How to Use Location-based Social Networks For Business

I just started using Foursquare. I know, I know. You hate it. Or you love it, and you can’t believe it took me so long to get onto it. Foursquare just became available in Alaska so I’m on a mission to visit and list as many places as I can with tips and reviews so that by summertime, Alaska businesses will reap the rewards.

My feelings about location-based social networks like Foursquare, Gowalla, BrightKite and the like have been mixed. I’ve avoided them to date because of that knee-jerk “it’s too creepy” reaction that one gets when thinking of letting others — especially strangers — know one’s exact location. Maybe it’s because, frankly, many women I know (myself included) have been stalked.

But lately, because of Fourquare, I’ve been looking at location-based social networks in a different way. I recently¬†wrote about Foursquare on my personal blog and concluded that the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks.

Here’ s my take on the benefits of location-based social networks like Foursquare from a work standpoint:

  1. Connecting. With business travel, particularly to conferences, I find that I often don’t even know some of my friends and colleagues are in the vicinity. Foursquare notices that appear from friends on the network allow serendipitous discovery and can lead to impromptu meet-ups that can prove fruitful for work.
  2. Socializing. A few years ago, Twitter took SXSW by storm, with attendees utilizing the microblogging system to track people down. I’m wondering if Foursquare will be this year’s Twitter at SXSW, or maybe it is already over in those more techie circles and everyone has moved on to the next app. Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing when someone I know is at a nearby cafe or restaurant. I’m assuming it would then be socially acceptable to just show up and say “hi,” since they’ve publicly announced their location.
  3. Discovering. Gone are the days of being on a business trip and having to rely on the concierge for restaurant suggestions or the wait staff for meal recommendations. I’m already enjoying the Foursquare tips that show up for establishments nearby. I’ve also used Around Me on recent trips, but Foursquare’s recommendations of friends popping up when I’m in a new area is far more compelling than simple listings.
  4. Promoting. What is really interesting about an application like Foursquare is how local businesses can leverage it to attract more customers. The concept that Foursquare members can get discounts and perks from businesses by becoming “mayor” or frequenting a place often is genius.

In an age of marketing when consumers are digesting information in new ways, taking advantage of hybrid applications that combine online and offline elements is smart business. For example, Yelp’s Monocle mode augmented reality feature is dramatically changing the ways we think of “online,” “offline” and “location.”

While privacy and safety issues still exist with any GPS-enabled application that lets you broadcast your stats to your friends or the world, I think we are going to location-based apps continue to become more mainstream. And I, for one, am eager to see where else this can take us, and how it will affect the way we network and work.

How do you feel about location-based social networks, and how do you leverage them for your work?

Related GigaOM Pro Research: “Call it Real-Time, Squared, or NewNet, The Web Is Changing