What are Location Based Social Networks?

Learn how location-based networks, such as Foursquare and Whrrl, put information and friends in easy reach.

Aliza Sherman
5-minute read
Episode #91


Have you tried using a location-based social network like Foursquare or Whrrl? Or are you freaked out about letting others know where you are at any given time?

Before I fill you in on the risks and rewards of location-based social networks, I'm letting you know right here, right now that...


What are Location-Based Social Networks?

Location-based social networks are social networks that use GPS features to locate you and that let you broadcast your location and other content from your mobile device. Yeah, location-based social networks are a little creepy. I mean you're basically checking in when you arrive someplace to let your network contacts or the public at large know where you are and what you're doing. So if you're creeped out about revealing your location, maybe you shouldn't do it. But don't let that turn you away. You may be surprised by what these networks can do for you.

To explain this strange compulsion, let me tell you a little bit about how I use two popular GPS-powered social networks: Foursquare and Whrrl.

What Is Foursquare?

Picture this. I'm in a city on business. I know people who live there but I haven't had a chance to track them down. Yet I'm connected with them on Foursquare, so all I have to do is check in when my airplane lands and already I'm notifying my contacts that I'm in town. Suddenly, I begin to hear from friends and colleagues through email or by phone saying “Hey, I didn't know you were in town. Let's get together.”

I love that. For me, Foursquare is like Julie, my very own personal cruise director. Okay, that's a Love Boat reference for those of you who were born a decade too late. Or is that two decades?

How Does Foursquare Work?

Businesses can partner with Foursquare and use the service to attract new customers.

Foursquare lets me add a “tip” to a location. A tip is like a review or a recommendation. You can leave behind words of wisdoms for other visitors and locals to help them with life-changing information like “Order the tater tots with the works,” or “Glenn at Best Buy is particularly verbose but really knowledgeable.”

The flip side of these tips is that when you're near a location that's in the Foursquare database, you can instantly access any comments people have left and get recommendations based on proximity.

If I check in several times at a certain location, I can become “Mayor” of that place. Suddenly, Foursquare becomes a bit of friendly competition as you and others try to claim and reclaim mayorial status. I can also accumulate points each week for checking in or for adding new establishments to the company's database. Warning: Do not get into a fender bender racing your friends to a restaurant just so you can be the first to check in or to become Mayor. I can see that being a bit of a problem.

How Can You Use Foursquare for Business?

The cool thing about Foursquare is that it isn't just for individuals. Businesses can partner with Foursquare and use the service to attract new customers. Many savvy local businesses are catching on to the popularity of Foursquare and are offering Mayors special perks, like free coffee or a discount. In the case of Foursquare Mayors, you don't have to disclose these special benefits to anyone. Some establishments even put up signs in their windows or use sandwich boards on the curb to show their love of Mayors.

So if you've got a restaurant, retail establishment, or any kind of brick and mortar location, you may want to look into how Foursquare can help you attract--and retain--customers.

What Is Whrrl?

I love Whrrl. Whrrl is one part location-based network with two parts storytelling.You can tell stories on Whrrl through images with captions or by inserting text with notes. I use Whrrl mostly when I'm traveling or doing something where I'm talking a lot of photographs. I just launch the Whrrl iPhone app, check in at my location, then begin uploading photographs to tell the story of where I am and what I'm doing.

Whrrl has the social networking aspect of connecting with other members and you can easily post your photo-based stories--or Whrrls--to Twitter and Facebook. I especially like the elegant Whrrl slideshow player that you can embed as a widget on your website or blog to provide compelling multimedia content.

Both Foursquare and Whrrl let you adjust your settings to control the amount of notifications you get. I leave Foursquare on full blast so I can see where my contacts are but I do not Tweet my location publicly. I turned off Whrrl notifications but do Tweet my Whrrls and post them to Facebook.

Bottom Line: If you have any concerns about checking in to locations and sharing that information with others you can do one of three things: Not participate, share with your actual trusted friends only, or check in as you're leaving a location. If you have any concerns about your safety, don't take any chances; in that case location-based social networks are not for you.

Contact Me

That's all we have time for today.

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I've put a few extra resources on The Digital Marketer website at digitalmarketer.quickanddirtytips.com including some blog posts about Foursquare and Location-Based social networks for business. You'll also find links to all of the sites mentioned in this show.

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The Digital Marketer's Quick and Dirty Tips for Building Your Business With Web Tools is part of the Quick and Dirty Tips network at quickanddirtytips.com. I'm your host, Aliza Sherman, signing off for now.

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Foursquare – http://www.foursquare.com
Whrrl – http://www.whrrl.com
Loopt – http://www.loopt.com
BrightKite – http://www.brightkite.com

Gombita Speaks Out About Foursquare - http://babyfruit.typepad.com/mediagirl/2010/01/mobile-tech-gombita-speaks-out-against-foursquare-mediastyle.html

How to Use Location-based Social Networks For Business - http://webworkerdaily.com/2010/02/02/how-to-use-location-based-social-networks-for-business/

Social Media on Wheels image courtesy of Shutterstock