As a recent foursquare addict member, I’ve been questioned by several friends and colleagues each time I pull out my phone to “check-in” when we arrive at a new location. It would seem that, even though foursquare is adding close to 100,000 members each week with over 1.7 million users, many people still don’t know about it.

foursquare is simply a location-based social network used on your cell phone. Similar to competitors like Brightkite, Loopt, Gowalla, and Google Latitude, it lets you update your friends on your whereabouts in the hope that they’ll be in and around the same area and can meet up. And who doesn’t love meeting up with friends? You also earn points and unlock badges for discovering new places, doing new things and meeting new people. While the points and badges don’t seem to mean much, each check-in gets you closer to being the mayor of a particular venue – and having check-ins and mayor status is actually worthwhile.

You become mayor when you have the most check-ins at a specific location. For example, I’m mayor of March Communications, Beacon Hill Athletic Club, and this little pizza place in the North End (yum!).  While the title of mayor might not seem like a big deal, certain businesses offer big bonuses. For instance, in Boston, if you’re the mayor of Gypsy Bar or The Liquor Store, you get to skip the line and skip the cover charge. And if you’re the mayor of Ben & Jerry’s, you get an extra scoop of ice cream!

There are other great deals for checking-in on foursquare, even if you’re not the mayor. Aquitaine in South Boston gives you a free glass of sparkling wine for every fourth check-in and Cheers gives you a half price appetizer whenever you check-in. For anyone who knows me – this pretty much explains why I do foursquare – I love finding great deals!

While this all sounds great, there have been some concerns raised about the privacy of foursquare. Whenever you check-in, you have the option to send it to Twitter and Facebook, which will look something like this:

Meredith L. Eaton  screenshot

I suppose this presents the perfect opportunity for stalkers to track you down, especially if you’re religious about updating your whereabouts. There are some simple fixes to this though and general practices, which I abide by:

  1. Only friend people on foursquare who are actually your friends
    What’s the point of knowing where a stranger from Albuquerque is checking-in anyway? Isn’t the point to meet up with your friends in the same area as you? I suppose if you travel to Albuquerque often and are looking to make new friends, this might be acceptable…
  2. Don’t update Twitter or Facebook with your location, just send your update to the foursquare app for your foursquare friends
    By sending your update to Twitter, everyone can see where you are. So, before checking-in, just uncheck the little box that says “Send to Twitter” and “Send to Facebook,” but leave the box checked that says “Tell my friends.” This will keep your update just on the foursquare app.
  3. Check-in to venues as you are leaving
    This lets you still earn the points, badges, etc, while updating your friends on where you are, but keeps it safer for unwelcome trackers who may be hunting you down. Yikes! It might seem scary, but, let’s face it, we all have those scary ex-boyfriends, ex-girlfriends, or crazy aunts we don’t want to run into!
  4. Still wary? Don’t use it.
    There are many issues being raised with location-based social networks, so, if it still creeps you out and the other three steps aren’t enough, just don’t use foursquare. Do things the old fashioned way and pick up the phone and call your friends to see where they are to meet up. Who knows, maybe you’ll bring phone calls back in style.

For those who still don’t see the point, I’ll admit, it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon, but, I’ve already found foursquare to be extremely useful in and around Boston. For example, when I was watching the tragic Celtics (yay) versus Lakers (boo) game 7 of the NBA Championships, I was at The Greatest Bar. But, when the bar stopped letting people in because they were already over capacity three hours before tip-off, I was able to check foursquare and see that some of my friends who didn’t make it had ventured to The Harp, where I was able to then meet up with them and watch the game. Voila, foursquare to the rescue!

So, if you’re a friend of mine, feel free to friend me on foursquare and maybe we can randomly meet up in the city next time you check-in!


This post was first published by Meredith L. Eaton on March Communications’ blog, PR Nonsense, and may be viewed here.