Over the last year, I have used Foursquare both, as a consumer and as a business to help my clients establish their venue and run campaigns to drive new business and reward loyal customers.  When consumers check in using Foursquare, it provides a list of the businesses in the area.  In some cases the business has a little orange Special icon.  When one clicks it on, it unlocks a special.simple; however for businesses the execution is not.  There lies my ambivalence with this company and their application.

For example, while at a mall or in center of a town, one can take out their smart phone check in using Foursquare and receive a list of businesses in the area.  A local bakery is offering a free cinnamon twist as a first time check-in.   One can go into the bakery, check-in and show the person behind the counter the unlocked special on the phone and receive a free cinnamon twist.  A savvy business owner sets their cash register to reflect social media discounts and what else is being purchased with the special.  This way they can monetize the investment of ‘giving  away’ or discounting  items.  We believe that smart business owners who reward faithful clientele will create a community of fans who keep returning with friends and family.

Here’s where it gets interesting.  In real time, the person who just received the free cinnamon twist at the bakery can let friends know on Facebook and Twitter they are at the bakery,  received a  free cinnamon twist, if friends are in the area, they can join in on the special.  However, if they have checked in before they will not receive the cinnamon twist free, but after a third check-in they may receive 20% off a $10 or more purchase. Businesses which have a physical venue are able to claim their establishment on Foursquare and begin to offer a series of specials to give incentives for customers to shop at their venue.

Getting back to the bakery example, the owner of the bakery can also log into Four square where they interact with a business dashboard which displays information about customers. Foursquare displays the total number of people who have check-in, the % of male, female users, their social reach on Twitter, Facebook, the number of times they have come to your store.   Business owners who implement a loyalty program can integrate and attach the sales to the customer.  Next time the person checks in to the neighborhood, the bakery can send a directed message to the customer saying, “we see you are in the neighborhood, stop by and receive 10% off your next purchase.

Foursquare brings venues, friends, family together, rewarding new and loyal customers.  The problem with the process is as a small business owner who works with other small business owners on their digital presence and brand, Foursquare makes it next to impossible for business owners to easily claim their venue.

Foursquare to be a viable business must figure out another method for claiming business.  Right now, the process appears to be seamless until you actually use Foursquare to locate the business and try to claim it.  Two ways to claim the business either by phone or U.S postal, which means if the phone number does not register with Foursquare, for whatever reason, you now have to wait for snail mail to deliver your confirmation number.  No specials or engagement until you can unlock your business.   For a consultant who goes into the businesses to set them up, it’s a night mare!  Many business owners do not have the time to learn or engage with the technology.  The value that my business adds to their existing business is the ability to digitally brand their business, tie it to a location based application like Foursquare to drive new business and returning customers.   The window of opportunity to convince business owners to claim their venue is short, when the system doesn’t work, it closes immediately!  In some cases, it impacts their overall decision to go social and implement social networking tools.

Over the course of the last week, this consultant went to five venues and was only able to claim one.  Two out of the five phone numbers, although registered as the official business phone number on Google and in the phone book, Foursquare did not accept it.  In one venue the phone actually rang, but did not give the code; it stated there was a problem but did not elaborate.  As a veteran technology consultant this experience is unacceptable and gives not only consultants a bad image, it doesn’t do anything for integrating technology into bricks and mortar, it also does not bode well for Foursquare.

After sending and receiving email back and forth, unable to talk to a person in real time, a week later I am still unable to claim two businesses. Foursquare, you need to rethink your business model; right now you have lots of customers checking in, yet  few businesses are engaging with them!