I've been trying to avoid joining Foursquare, the location-based social networking service which asks users to "check in" at various locations in order to connect with friends, gain points, get recommendations on nearby places and access special offers.
My hesitation in signing up was twofold: I don't think it's a good idea to publicize on the world wide web that my home is empty and, well, let's just say that anyone who has ever had an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend turn up somewhere "coincidentally" can probably think of a reason not to post their whereabouts in real time. However, Foursquare just would not go away, so I succumbed. It turns out their privacy settings enable users to choose how public their whereabouts will be.
The points element of Foursquare (e.g. +1 point for checking in, +5 point the first time you check in at a new venue, +2 points for checking in at two locations in the same day, etc.) adds a gaming component which is mildly addictive, even if you don't have any friends on Foursquare. (In contrast, it's not much fun tweeting alone, which leads many people to abandon Twitter.)
Yesterday, I "checked in" when I was having lunch and up popped an offer for $1 off a frozen yogurt at Froots. All I had to do was show the cashier the coupon on my iPhone to receive the discount, which I could get on my first visit and every fifth visit. Although I didn't buy the frozen yogurt, I seriously considered it, but this may be due in part to my mild coupon addiction.
If you have a bricks-and-mortar business, it's worth being an early mover on Foursquare. I would suggest piggybacking this with a PR effort about your company's use of new media. This was one of the main benefits for companies who were the first to establish a presence on Second Life, garnering them mentions in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review and Business Week. Double bang for the buck. No one cared who joined Second Life after that first wave. For the record, I recommended getting into Second Life early or not at all.
I think Foursquare has staying power, although there are already similar services vying for share of market, e.g. Gowalla and Yelp, which has just added check-ins to its iPhone app.
If you're a Foursquare, Gowalla or Yelp user, please leave a comment and let me know what you think of the service.
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