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What can Foursquare do for your business? 

FOURSQUARE: Next big app?
  • FOURSQUARE: Next big app?

With all the new social media tools available, it's hard to tell which ones have real value and which ones are just fun time-wasters. Location-based social network applications are no different. As with any other new media tool, Twitter for example, users are finding inventive ways to get value, whether in the form of networking or improving their business' bottom line, from applications like Foursquare and Gowalla.

Location-based social networking apps allow you to “check-in” (usually by way of iPhone or Android smart phone apps) to restaurants, coffee shops – even your office – and let your friends know where you are. Once you've checked in, you can find out where your other friends are, invite them to join you and leave tips for future visitors. Foursquare tells users all these things about a specific location.

Check-in to a venue more than anyone else over the span of two months and you become the “mayor” of that location. For example, I'm now the mayor of the Arkansas Times, which, regretfully, gives me no more power, pay or influence – just bragging rights.

Businesses are trying to find ways to capitalize on apps like Foursquare and some are doing better than others. Locally, the Capital Hotel is leading the way.

“The Capital Hotel is one of the premier businesses in the nation using Foursquare for marketing and customer engagement,” says Keith Crawford, a local network engineer and self-described “social media evangelist.”

“They're offering specials for mayorships. If you check in 10 times you get a free dessert, so it's encouraging repeat business and loyalty there, but a lot of it is just the visibility and the engagement that comes along with it.”

Amy Bradley-Hole is the communications director for the Capital Hotel, Ashley's and the Capital Bar and Grill. The buzz created by the special offers and prizes is great, she says, but Foursquare has also helped reach a new clientele.

“It was a great way to reach out to a demographic that wasn't necessarily coming in here – a younger demographic, a really socially active, very computer-literate demographic that probably didn't know a lot about us or thought that we were too expensive. We had already started Twitter and Facebook accounts, but Foursquare just gave us one more way to bring people in,” she says.

Location-based apps are good for businesses, but they're also great for customers.

“The tips are a feature that's really handy,” Crawford says. “If you're in downtown Little Rock you can open up Foursquare and get suggestions left by other users. If you're at this restaurant, try this off-menu item. If you're near this location make sure you validate your parking – things like that. Foursquare has really excelled in that area. It's like insider-trading in the real world.”

Of course, there is a little bit of a Big Brother thing going on here. It's a little strange to think that others will know where you are all the time. But, apps like Foursquare don't do anything automatically. You have to check-in and you can opt out of telling others where you are. Websites like PleaseRobMe.com have popped up recently, warning people of the dangers of over-sharing your location on services like Twitter and Foursquare.

“There are lots of people who see somebody has checked in and stop by to say hi or have a beer with them,” Bradley-Hole says. “Some people think that's a little creepy, but to people who are into it, it seems very natural.”

As for the future of these apps, there's really no telling where the technology could lead. Gowalla recently teamed up with the New Jersey Nets to hide virtual tickets all over town that users could pick up and redeem at the arena. The event was a huge success.

As for the Capital Hotel, Bradley-Hole says she'll let the users lead the way.

“We can constantly change what we're doing or where we're going, she says. “It takes a lot of research and time to stay on top of the trends and judge where things are going. I don't know exactly where it's headed but it's fun to play along and see. Again, it's kind of like listening to what everyone else is saying and letting them tell you where they want you to go.”

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