If you use Facebook with any sort of regularity (and, as a small business owner, you definitely should), then you’ve most likely noticed people “checking in” from various locations. Though Facebook rather recently rolled out its own “check in” feature, services like Gowalla, Foursquare, BrightKite, and a handful of other companies have been announcing the location of users via status updates for some time.
Essentially, location-based applications like these work by alerting you when friends or acquaintances from your social network check in at the same location (or nearby) as you. It’s useful when attending large events like conferences or concerts, as you may not even be aware that someone you know is also attending.
While the concept of broadcasting one’s exact location to the anonymous eyes of the Internet might raise all kinds of alarm bells, you may actually be in a position to capitalize on people’s willingness to share that information without compromising your own security.
If your business has an open-to-the-public location, your customers can check in each time they visit. Not only do these apps announce your customer’s location to his or her friends, but the app will also tally how many times that customer visits each place. With Foursquare, in particular, the person who checks in at a particular place the most becomes the “mayor” of that location.
Consider incentivizing your customers to vie for “mayor” status (or the equivalent) by offering, say, a 15% discount to whomever holds the mayorship.
By encouraging your customers to check in each time they visit your business, you are effectively advertising your business to each customer’s social networking contacts. Not only that, but each check-in essentially serves as a word-of-mouth recommendation (which is the best kind of advertising) to a new pool of potential customers.