Everyone remembers punch cards, in fact, they are still around today.  Buy 10 sub sandwiches and get your 11th free! Buy 5 haircuts and your next one is half off. Just about every brick and mortar establishment has tried this at one point or another and for the most part it has worked.  But the customers always forget their punch cards, or maybe they have three different cards which all add up to a free item, but individually are worthless.

Well those days are over. Social media has taken its place and it is doing more than a punch card ever could.  If you aren’t familiar with services like Foursquare, Gowalla, or Facebook Places it’s time to catch up.  Shoppers young and old are using these services to find the best deals, connect with friends, and cash in on customer loyalty rewards.

What Are you Talking About?

Ok, so up until this point I might not have done a good job explaining exactly what “Location Based Social Marketing” is but here we go.  Location based social marketing is a networking tool that allows people to “check in” at their favorite locations, discover new destinations, and see where their friends are frequenting or chatting about. The networks mentioned above (Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places) are the medium though which people interact.  Foursquare, for example gives you points for checking in at locations and adding new locations into their database. Each tool allows you to see if friends are “nearby” which is useful for friends who live on opposite sides of town.

How Does this Attract Customers to My Business?

Remember the punch card example from before?  Well many of these social networks allow you as a business to offer incentives for repeat customers.  The top visitor to any location is dubbed as the “Mayor” of that establishment.  If you visit the grocery store on a daily basis and check in every time you go, chances are that you will become the “Mayor” of that store. If the establishment so chooses, they can offer incentives for whoever is the “Mayor.” Pizza hut, for example, currently offers a free order of breadsticks with any order to the Mayor of each location.  It not only encourages people to visit Pizza Hut to try to obtain mayorship, but it gives the mayor incentive to return again and again to claim their prize.  You can also keep track of “check ins” and offer a punch card-like incentive for visitors on their 5th, 10th, 20th, etc. visit.

Another way that it attracts customers to your business is that the check ins are almost always sent out to the visitor’s social network (i.e. twitter, Facebook). So lets say I check in at your store. I announce it to all of my friends, some of whom will say “I’ve always wanted to try that place but never went. Was it good?” This will more than likely start a conversation and hopefully drive new business to your establishment.

How do I Know that People are Actually Visiting and Not Falsely Checking In?

The beauty of these location based social networks is that they are all driven by GPS. I can sit at home all day long and “check in” to places, but the network knows that I’m not really there and won’t give me credit for it.  The networks also have filters in place which pick up on people attempting to check in multiple times.  But in all fairness, you shouldn’t be concerned so much with people cheating the system – no matter what game, people always try to cheat. But you should be excited about the fact that with very little effort on your part, you can drive more business to your location then you had been able to previously.  The trick is to incent-ify repeat business.

How Do I get Setup on These Networks?

Since they are location based, many of them cannot be set up from a computer, they must first be “discovered” and marked down using a cell phone.  Each major location based social network has an app or a mobile site that will make checking in a breeze. Once your location has been marked, you can go on your computer to claim it. Once you have completed the claim process, you can then set up specials, track check ins, etc.