The 10 Biggest Mistakes You're Making on Foursquare

Don't be a Foursquare failure. Use these tips to help your business succeed on the social network.
August 28, 2012

As of April 2012, businesses accounted for more than one million check-ins on Foursquare using the merchant platform, and plenty of these businesses are driving profits just from customers checking in. There are certain ways to become a Foursquare success story—but there are just as many ways to become a Foursquare failure.

Carmine Gallo, author of the book "The Power of Foursquare: 7 Innovative Ways To Get Your Customers To Check In Wherever They Are," offers several tips on how to succeed using Foursquare:

1. Poor training. "No promotion—traditional or digital—stands a chance of success if the people tasked with the administrative of the initiative know very little, if anything, about it."

Gallo details several instances where employees were not aware or did not know how to honor Foursquare deals. In one instance, he took his daughters into a toy store where a Foursquare deal was being offered on Lego toys. However, the clerk at the register had never even heard of Foursquare. Not wanting to hold up the long holiday line, Gallo didn't bother to ask for a manager and simply skipped on the deal. Make sure to train your employees and keep them informed about promotions.

2. Reward all your customers. "Develop creative ways to engage all your customers in your social media efforts, not just mayors." Specials shouldn't just be focused on Foursquare "mayors"—people who check-in a lot—but should create incentives for other visitors in order to attract new customers.

"In many locations the competition is fierce to become mayor of an establishment, and unless someone is there every single day, they may never become mayor of the venue. But these are still loyal customers, and Foursquare offers several types of specials to reward people other than the mayor."

3. Avoid lame specials. "If you're going to participate in Foursquare and offer specials as an incentive to visit your venue, then make it worthwhile." Gallo says he once went to a winery that had a 5 percent discount special (which doesn't even cover California sales tax) after five visits. On the other hand, a bar in Philadelphia offered patrons open bar if they came on a snowy day, and it was so successful that they had to close the deal. Choose your deals wisely.

4. Keep your strategy in line with your business. "Make sure your Foursquare strategy is aligned with your brand's unique product, service, value and mission. Align your Foursquare strategy with your business. I came across a dentist's office that was offering a free coffee on a check-in. Why would a dentist promote a beverage that stains your teeth? And what does coffee have to do with a dentist? How about sugar-free candy, instead? Odd and confusing specials, promotions or tips are annoying, turning off your customers instead of attracting them."

5. Promote participation. "You can have the most creative idea on how to engage your mobile customers, but if nobody knows about it, it doesn't matter."

Gallo describes companies who have gone the extra mile to promote their Foursquare presence. "Arby's launched a Foursquare promotion where it offered reserved seats for the mayors. It also included 50 percent off meals. Leverage other forms of social media to promote your Foursquare campaign."

6. Don't send spam. When Lionsgate Films attempted to use Foursquare as a marketing campaign for the movie The Expendables, they were met with a barrage of criticism.

"Marketers left tips at venues such as bars and restaurants. One tip said: 'With over 250,000 ways to order your burger it's no wonder that Five Guys burgers are considered bad ass. Brought to you by The Expendables opening August 13!' As you might imagine, Foursquare users complained online that the promotion was a type of spam."

7. Treat your mayor right. "Stoke competition among your customers by offering the mayor extra rewards. Mayors take their titles very seriously and there is serious competition for the position in many venues. Treat your mayors like the royalty they are. The mayors of Luke's Lobster in New York City receive a 10 percent discount…they also get their photos displayed on wall-mounted TV screens."

8. Remove stale specials. "It's important to keep your specials updated. Leaving old specials on Foursquare damages your credibility."

"A friend of mine was shopping at a popular mall in San Jose, California, on January 5 and found that the mall itself had a good special—the mayor would be rewarded with a $25 gift certificate. Too bad the special was good only through November 12th the previous year. Nobody had bothered to pull down the special after the date, nor had they kept it up to date. If you're going to offer a Foursquare special, stay on top of it."

9. Fix bad customer service. Gallo advises working on your customer service before you even begin to think about a social media campaign. "Unhappy customers are more likely to share negative experiences with their social networks. If your training is inadequate and you are getting a ton of complaints on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites, please don't attract even more customers to your place. If your leadership or management skills are a problem, Foursquare won't solve it."

10. Don't do it just to do it. Refrain from joining social media sites like Foursquare because it seems like the normal thing to do today and you're afraid to be behind the times.

"Many places are motivated to join social media out of fear. They create social media pages and promotions with no clear objective. They do it just to do it. They are joining out of fear instead of joining because they are passionate about engaging their customers."

Is your business on Foursquare? What types of specials do you offer on Foursquare? Tell us in the comments below.

Photo courtesy Foursquare