foursquare ‘Specials’

In late 2011 I started taking a much closer look at foursquare, the location-based app that encourages users to ‘check-in’ at places to unlock, points, badges, deals and discounts.

I’d read lots about it, but up until that point hadn’t really seen its relevance to me in my life. However, the figures up to April 2012 (on their website) were impressive:

  • Community: Over 20 million people worldwide
  • Over 2 billion check-ins, with millions more every day
  • Businesses: Over 750,000 using the Merchant Platform (more information at
  • Employees: Over 100 between headquarters in New York, an office in San Francisco, and a lovely outpost in London.

As someone who is trying to help small businesses grow, I started playing with foursquare to get a better understanding of how it all worked and why people should/could use it to their benefit.


You may have heard the word ‘Gamification‘, a term used to describe psychological techniques typically used in computer games to encourage certain behaviour through regular rewards like points and enhanced features, which are now being used in non-game environments. Of all the things I’ve seen, I think foursquare is the ultimate example of a company bringing Gamification to the real-world environment through people’s mobile devices.

When you first start using foursquare (download the free app for your smartphone and register your details) to check-in at coffee shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, shops, museums, art galleries, offices, train stations, airports, etc – you quickly gain points and unlock badges, the first being the ‘Newbie’ badge. Check-in to a further 9 places and you unlock the ‘Adventurer’ badge, all the while building up your points score which compares you in a Leaderboard to any of your friends who are on foursquare too.

See some some of my unlocked foursquare Badges below:

foursquare badgesSocial Sharing

Social sharing is integral to foursquare and each time you check-in somewhere or unlock a badge you are given the option of sharing it with others on Twitter and Facebook, the idea being that your friends and Followers will notice what you’re doing, show an interest and perhaps check out foursquare or the place you have just been.

You can adjust your settings to turn these notifications off if you like, and I have limited mine so that I only share on Twitter and Facebook when I have unlocked a new badge. Even so, I found it very interesting that in the first week or so of using foursquare and unlocking badges, 3 people who Follow me on Twitter said to me in the real world “You use foursquare a lot don’t you?” I then noticed that they started using foursquare more actively in the following week. Conincidence? Possibly. Although I have a feeling it was an example of Gamification at work, as my actions were subconsiously influencing the actions of those around me, and vice versa. It’s all very clever (and addictive)!

‘Specials’ and ‘Mayorships’

Another very important aspect of foursquare which incentivises the user is the notion of ‘Specials’ and ‘Mayorships’. Any venue has the ability to add ‘Specials’ to foursquare which could be free gifts, %age discounts and any other type of deal you can think of. This could be given to people every time they check-in, just to the ‘Mayor’ or both.

‘Mayorships’ are obtained when somewhere checks-in more times than anyone else at that venue, potentially unlocking further privileges (not to mention the geeky kudos of that title) like freebies or discounts.

From what I have seen from using foursquare quite heavily around Newcastle, Gateshead, London and other parts of the UK, very few businesses are using ‘Specials’ at the moment, but there is huge potential here for attracting new customers and rewarding loyal ones in a simple, fun and modern way. Think of it like cutting edge, loyalty cards but using people’s smartphones instead of a paper card and ink stamper.

The only companies I have seen using it on a wide-scale here in the UK are Wetherspoon’s Pubs, Domino’s Pizza and Starbucks although their ‘Specials’ aren’t really that special to me. For example, Wetherspoon’s gives ‘20% off to the Mayor’ but there can only be one Mayor at a time.

foursquare for Local Businesses

Because of the potential, I’ve been doing my bit to explain how foursquare could be used by small businesses in my local area including Coola Boola coffee kiosk (in Newcastle’s Central Station), Artisan Express (on the Gateshead side of the High Level Bridge) and The Lounge Cafe @ Design Works (next door to the office I work from). As a reward for becoming their ‘Mayor’, Coola Boola gave me a free coffee of my choice so next time you’re in Central Station, go there instead of Starbucks upstairs to help the little guys out and potentially get a freebie as a thank you.

Shark Club Gastro Bar

More recently, I’ve been doing some social media consultancy for Shark Club Gastro Bar in Newcastle (see and and have persuaded them to introduce what I think are the best foursquare Specials in the city at the moment:

  • Everyone can get 20% off their food bill simply by checking-in on foursquare and showing their phone to the waitress or waiter.
  • The Mayor gets FREE food up to the value of £10 (as long as they aren’t dining alone).

This is a fantastic way for the Shark Club to attract new customers and reward loyal ones in a fun and modern way, providing deeper engagement and making them stand out from their competitors in the city.

So, the next time you’re walking around your local area, try using foursquare to see if there are any Specials around you and if you’re a small business (cafe, restaurant, bar, club, shop, hotel, etc) and would like advice on how to use foursquare to attract new customers, email me at or call +44 (0)7734 722716.

‘Social Media for Business’ lecture @ The University of Leeds

Slides from the 1hr ‘Social Media for Business‘ lecture I gave to around 50 students at The University of Leeds yesterday (21st February 2012).

Topics include:

  • how technology has changed in the 14yrs since I graduated from Leeds in 1998
  • how these developments have affected my career and personal life
  • how I use a wide range of free Social Media tools in business, with a particular focus on the Shell LiveWIRE programme
  • how people can use Social Media in their personal life to take control of their career and create opportunities for themselves

Please feel free to share this presentation with anyone you feel would be interested. If you’d like me to deliver a similar presentation for your business, organisation or event give me a call on +44(0)7734 722716 or email

How influential are you?

Influence is a powerful currency in society, but it’s always been difficult to quantify and measure in a meaningful way. However, sites like Klout and PeerIndex are doing their very best to provide us with scores that demonstrate how influential we are online through our personal social networks.

My Klout Score increased to 50 for the first time today; the mid-way point in a measure from 1-100 (apparently the average score is 20). But what does this actually mean? Well, to me it suggests that the work I do is having the desired effect, encouraging others to:

Klout Profile

Ok, but what other purpose does Klout serve? Klout’s business model is to offer a free service to users and obtain payment/sponsorship from businesses that wish to offer Klout ‘Perks’ to people with a certain level of influence. So, I may well start to be sent more promotions from now on but unfortunately at the moment they all seem to be aimed at US-based consumers.

Of more interest to me is the way that I (and others have already started doing) can use my Klout Score to demonstrate to my employer, potential clients and business partners that I have a higher than average ‘social influence’ which they can benefit from in return.

One downside to this is the fact that very few businesses understand what the Klout Score actually is. Another is that Klout is still in Beta phase which means that changes and improvements to their algorithm can sometimes result in a temporary reduction of some people’s score. However, Klout is a cool tool and I can only see it’s importance grow in the coming year as more people start to use it and recognise it as a way to validate someone’s influence, particularly those who work in digital marketing / social media (like myself).

One caveat. There are many people whose Klout Score is very low, but you know in real life they are hugely influential, just not online in social networks. A personal example of this would be my uncle, a local councillor who is extremely well-connected and influential, making good things happen for his community each and every day – yet he isn’t on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any other type of social network. He made a very valid point to me over Christmas when he said that our family gathering was the greatest type of ‘social network’ known to man. Very true and worth remembering when you start using tools like Klout. Nothing ever beats meaningful, face-to-face, human interaction.

Normal rules no longer apply

If you run a customer-focused website, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that you need to be posting updates to Twitter and Facebook during off-peak times, i.e. 

  • first thing in the morning (before 9am)
  • evenings (after 5pm)
  • weekends

See this infographic from Dan Zarrella for a handy summary

I’ve been doing this a lot more through my smartphone in recent weeks (i.e. on the bus/metro into work or occasional updates whilst watching TV at the weekend) and it does seem to be paying off with a higher number of referrals, shares and Retweets. 

Sadly, this means that the normal 9-5 rules no longer apply. Really, a website is a 24hr operation so in an ideal world you should have a team of people working shifts throughout the day/night. Either that, or you consider changing your working hours accordingly.

The Domino Project: Start. Now!

Slides from my 5min Ignite presentation first delivered at the Codeworks Connect ‘Think and a Drink’ event at the Vermont Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne on Thursday 29th September 2011.

Barriers to 'Great Work'

‘Barriers’ stopping people from producing ‘Great Work’ and achieving their dreams in Newcastle. (I got people to write them down on a piece of paper, scrunch them up into a ball, and throw them at a target on stage during my ‘Ignite’ presentation at the Codeworks Connect ‘Think and a Drink’ on 29th September 2011.

Contact me via @plandigitaluk, @lordlancaster, or call +44(0)7734 722 716 if you’d like to know more or get me to deliver this presentation again for you.

Scanme demo video

Watch this short video (below) for a live demo of how my unique, personal Scanme barcode (containing all my social media contact details) can be used on a t-shirt and business card to connect with others in both the online and offline world.

Thinking Digital Conference 2011 – Summary of Gerd Leonhard Presentation

“Everything is moving online into ‘The Cloud’ but we still need to work out how to monetise products and services that can’t be replicated digitally.”

Read below for my summary (and personal comments) of the fantastic presentation delivered by Gerd Leonhard ( on Day 1 of the Thinking Digital Conference @ Sage Gateshead on 25th May 2011.

‘The People of the Cloud’ / ‘People of the Screen’ expect things to be digital first, physical next.

You can no longer ‘force’ people to buy – you now need to ‘attract’ people to buy/upgrade from the free version once they’ve used and grown to love/need it (a classic Freemium model like LinkedIn).

“When copies are free, you need to sell things that can’t be copied”, Kewing Kelly (Better Than Free).

If people expect digital copies to be free (or very low cost), it’s down to you the ‘content creator’ to work out how to sell things that can’t be replicated or copied digitally. For example, although video footage can be streamed live or broadcast after an event, you can’t digitally recreate the actual physical experience (sights, sounds, smell and touch) of being at a live music gig, conference or training session and all the feelings of excitement and interactions before, during and after which take place.

‘360o Deals’ in the Music Industry

As physical record sales continue to fall, they are increasingly seen as merely a ‘calling card’ or marketing tool for artists and bands. At the same time, live music gigs and festivals are on the up. Therefore, record labels now seek to sign new artists and bands up to ‘360o Deals’ which means that they make money on live performance fees, merchandise, advertising endorsements, mobile ringtones, tv and movie deals , not just physical and digital download record sales. People can now even pay for a recording of a live gig immediately after a gig has ended.

Authors like Seth Godin understand this. They realise that some people want exclusive, advance copies of the latest titles sent directly to their Kindle or other eReader device (either for free in return for writing reviews, helping to spread the word and creating a buzz, or for a fee which ensures they get it quicker than all ‘normal people’ (see my earlier post about ‘The Domino Project’ and ‘Rise of the Information Jockey (IJ)‘.

Meanwhile, others will still prefer the look and feel of a physical book (hardcover or paperback which both have a different cost and speed at which they can be obtained/delivered. Further still, ‘superfans’ will happily pay much higher prices for limited editions which offer something unique and special. It’s all about offering choice and giving the user/consumer what they want.

Can you divide your products or services into digital, hardcover, paperback or limited edition-type versions?

Locking stuff behind a paywall or asking them to pay upfront is a deathwish online. It doesn’t work or make any money (or as much as you want). Sharing is the default mindset of the digital generation and if you don’t share you will be toast! Spotify rocks but their latest move (limiting the number of times people can listen to music for free) could signal the end.

“Data is the New Oil”

“Data is the new Oil” says Gerd  – a more succinct version of the original quote by Meglena Kuneva (EU Consumer Affairs Commissioner) in Brussels on 31st March 2009 in which she said “Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world”

Both are great quotes which perfectly sum up the way things are heading (or have already headed) in the digital world. However, just like oil, the true value (and money) only comes from the myriad of products and services that can be derived from the raw material!

Social networks are broadcasters spreading news and information faster than traditional media channels. For example, “It takes roughly 41 seconds for ‘old media’ (i.e. tv) to report a breaking news story but just 28 seconds on Twitter!” New media then has the added bonus of being instantly ‘shareable’ – passing along far wider and more random patterns around the world.

We are moving away from providing digital copies which people can download and keep (MP3s, PDFs) to content they can stream so long as they continue to use the service (like the aforementioned Spotify).

The Future?

The future is all about;

• Bundling (content provided pre-loaded onto hardware devices like mobile phones)
• Freemium
• Up-selling
• Streaming

3 ways for creatives (or creators) to get paid;

• I pay (as a creator, you can get others to write a blog entry about you in return for payment)
• They pay (consumers are forced to watch adverts before accessing the content, i.e. at the beginning of a music video or computer game)
• You pay (consumers pay a subscription to access premium content & unlock additional features – classic Freemium model)

Find Out More / Discuss Further

If you’d like to read more from Gerd Leonhard (@gleonhard), visit where you can download free ebooks (the hope being that you will appreciate his work so much that you will go on to pay for a physical copy).

ScanMe – Unique, Personal QR Barcodes For You And Your Business!

In my line of work I regularly get to hear about lots of great new business ideas and start-ups but here’s one that I think has huge potential to bring online and offline communities together, whilst enabling tech-savvy and fashion-conscious people to share private messages and information with each other around the world!

ScanMe is an exciting new application that allows individuals to create their own unique 2D / QR Barcode containing links to all their social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, Skype), website, email address, telephone number and personal message or short bio.

It’s completely free for users to create their code by visiting and logging in using their existing Facebook details. Once the code has been created, they can download it to their PC or laptop and share it with anyone they like. The recipient or viewer then simply scans the code into their smartphone (using a QR reader app) to reveal all your contact info!

The code will never change in appearance, but you can login to add and edit the info contained within it whenever you like.

As someone who is using all the social media tools listed above for business on a daily basis, I think this is a really excellent way to compile all my contact details into one handy place which I can then share with all my business contacts online (i.e. as an avatar or profile picture) or on printed materials (like business cards).

For example, my unique ScanMe barcode is shown below. To see how it works, take a photo/scan it into your smartphone to reveal my contact details!

lordlancaster's ScanMe barcodelordlancaster’s ScanMe barcode

The official launch date for the fully functioning ScanMe website is Monday 9th May but for those of you who are super-keen and like to be ahead of the pack you can create your code now at to see how it works, and then add further info to it next week.

Furthermore,  after 9th May, users can incorporate their own unique ScanMe code into  a  range of clothing items and t-shirts dubbed ‘Interactive Fashion’  featuring exclusive designs by world-renowned artists like Ray Ban and  Wired magazine designer Matt W. Moore. Very cool indeed!

Watch the YouTube clip below to find out more… ;o)

How To Use Social Media To Promote Your Business / Yourself

Handy beginners’ guide to Social Media tools to promote your business.

Social Media is the term used to describe the 2nd generation of websites (or Web 2.0) which enable greater interaction with their users. Traditional websites required passive consumption of information by the reader in a top-down approach, while the new wave of Social Media sites encourage the reader to contribute their own content and ideas.

Examples of popular Social Media that can be useful for business include;


Twitter is a micro-blogging tool which enables users to post 140 character messages online about themselves and their business. By searching for topics that interest you and are relevant to your business you can quickly build up a network of people to ‘Follow’ and recruit your own tribe of ‘Followers’. Individual posts or ‘Tweets’ can be posted online via the website or sent as an SMS text message from your mobile phone. Unlike normal text messages or emails, a single Tweet not only appears on your own profile page, but on those belonging to each of your Followers, making it a highly effective tool for spreading the world quickly about your latest news and ideas.

For help getting started, check out Twitter’s own ‘Twitter for Business website‘ or Follow Me @plandigitaluk and @lordlancaster.


With over 200 million users worldwide in 2009 (70% outside of the US), Facebook is one of the biggest social media success stories of recent years. Originally a way for college students to stay in touch with their friends, Facebook has since evolved into an easy and user-friendly way for individuals, businesses and groups of like-minded people to communicate with people around the world. With so many people using Facebook on a day to day basis it’s worthwhile having some kind of presence for your business on there, and it can be another useful way to market and launch a new product or service.

To start a Facebook Page where people can ‘Become a Fan’ of your business, comment on your products or services, interact with you and share content with their friends visit:

To see how this works, take a look at the Shell LiveWIRE Facebook Page.

Shell LiveWIRE Social Network

A bit like Facebook for business, the Shell LiveWIRE Social Network is a great way to promote yourself and your business and should be seen as your ‘shop window to the world’. All users are provided with a free profile in which they can add photos, videos, classified ads, events diary and blog, providing the perfect place to network and do business with other Shell LiveWIRE members.

The Shell LiveWIRE Social Network is extremely well indexed by all the major search engines so regularly posting something on your blog will ensure high rankings in search results. (See our ‘Top Tips on using the Shell LiveWIRE Social Network).


The moving image is one of the most powerful ways to get your message across to people quickly. Businesses can use YouTube to post individual videos about their product or service, or create their own YouTube Channel containing a collection of videos related to what they do. Even with a basic video camera or mobile phone and a little bit of imagination, videos can quickly become viral and there are numerous examples of people who have had their clips viewed by over 50million users! Even if just a small number of people view your videos, YouTube is a useful and compelling medium for marketing and promoting your business that should not be ignored.


Boasting over 41 millions users worldwide, LinkedIn is a useful place for business professionals to host an online CV which can be used to find work or networking opportunities with other users. See my LinkedIn Public Profile at:


If your business is in the creative industries, particularly music, art and fashion, then MySpace is somewhere that you should definitely maintain a presence as it’s a great way to highlight your latest news and releases and reach out direct to your target audience. The Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and Little Boots famously built up huge armies of devoted fans through MySpace before signing their first record deals and so it has become an essential place for new businesses, record labels and artists to break new markets.


With a target audience of 13-19yr olds (mostly teenage girls), Bebo obviously isn’t for everyone. However, if your business provides products or services for this particular demographic then it’s the perfect place to get yourself known.


With over 1.3 million Ning social networks created and more than 30 million registered members around the world, Ning ‘enables artists, brands and organizations to simplify and control their online presence with their own unique Ning Network that integrates with other social media services while providing a direct relationship with fans, consumers and members.’ Take a look at my wife’s Ning network ‘Baby Friendly North East’ at:


Flickr describes itself as ‘the best online photo management and sharing application in the world’ and provides an easy to use online system for uploading and sharing your pictures with anyone you like. Businesses can use Flickr to share photos of events or products they have available to buy which can be linked to from their emails, website, blogs or any other Social Media.


Blogs (an abbreviation of the word ‘weblog’) are a type of website that allow an individual or business to write a running commentary or diary of their activities which can be made available for anyone to see. Blogs can be purely text-based, but really come to life when enriched with other Social Media tools like YouTube videos, Twitter feeds, photos, audio and links to other external sites of interest.

There are a number of free blogging tools available, including WordPress and Blogger which provide users with a simple way to establish an online presence without having to pay for a website, and all Shell LiveWIRE members are provided with a free blog in their Social Network profile. Meanwhile, Technorati was founded as the worlds first blog search engine and has since evolved into a content provider for blogs around the world.