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Foursquare is a social network focused on connecting users and allowing them to broadcast their locations using mobile devices such as the iPhone, Blackberry phones and Android phones. Foursquare is especially unique and attractive because it allows marketers to tie programs to a physical point of sale activities - something that has proven to be difficult to accomplish in the broader social Web.

It's no secret that over the past several months that Foursquare has grown significantly. With its growing popularity among users, brands have been trying to figure how they can leverage the site as part of their marketing mix. Several brands have jumped on the Foursquare bandwagon and have run programs featuring branded custom badges, unique check-in tips and custom landing pages featuring lists of to-do items. But for the rest, the question remains: How can brands leverage Foursquare as part of their social media marketing mix?

To help answer the question, we chatted with some brands, took a hard look at how some are currently using Foursquare, and came up with the list of five steps below.

Determine How Your Brand Stacks Up on Foursquare

Before diving into a full-blown Foursquare campaign, you might want to see if your business is even listed and how active users are engaging with it. First, find out how many check-ins your business has received over the past several months and how many of those were unique check-ins. If you have multiple locations, find out who your top mayors are and how many check-ins they have made in the past several months.

Using third-party social marketing tools such as Foursquare Perspectives, brands are able to derive valuable and useful insights on how Foursquare users are interacting with their physical locations. Foursquare reports deliver key statistics such as total venues, total check-ins, unique visitors and total mayorships, and they present that data through comprehensive charts, graphs and maps to help marketers easily visualize key market trends among Foursquare locations.

For example, here's Home Depot's Foursquare Perspectives report:

Are all your brand locations and venues covered? What locations are seeing the most check-ins?

Own Your Venues

It's your business, so take ownership of it! Venues on Foursquare are created by individual members as they check in to a location and are often missing important information or are inaccurate. Be sure to track your venue as each venue can be represented by categories and tags. By claiming your venue on Foursquare, you also gain access to extra data and the interface to provide special offers to your customers who are checking in. There is a link on your venue page where you can do this. If you have many locations, try the Foursquare Perspectives report to show you all the venues in Foursquare.

Utilize Tips

One of the easiest ways for your business to start getting traction with Foursquare is to utilize the Tips functionality. For example, a user who checks in to a local restaurant might get a tip saying, "Since you are so close to Starbucks, you might want to stop by for a Venti Soy Latte. Mayors get 15% off their order."

This type of targeted campaign helps to influence and drive awareness and traffic to your business to hopefully result in sale conversions.

Market Your Participation

Let your customers know that your venue is a part of Foursquare! Display marketing materials like the official Foursquare window stickers at each one of your venues. Promote your participation on your other social channels such as Facebook and Twitter, telling your fans and followers about any specials you may have for people who check in.

Encourage your customers to check in. Having users check in and share that check-in virally is a powerful marketing tool. Each check-in can be broadcast to that person's friends on Twitter and Facebook.

While some of your social media-savvy customers will already be a part of Foursquare and check in to your locations, the majority of them don't even know it exists. By marketing your participation publicly at your venue and across your other social channels, you are not only promoting your business and any special deals, but you are also helping to increase participation.

Give Them a Reason to Check In

Encourage your customers to continuously come back to your business and check in by giving them a reason to! The gaming features of Foursquare are fun for many users, but after a while, they will want to start receiving rewards for their loyal check-ins to your business. Don't leave them hanging. Develop and implement a Foursquare loyalty system for repeat customers that is similar to the punch cards many businesses give out. For example, award every tenth check-in with a free small coffee or offer the mayor of your location a lunch for free every week. You can get as creative as you want with your offers.

Foursquare also provides the ability to target first-time customers (well, customers that are first-time users of Foursquare). Your business can benefit by rewarding first-time check-ins to encourage new customers to visit locations for the first time. While most brands are focused on rewarding repeat, loyal customers, there is a big opportunity to reward first-time customers, too.

The thought of adding yet another social channel to your marketing mix may seem daunting, but the addition of Foursquare can be as easy as adding a few tips and promoting your involvement to the channels you are already a part of. Don't take a wait-and-see approach. With about 2 million users and 15,000 new users joining daily, Foursquare is a social channel that shouldn't be ignored; it's another way to generate a more loyal customer base and encourage more physical point-of-sale activities.

By David Carter, CTO, Awareness, Inc.