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.