edit Hallie Janssen on August 26, 2010
edit Location-based social networks are a real-time market
People who use location-based networks like Brightkite, Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and MyTown are telling their friends not only what they’re doing right now, but where they’re doing it: at the local sandwich shop, car wash or rock-climbing gym.
It’s a rich, real-time experience for the people who enjoy sharing on the fly, and for their friends. It’s also a rich, real-time opportunity for the enterprising business owner.
edit Get in on the Social Network Game
Social networks are fun – that’s why people join them. Some offer the chance to compete for a title – such as “mayor” on Foursquare– while others let members create virtual trips from one location to another, as on Gowalla.
Of course, people can just as easily complain about the product or service they’re using, so it’s critical to provide excellent value for customers. In today’s smartphone era, business reputation travels farther and faster than ever.
edit Reach People Who Are Nearby Right Now
All of the major location-based social networks offer businesses some way to advertise, or add information that can pop up to tempt network members as they arrive at a specific location.
Even if you don’t want to spend money on advertising, you can still reap the benefits of social networks’ growing popularity. Creating a profile for your business at each network will help you increase your online presence.
Don’t forget to create a profile at Google Places, which some social networks tap for location data. Increasingly, people use Google Places when they’re looking for somewhere to eat lunch, repair their car or get their suits cleaned. Creating your profile with complete address and contact information can help more people find you when they're looking for a business like yours. Google Places also lists customer reviews, which are another kind of social endorsement.
edit Get Insight into Your Customers
Just as on Facebook, you can use the location-based social networks to monitor public perception of your brand by reading comments. But by their very nature, the mobile networks allow you to gain an even deeper level of insight. Loopt and Brightkite offer business owners access to statistics that can help you design an offer to bring in more traffic at a slow time of day, for example, or to reward people who make multiple purchases during the week.
edit Influence People Right Now
Location-based social networks allow you to affect people at the moment when they’re deciding whether to visit your location or purchase your product. On Foursquare, you can offer a special to every 20th person who checks in, for example, or based on how frequently any given member visits your business. Brightkite lets you target your advertising not only by location, but also by member demographics such as age and activity. You can even run ads according to the weather!
edit Monitor Your Reputation
There’s more, too. Loopt integrates Citysearch, Zagat, Bing and other review sites, allowing members to find a wide variety of opinions for any business. You can use this service to check out what people are saying about you across the web.
edit Boost Your SEO
Creating a profile for your business on each location-based social network will give people more ways to discover you. In fact, you may already be on some of these networks, so finding your profile and filling it out with your correct address and contact information is a smart move. Add your business hours and a few compelling facts, and you’re more likely to pull in new customers craving a pulled-pork sandwich or walk-in pedicure.