Location-Based Social Media: Don't Panic.
By Andy Hayes ~ Exclusive for 4Hoteliers.com
Friday, 26th March 2010
It seems that everything is out and location-based social media is in orso that's what the social media pundits are saying. 

For me, I'm based in a location that doesn't have very many people (and by that, I mean people on social media, let alone people on the location-based networks).

ut I've just spent a week in Austin for South by Southwest Interactive, a major technology conference.  Austin is definitely on board with all-things-social-media, and I've finally come to see the real benefits of location-based social media in person. 

It's a maturing technology, so you should start to understand how it works, but you should know: don't panic.  Get the facts now and get started whenever you can.

The Two Big Players

At the moment, there are two big players in the location game:  Gowalla www.gowalla.com and FourSquare www.foursquare.com. You can visit their websites to check out the functionality, but naturally all the action is happening on their mobile phone apps. 

Here's the premise:
  • Users create a profile account and add their friends into their network.
  • Users "check in" whenever they visit an establishment: airports, coffee shops, hotels, or restaurants.  If the location isn't in the system, users can add a new one.
  • Users can see where their friends are, can leave comments and tips on places ("try the soy latte – it's delicious"), and earn points and rewards.
  • Establishments can make special offers to those who frequent their establishments the most often, or can pop up specials to users who check-in nearby.
My Experiences

I found a lot of fun experiences while using these two tools in Austin.  For example:
  • I checked-in at a burger joint with two friends.  One of our friends saw where we were and came to join us – to our surprise!  The meal was great and we were all impressed that a social media network brought us together like that.
  • When I checked-in at the Austin Airport, the system popped up with a recommendation for one of the airport restaurants.  It was the opposite direction of my gate, so I would never have noticed it.  (And yes, I ended up dropping by.  Was definitely a good suggestion.)
  • Different than the pop-up I just mentioned, I also was given several "special offers."  For example, we checked-in for lunch at a taco restaurant, and across the street a cupcake place suggested that we stop in afterwards for dessert with a discount on purchase.  Smart!
What You Need To Do

If you're not on board with these yet, you should check them out.  Obviously, the availability of Wifi and popularity of social networks in your area will weigh in on your experience, but I would suggest you at least do two things, which will not take more than 15 minutes:
  • Get an account on the two sites mentioned above.  This way you can monitor comments on your services. 
  • Register your establishment if it isn't there already. 
I wouldn't check-in to your own location.  Leave that to our customers so they can get the honor of being one of the top "regulars."

Once you've got yourself setup, just watch what's happening.  If you do see lots of check-ins either at your establishment or at nearby places, consider the advertising option – it's a great experiment, and I can't imagine finding any more targeted marketing options out there.

Andy Hayes is the Managing Partner of Travel Online Partners (TOP), a company focused on helping for small businesses in travel and tourism with online technology. 

To find out more about their do-it-yourself guides, coaching and consulting, visit the website www.travelonlinepartners.com
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