Social media for small businesses 4: Using Foursquare to identify and engage customers


foursquare blackboards @ Southside Coffee in B...
Image by dpstyles™ via Flickr

Imagine if you could know who visits your cafe or shop on a regular basis. You will, of course, recognise many of these people. The man with the glasses who comes in most mornings for a flat white (that’s me by the way). The two women who always have lunch on a Thursday. Or the family who bring their children on a Saturday. You will recognise some regulars and you will no doubt speak to them and start to get to know them. Social media can help you do this more, and can, perhaps importantly, help you target people who visit sometimes but not yet regularly. This is where geolocation-based social media tools such as Foursquare come into play.

Foursquare is social media tool that lets users say where they are by ‘checking in’ at locations. You earn points for doing this and can see who else has checked-in here. If the location you are at is not yet on Foursquare then you can add details about it and plot it on a map. You earn points and get badges (status) the more times you check in and the person who visits somewhere more regularly becomes its Mayor.

I have been using Foursquare recently and, for example, might check in to the Fleet River Bakery just round the corner from my office when I get breakfast in the morning. Or I might check into Selfridges on Oxford Street in London when I’m shopping at the weekend. I am not yet Mayor of anywhere, but could become the Mayor of any of these places if I visit it most regularly. This is a small but growing tool, and it being joined by more and more geolocation-based social media tools that can be a real benefit to businesses.

Let’s take the Fleet River Bakery as an example. As a small bakery and cafe in central London they face a lot of competition (there are probably about ten similar venues nearby) but they are very popular with queues round the corner at lunchtime. Some people will be regulars and other will visit from time to time. On Foursquare, Fleet River has a profile, whether they set it up or not, and people who go there can check in - putting their details on this profile. For the guys at Fleet River this could be a powerful data resource. If they can attract people to visit them and check in on Foursquare then they can start to see who is visiting them, how often and when. But it can also be a powerful peer-to-peer marketing tool. On Foursquare your friends are told where you are. So when somebody checks in at the cafe their friends will learn where they are and so learn about Fleet River, where they are and what they do. They will also know that their friends go there and, as we know, peer-to-peer recommendation are much more important than anything a brand can say.

Using new and growing tools like Foursquare can be really powerful for small businesses. And if you work with these tools you will get even more out of them. Perhaps on the boards outside Fleet River they should say who the Mayor currently is, and perhaps even offer him or her a free coffee when they next come in. Or maybe offer exclusive discount, or a free cookie, to anybody on Foursquare who checks in.

There is a lot you can do to help people market your small business for you. Much of it free and just making use of the social media tools that are out there.

You can read all our posts on social media for small businesses here


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  1. 17-02-10 link « The blog:

    [...] Social media for small businesses 4: using Foursquare to identify and engage customers > Matt Rhodes, Fresh Networks blog [...]

  2. neha:

    All the other comments now seen superfluous

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  3. viswanath:

    Yes It is essential for business owners to be friendly with the customers to create a easy atmosphere for customers to visit regularly and social media is there for that cause

    Awesome post

  4. Tia Fisher:

    Hi Matt - Thanks very much for this post - a good take on the ‘other side’ of Foursquare and well pointed out. I’ve referenced you in my blog on the Foursquare phenomenon at

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    [...] the idea behind Foursquare (not least Foursquare’s own)- and there’s also this rather good take on the commercial angle by Matt Rhodes at FreshNetworks. You may gathered that I’m not a fan, that my iPhone will remain [...]

  6. The Foursquare Thing - What's All The Fuss About? | Business Computing World:

    [...] the idea behind Foursquare (not least Foursquare’s own)- and there’s also this rather good take on the commercial angle by Matt Rhodes at [...]

  7. Mark:

    Interesting idea, Matt. The nonprofit I work for runs an annual small business competition, and I can imagine many of them would jump at this. I’ll bne sure to pass this along to them. Thanks again.

  8. How Mobile Location-​​Based Apps Will Change Your Business in 2010 | Social Media Spin:

    [...] Social media for small busi­nesses 4: Using Foursquare to iden­tify and engage cus­tomers ( [...]

  9. Twitter and Facebook follow Foursquare - 2010 is the year of location-based social media tools | FreshNetworks Blog|Social media agency|Online communities:

    [...] posted before about how businesses can use Foursquare and only yesterday about Fourwhere, the Foursquare and Google Maps mashup. Foursquare is a great [...]

  10. Joyelle:

    iv6QkS I’m not easily impressed. . . but that’s impressing me! :)