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“Jeff just checked in at the Starbucks on Elgin Street.” “Lindsay just became the Mayor of Chapters on Rideau Street.” Have you noticed that you’re seeing more and more of these updates from your friends? That’s because location-based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR and recently released Facebook Places are the newest Social Media trend. While some people find it annoying, or even creepy, location-based services help us tell our friends where we are at all times. And vice versa.

These services allow users to “Check-in” to locations using their mobile devices. Users are then rewarded with badges, points or Mayoral status for frequent check-ins. The terminology used varies from service to service, but the basics are pretty much the same. By checking in and earning rewards, users can stay connected with each other by knowing their friends whereabouts. Have you ever gone to a restaurant or a concert only to realize after that 3 other people you know were there as well? By using one of these services you could have noticed that Steve was also eating lunch at The Exchange, and you could have met up with him. Plus, when you checked in to that restaurant, you could have checked out reviews from other users – what to order, or what not to order.

Okay, so that’s all fun and game right? Cool, Kevin was at Subway, then at the Post Office then at the gas station. Who cares right? How can you use these services to help you? Location based services, not unlike Twitter, often get a bad wrap. “It’s useless” is what people say. Well, it can be. But as I’ve said many times, Social Media is what you make of it. It’s like anything else in the World. When used properly, and with the right focus, location based services can be invaluable to your business! So how can your business take advantage of this? Attract customers, reward their loyalty and collect stats.

  1. List your business in applications such as Gowalla, Foursquare, SCVNGR and Facebook Places. Why wouldn’t you? If you’re not listed, no one will check in – and plus it’s free! Let’s say that only 10 out of 100 visitors check into your coffee shop on a Sunday morning. Those 10 people have now shared with each person in their networks (of probably hundreds of people) that they visited your coffee shop. Think of the exposure you receive. For example, I follow a friend on Twitter. This friend often checks into Bridgehead Coffee. I had never been, but since my friend checks in so often, I was intrigued. So based oh his frequent check ins I tried it out, and loved it. You know what? Bridgehead just gained a new customer – me. Another reason why you should list your business is to get found. Let’s say I’m walking down Bank Street and I’m looking for a barber shop. If I go on Foursquare and search “barber shop” it will show me the barber shops nearby. If Imperial Barber Shop is listed, and Nick’s Barber Shop isn’t, which Barber do you think I’ll go to?
  2. Reward you customers for their loyalty with prizes and discounts. This is a win-win situation. By offering rewards and discounts for checking in you are encouraging people to not only visit your business (which increases sales) but also check in (which, as we saw earlier, increases exposure).
  3. Collect stats on who your customers are, when they visit, and who they are visiting with. If you have a lot of visitors checking in every day, you can target your marketing efforts to match these trends.

As with any new technology trend, there will always be naysayers. Yes, you can only check in with your mobile device, and there are still many people out there who do not have a smart phone. And even of those who do, how many actually use these services? While only about 11% of mobile phone users participate in location based services, the number is growing. This is a niche market, but by jumping on this trend early, you can reap the benefits. As mentioned earlier, if you’re the only barber shop listed in an area, people searching using these services will more than likely give you their business.

Do you use location based services when you visit businesses? And as a business, are you listed with these platforms?