FoursquareThe most recent wave of social media services to emerge involve the use of location based “check-ins” from users either through a dedicated mobile application (via smartphones) or through a mobile website. Currently, the two major players in this rapidly developing niche are Foursquare and Gowalla.

Each of these systems offer similar services but also provide the users with slightly different formats, goals, and options. For introductory purposes, we’ll simply offer a quick overview of each service and then discuss them.

Foursquare Gowalla
  • Started in 2009
  • Started in 2009
  • Approx. 500,000 users
  • Approx. 150,000 users
  • Worldwide availability
  • Worldwide availability
  • Accessible via iPhone, Android, webOS (Palm), BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and m.foursquare.com
  • Accessible via Android, iPhone, WebOS (Palm), BlackBerry, and m.gowalla.com
  • Game element included (Mayorship, points, badges)
  • Game element included as well (special status, icons, etc.)
  • Potential “rewards” offered by participating businesses for Mayors
  • Potential promotional rewards from game partners and participating businesses

GowallaBasically, the idea is to check-in at various locations during the course of your day to announce your presence, offer up a tip (i.e. “try the Mexi-Mocha at Calypso’s Coffee…it’s delicious”), or see who else may be at that location while you’re there. Perhaps it’s best to sum it up with a quote from Micro Explosion Media’s article about Foursquare,

By checking in, the person is broadcasting to his or her friends their connection to that particular business, resulting in marketing exposure for the business. The person checking in may get special offers from that business for checking in, visit frequency, or becoming the “mayor” of the business (person who’s been there the most). At that point it’s up to the business to decide how to reward people.

This is the basic “jest” of both services. The game elements vary slightly as well as a couple other minor particulars (for example, on Gowalla, you can create “Trips” for others to follow and rate). For more information on the particulars of each of these services, you should spend some time perusing each of their websites: Foursquare.com and Gowalla.com.

So, as a business owner…what do these services offer to you that’s of value? Out of every other social media service we have reviewed in this series, these two have the smallest amount of participants, so what’s the appeal? There are a couple critical things to consider:

1. While both of the services offer worldwide “check-in” capabilities, most users are hyper-local on a day-to-day basis. As many SEO gurus know, local search ranking and the ability for people to find you locally via the Internet is critical. So, by using Foursquare and Gowalla for your business (particularly retail and service oriented companies), you can generate some local buzz for your company and get involved with the people who frequent (or may frequent) your business. TechCrunch has a good article highlighting how many businesses have successfully engaged with customers via Foursquare and we encourage you to read through their insights.  (We aren’t biased toward one of these services at all, though it might appear that way from our reference articles. It is still difficult to find a good deal of material written about the successes and pitfalls of using Gowalla at this time.)

2. By taking a direct approach in listing your business on these services, you display to users your willingness to engage with them in something they enjoy…and it directly relates to your business. There is a great article entitled “6 Innovative Ways Businesses are Capitalizing on Foursquare” that offers up some creative suggestions on how to engage in this niche. While the article is written specifically about Foursquare, there are many elements that can be used via Gowalla as well.

To explore both of these services more, we encourage you to read the following articles:

Here is a simple how-to video about using Gowalla entitled “Check In at Uncle Billys”

[youtube width=”640″ height=”385″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L9FzIAVAik[/youtube]

While this is certainly a small niche at the moment, it’s not going to be for long. Companies like Facebook, Google, and others are all exploring ways to jump into the location based arena. By getting a grip on how these systems work now, engaging in it while it’s still a relatively new, emerging platform you will certainly benefit as this niche becomes more mainstream.

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