Friday, July 08, 2011

Foursquare Phone App Is Not For Spies

Foursquare Phone App Is Not For Spies



Are you the mayor of your favorite restaurant? Do you check in? Do you even know what I'm talking about?

Foursquare is the social network that lets you "check in" on your iPhone or Android to a place you visit, like a restaurant, a store, the movies, your office, or any other business location. It announces to your friends where you are, telling them that you have arrived at a particular place, or especially like a particular location.

This is useful if you're meeting a friend at a restaurant and you want to see if they already showed up. Or finding people you already know. Or tracking down a deadbeat who owes you money and is stupid enough to tell everyone where he can be found.

Foursquare tells you your status, how many times you have been at a particular place, and even if you're the mayor of that place. The mayor is the person who has visited a location more times than anyone else in the past 60 days. Or, to look at it a different way, the person who has a lot of time on their hands and no real goals to speak of (said the mayor of eight locations).

Some mayors receive special discounts or free gifts from businesses that participate in Foursquare, because business owners know that Foursquare means increased sales. The more people show up to become the mayor, the more money they spend.

I know a lot of you are still avoiding Facebook, because you don't feel you have anything interesting and worthwhile to share with your friends and family. You're probably wondering why you would want to tell people where you are?

"I already avoid social media because I don't want to tell people what I had for breakfast," someone might grumble. "Why would I want to tell them where I had it?"

First, this is not what social media is about. It's not about telling people what they had to eat. If you still think this, you're not allowed to use social media at all. You're banned.

Social media is about staying connected with friends and meeting new people who share your interests. Although to be fair, I'm sure there are online groups where members do tell each other what they ate. Also, to be fair, these people probably don't get out much, preferring to spend time with their 13 cats.

If you're concerned about privacy, don't worry. You can actually tell Foursquare not to reveal your location. That's also why it's a good idea to never check in when you're at home. Or, you could just not use it at all for a while, and no one will have any clue about your whereabouts.

Note: Foursquare is not a good social network to use if you're cheating on your spouse, a spy, or on the run from an angry mob with torches and pitchforks.

"Congratulations, you are now the mayor of the giant oak tree behind the Old Man Jenkins' house."

Second, Foursquare is about so much more than telling people where you are, what restaurants you visit, or letting people keep track of your errands ("This is your 8th trip to Darryl's Doughnuts in one week. You're creeping up on the mayor. And a heart attack"). It's about keeping in touch with friends, catching up with people you haven't seen in a while, or making surprise discoveries by finding someone you knew in a large crowded area.

A couple months ago, I was at the Indianapolis 500 in the media center. I checked in on Facebook, and a few minutes later, received a couple Twitter messages from friends who were also at the Speedway. If we had been so inclined, and the media center wasn't so wonderfully temperature controlled, I would have gone out to meet them in the stands. But the media center has food and isn't filled with raging drunk people. At least not until the race is over.

Foursquare even saves you money. Some restaurants actually give discounts or free food if you check in. One restaurant gives free mini appetizers or mini dessert if you check in. Another gives a 10% discount on lunch or dinner. All just for checking in.

If you're not a social media user, then Foursquare probably isn't going to be that interesting to you. But if you're socially inclined, like meeting new people, or trying new technology, give it a try. And if you happen to be near a local coffee shop, check in on Foursquare and see if I'm there.

I'll be the one hunched over his smartphone, typing away madly, ignoring everyone around me. Stop by and say hi.


My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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