I can’t blame you if you’ve tuned out of all the talk about Foursquare and Facebook Places–it’s everywhere. In case you need a quick summary, Foursquare is a location-based social networking website with companion software for mobile devices. Users “check-in” at venues using a mobile website, text message or a mobile device-specific application. When you tell foursquare where you are, that’s called “checking in”. You can check-in from parks, bars, museums, restaurants, libraries…really anywhere. When you check-in, Foursquare lets your friends know where they can find you and award you points and badges based on your adventurousness.

In allowing users to bridge their real and digital circles, Foursquare has become a craze among younger generations. While some believe that the segmentation Foursquare has seen thus far could be the sign of a glass ceiling, the application’s growth beyond 4 million users in its first year-and-a-half shows its market potential. The most recent midterm was a mile-marker of sorts for Foursquare, with 50,000 voters “checking-in” at polling places on Election Day.

Large events, especially those in support of a common cause or nonprofit, share much of the same incentive as voting for Foursquare users. Increasingly, as the volume of Social Media users grows, a major trend is towards “joining” rather than “creating.” Creation of content online has become increasingly relegated to a lower proportion of thought leaders, just 23% of the broader population, while 59% and 68%, respectively, fall into the joiner and spectator categories. For organizations looking to rally users behind a common social goal, this is a cause for celebration.

The use of Foursquare as a tool is pretty simple; however, there are a number of functions it can serve in drawing attention to an event. As with the Election Day traffic boom, Foursquare is great for encouraging users to share a location or cause that they want others to know about. Last spring, Foursquare saw 350,000 check-ins in a day, coinciding with the South-by-Southwest music festival in Austin, TX, where it was launched a year before. Additionally, Foursquare can be great incentive for competition. Innovative marketers including Starbucks have run wildly successful campaigns that give users a discount for “checking in” at the specific locations, fighting to become the “mayor”, or person with the most visits. In the context of a large non-profit event, Foursquare could be used to allow users to proudly share their location and thoughts, as well as to compete in teams or with outside events to see who can get the most check-ins.

Long-term, the potential for Foursquare is very interesting, with real-time demographics like those available exclusively online measurable at individual events. Additionally, the ability to track users’ participation across different places and times, take real-time attendance instantly, or award prizes based on virtual metrics could streamline operations for tech-savvy event planners.

For the time being, Foursquare is somewhat of a novelty, although events with highly concentrated populations of younger, tech-savvy participants could be the perfect training ground for event planners to test the platform’s capabilities. Being able to boast a huge number of “check-ins” or allow users from your event to post their location to compatible networks like Facebook and Twitter has the potential to garner remarkable attention. As this platform grows up and progressive event planners put strategies in place to harness its potential, we’ll begin to see more clearly this crucial digital to real-world connection create substantial and grass-roots buzz for your event.


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