Checked In: Why It Matters Where You’re At

As the tech world converged on Austin, Texas, last week for the interactive portion of the annual SXSWconference, battles for Mayorships — virtual, not political — signaled an escalation in the location-based land war. Foursquare and Gowalla have emerged as the go to applications for early adopters looking to rack up virtual badges and pins by visiting restaurants, cafes, hotels, stores, and, yes, even homes and workplaces.

Users “check in” on site via smart phones through each company’s respective mobile application. And while that might not mean much for the average consumer today, the winner of this war may do more to impact the future of social media marketing than Facebook and Twitter combined.

For marketers, the promise of these location-based social networks was hinted at last week when Foursquare introduced a suite of tools aimed at retail businesses using the service to interact with, and even reward, users who check in at their stores.

Unlike Twitter and Facebook, the channels du jour of the social media marketer, location-based channels can offer much more in the way of demographic and psychographic information of actual customers. There is no need to seek them out — they come to you, often with feedback.

Early adopting businesses have been able to offer deals to Mayors — the Foursquare user with the most check ins at a particular location — or even just those who check in once.

The result is a unique connection between business and customer that proves useful to both parties; the customer gets a deal and some extra attention in exchange for loyalty, feedback and the statistics businesses can now glean from Foursquare’s analytics tools — namely who checked in, at what time and with whom.

It’s easy to see why this service has taken off at cafes and restaurants, where freebies and loyalty rewards have long been a staple of promotion, but it isn’t too hard to picture a future in which location-based check ins become an expectation of retailers of all make and measure.

For instance, picture a trip to your nearest Lowe’s and imagine checking in on site and announcing via Foursquare that you are looking for a 7/8 inch wing nut flange. Then picture receiving a text or message back from Lowe’s that tells you they are in aisle 13, to the right of the entrance. Or better yet, picture a dedicated Lowe’s employee coming to your assistance in person. And then picture the rich data set Lowe’s can analyze, all thanks to meeting and interacting with the customer online, on their terms.

-Contributed by Adam Lackey