The media hype, warranted or not, over social media sites can be overwhelming especially for small businesses. Where to start? How to keep up? It seems like it could take up all your spare time and it can. This is why I recommend a well thought out strategy for small businesses that includes social media as part of an online strategy which is just part of an overall marketing strategy. However, if you have a retail location, I have one social media site that you can take advantage of with only a few minutes a month of time and the rewards can be immediate. What is this magic site, you ask? foursquare.

foursquare logo

The definition. Foursquare is a mobile application that helps you find new ways to explore your city. Foursquare helps you meet up with your friends and lets you earn points and unlock badges for discovering new places, doing new things and meeting new people. Users can also choose to have their Twitter and/or Facebook accounts updated when they check in

The company was founded by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai and is based in New York City. The service launched in March 2009. There are currently nearing 1.6 million users and with 10+ check-ins per second. And the numbers keep climbing. They have been called the next Twitter in regard to meteoric rise in users and influence.

It’s part social networking site, city guide and game – all in one. Users check in to local establishments and earn points for checking in. Their friends can see where they have checked in. Users can also unlock certain discounts and tips that other users have left behind. And it’s not just discounts; tips include what to order at a restaurant and what not to miss at a museum. This is word of mouth at its best. Since the application uses the GPS location of the user’s mobile phone, a user can find places and discounts that they would not have been aware of otherwise. For a quick overview, visit the demo video on the home page.

I’ve noticed that foursquare is currently being used by restaurants, bars and coffee houses. Most discounts I have seen are for the mayor of the location (the foursquare user who has checked in the most times at that location in the last 60 days). This is where the game aspect comes in as users earn points and badges for checking in. Right now Starbucks is offering $1 off Frappuccino to the mayor of each of their locations.

It is nice to entice foursquare users to compete over the mayorship of your location; however, I think many businesses are missing the boat. I would offer a discount or special offer to any foursquare user who checks in. You can still offer a super special discount for your mayor.

What kind of investment will this take? Unlike social media sites like Facebook or Twitter where frequent updates help you stay in front of your fans and followers more often, foursquare users see your specials when they are in your neighborhood. A modest investment of a few minutes a month to change the special and you are on your way to participating in this new online trend. Don’t stop there; promote your special on your other marketing platforms along with in-store materials provided by foursquare. Find out how to access your listing and get in-store materials on the business page.

Foursquare is also sharing info with local merchants who use foursquare to share discounts. So you can keep track of your best customers and get an idea of their habits through foursquare.

If you are a retail location like a restaurant or retail store, I would get online right now to verify your location information and add a foursquare special. It’s easy and you can start tracking results right away.