Imagine a time in the near future where you go out with some friends that you haven't seen in a while. You meet up at a sports bar downtown. While you check your messages, you pull up a website or app on your phone that let's you communicate to your friends and their friends where you're at. When you "check in", a window pops up telling you that you can get 20% off your next round of drinks for being a customer tonight. Naturally you tell the friends and they're so happy that now they want to get on this service you're using and check in to save some money too.
It's called location-based check-in and it's a rapidly evolving side product of social networking. Already some businesses are using it to attract more customers while other users are using it for boosting fun at the office or building company morale. Foursquare (http://www.foursquare.com) is the one that's getting the most exposure right now, with over 2 million users now checking in and unlocking accomplishment trophies (called "badges") which identify them to their circle of friends and acquaintances as the Mayor of a certain location, or a frequent lover of a certain kind of food or product. Other similar services include Yelp and Facebook Places, which is the most recent entry into this arena. If location-based check-in takes off, and things are looking bright for it right now, the company that positions itself as an early adopter of this new form of social interaction could stand to get a lot of new customers and market share. It could wind up being just as important for a company to consider as their web design or SEO strategy.
"It uses the GPS [in your phone] and the cell towers to say, 'Where am I?' and 'What's around me?'," explains Tris Hussey during the September 12, 2010 broadcast of "The New Reality" radio show. "Here's the interesting thing for businesses: when I went to check in, a little button came up in the corner that said 'There's a special nearby.' What that would have let a business do is say you knew that I was relatively close to this area, within a few hundred feet, and you could check into my coffee stand I'll give you a free donut. That's the way these location services are working as a tie-in for mobile marketing."
An interesting fact: last month, the day after Facebook announced that it was getting into this game Foursquare announced that it had its biggest day ever for new accounts signing up for their service.
And there are other similar services that are opening new doorways for businesses to grab more visibility from web surfers. "It's really important out there to make sure that all your presences, all the information that exists about your business is out there and optimized the way that you want it to be," said Hootsuite's Dave Olson. "If that's not out there and given a sense of place to your fans, you're not able to get that word of mouth marketing. Every business knows that word of mouth marketing is your best pal and your best resource. If you make it easy for people to give that word of mouth marketing then it's going to exponentially increase. Yelp has done a great job of building community and making the people that give lots of Yelp reviews into stars. They're not paid but they get this mysterious whoofie sense of becoming an expert. Eventually it might turn into a free drink here or a free meal there, but as we see from Foursquare it's more about the process and the game mechanics and the community building than it is about the $2 off a bag of dog food or a latte."
If you have a business, start to think about testing the waters with location-based check-in social networking. The benefits for your company -- and your sales -- are pretty clear.