Most, if not all, of the iPhone apps currently available have some form of location-based functionality that makes their value more relevant. For example, the Yelp mobile app can help you find restaurants nearby, adding an extra layer of usefulness to the core function of the service - consumer reviews.
The LBS space is incredibly important for businesses to pay attention to right now. There are millions of consumers with smartphones who access and use mobile apps for finding gas, restaurants, movies, friends, and pretty much anything else you can think of. As a vendor, you have the ability to tap into this hot space to improve your bottom line and get more paying customers in the door.
Get in the Location-Based Game
You're probably already pretty familiar with Yelp, but there are a few newcomers that are tacking on a new layer of social activity, and merging the gap between customer experiences and how word of mouth about those experience disseminates online and off.
When it comes to location-based services, you should especially pay attention to and leverage and . The former of the two web and mobile social networks is all about check-ins, so members use their phone to check in at places while on the go and add photos and descriptive information to create a rich-media placestream.
Think of placestreams as a real-time stream of activity - check-ins, photos, and descriptions - happening at any given venue. So the placestream for the Moscone Center in San Fransisco would include a digital timeline of user activity with check-ins, photos, and messages. Depending on user preferences, these activities will be also be automatically posted to Twitter and Facebook.
Before you use Brightkite for your business, you need to get in on the action and understand how the application works. Create an account and use the service (especially one of their mobile apps) to see how it works. In the research phase, make sure to find the placestream for your business. If it doesn't exist, or it's rather lackluster, then you can be pretty confident that people aren't sharing their experiences at your establishment with friends.
Foursquare is similar to Brightkite when it comes to location check-ins, but it’s even more ripe for business opportunity; Foursquare tacks on a game element to encourage users to get out and about and check in at different venues in their city. Foursquare members are rewarded with points for check-ins, which creates a competition amongst friends and all users in a particular city. This is especially great for you, because the game rewards members for becoming the Mayor of a locale should they frequent it enough. You want to encourage your customers to compete to be your mayor.
As with Brightkite, before you start brainstorming ideas, you need to get acclimated to the Foursquare service, gameplay, and other intricacies (like tips and to-dos). Get the iPhone app or play using the mobile-friendly website, and start exploring your city, competing, and adding tips to really understand how other members’ Foursquare activity could affect and influence patronage to your business.
Build a Better Vendor Presence Online and Off
Now that you understand what Brightkite and Foursquare are (because you've been using them both), start thinking about your venue and how you can pimp out your placestream, and foster Foursquare mayoral competitions.
For Brightkite, you'll want to experiment with creative ideas, but your best bet as a vendor is to use Brightkite, your customer base, your traditional marketing channels (ie. email), and the social web, to create a customer/community generated placestream for your business that tells an intriguing and experience-rich story. Use incentives like discounts to encourage your socially savvy customers to check-in and post photos from your venue. For example, you could offer discounts or freebies to Brightkite users that post photos to your venue's placestream, and/or create a photo competition and reward the individual that gets the most comments on a photo.
When it comes to Foursquare keep the competition element of the game in the forefront of your mind. Now that major metros in the United States are getting more saturated with Foursquare users, there's probably a check-in competition happening in your backyard. Use this to your advantage and play to people's egos.
You want to encourage fierce competition for mayorship of your venue, and you can do that by offering mayor-only bonuses for patrons. This works especially well if you're in the food and beverage industry, as giving away free food or drinks to the Foursquare mayor could pay off nicely in the exposure that trickles from mobile devices to the web, and throughout other social channels.
For example, a San Francisco coffee shop has posted signs indicating that the Foursquare mayor drinks for free. As a result, their deal has been dispersed via word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare meaning that the San Fransisco area and beyond is blanketed with relatively free promotion of the Foursquare Mayor offer.
Publicize Your Social Activity Everywhere
This may seem like the most obvious of actions, but it's often the one that is most overlooked. Once you've tackled figuring out how to use services like Brightkite and Foursquare, and have graduated into the strategy stage, it's important that you start to think about how you can promote your social activities and online presence in both the physical and digital worlds.
Online you have a myriad of avenues. If you have a blog, and are using Twitter and Facebook, start there and promote your LBS savvy to your existing audience. You can also start subtly incorporating your activities in everything you do. You might consider including a blurb in your email newsletters about Foursquare or Brightkite deals, but an even simpler approach is to append a short one-liner to your email signature, or add a badge or some text to your website.
Since your business is probably primarily offline, it's important to reinforce your online activities and location-aware contests or deals with in-store signage. You don't have to be fancy; a simple sign you make and print yourself will do just fine. If you can customize the text on your receipts, you could tweak them to promote your unique activities. The important thing here is to start thinking about every touch point you have with your customer, and how you can use those engagement opportunities to make them aware of what you're up to and how it benefits them.
If your ideas are truly out of the box and unique to your area, don't be afraid to contact local media outlets, journalists, and bloggers. The notion of businesses being able to tap into social media and location-based services for new ways to generate sales is something that is very newsworthy right now. Case in point, the New York Times Bits Blog just about New Yorkers who went on a Foursquare bar hop they termed a Town Holler. Since this is all very cutting edge, your local news network might be very interested in highlighting your efforts.