services to implement more granular privacy settings. “Everyone” or “No one” is a little too binary when it comes to human interaction.

  4. I like to flock with friends sometimes, but I also love to discover things without a lead. I travel a lot and it seems to me this service could take business away from so very worthwhile places by either flooding or deserting them- I think advice is very welcome but if using a service like this, don’t forget that your choice is much more valuble than the recommendations :)

  5. As a business owner, I am very excited to be a part of 4sq. I think there is a lot of potential to get customers in the door – whether as repeat visits or first-time visits – due to the options of promotions and tips. I am looking forward to 4sq. expanding the business reporting tools and options. This has a lot of good potential.

  6. What I don’t like about 4sq and such services is the constant stream of tweets they produce (I don’t tweet my location). And my devious mind thought today that I could find strangers in Twitter and know where they were all day. If they are at a Starbuck’s, they are not at home (and yes, some even tweet their home address). If they are not at home now……