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Finding friends – and customers

01 Oct 2010

Engaging people when they’re out and about is the latest craze in social media, spearheaded by foursquare (, a network that targets smartphone users and encourages businesses to also use it to attract customers. Foursquare is location based; using an application downloaded onto a mobile phone, it is described as "a friend-finder, a social city guide and a game that challenges users to experience new things, and rewards them for doing so”.

Foursquare lets users "check in” to a place when they’re there, tell friends where they are and track the history of where they’ve been and who they’ve been there with, using the phone’s GPS.

"It was developed around meeting areas, predominantly coffee shops, restaurants and parks,” explains Linda Coles, a social media lecturer and trainer who runs her own business called Blue Banana ( "It works out where people are, so if I’m out and I’ve checked in to say ‘we’re in this coffee shop here’, it would tell me that my friend is just around the corner at a different venue, so it’s encouraging me to meet up with my friends while I’m out.”

Business owners who register with foursquare can gain customers by making special offers to loyal customers who check in using the network. Customers gain points for themselves each time they check in, and the most loyal customer becomes that venue’s ‘Mayor’, entitling them to exclusive specials.

"Being the Mayor has a status symbol with it, so it’s got a competitive streak in it as well,” says Coles. "There’s about three million users worldwide, so it’s not massive yet, and New Zealand users tend to be people who are already working in social media.”

Facebook currently has its own location app, called Places, at the testing stage in the US. It’ll be interesting to see whether this takes off, and whether smaller pioneers like foursquare get swallowed as a result.

Of course, a network that tells others where you are inevitably raises privacy concerns. If you’re sitting in a coffee bar in the city, then obviously you’re not at home. The risk of saying too much was highlighted by a website called Pleaserobme (

Foursquare users can adjust their settings so they only share their location with ‘friends’. They can also delete their check-in history and if they decide to quit foursquare, they’re promised their entire history will be deleted. Foursquare is starting to attract attention from local businesses (mainly food and drink), and has a fun aspect with a competitive edge that has moneymaking potential. See page 14 for more about location-based advertising.