Foursquare makeover: 5 ways to make check-ins exciting

Is it really worth it to check-in on Foursquare? See if you agree with these suggestions for spicing up the location-based network.

It has been about a year since I wrote anything significant about Foursquare, so I thought it was time to check-in.

Check-in. Get it? Oh, never mind.

In my article, Foursquare or Bore-square, I concluded that the major hurdle to adopting this technology is that there just isn’t anything to hold my attention, entertain me, or reward me. Fake electronic mayorships only appeal to a small audience. A year later, I am puzzled to report that this is still a problem.

The good news is that in the past year, Foursquare has significantly enhanced its interface, added some modest new features, and raised enough capital to stay in business and dominate the buzz.

The bad news is that I still have no new reasons to use it. The reviews and tips are nice, but there are other apps, like Urban Spoon, that do a better job and are more fun to use.

I found a friend at a restaurant once through Foursquare and he bought me a beer, so that’s worth something I guess.

Foursquare seems determined to stay boring. The company just announced that it will use a new infusion of capital to expand overseas. Cool. Now we can be bored in several new languages. And this week’s big announcement is that users will be able to create their own pages to leave tips for friends. Zzzzzz.

I understand the need to move quickly and dominate the niche, but it seems Foursquare is ignoring some fundamental improvements that could drive organic growth.

Until Foursquare adds some sizzle that will appeal to people other than the Geek Squad, it will remain a minor player in the social media world.

Here are five ideas to make Foursquare more interesting:

1. Put people on the ground

Foursquare should forget about spending money in Europe. Instead, it should use the money to put salespeople in major U.S. cities to work with restaurants and retail to offer more opportunities for engagement and deals. I am a consistent Foursquare user when I travel, yet no establishment has ever presented me with an attractive offer. That’s just pitiful. Foursquare needs to learn from Groupon and put people in cities to make something happen for their users.

2. Add some fun

The leader board is lame. Foursquare has all the elements of a fun and competitive environment, but who cares about the results when there are no prizes? There aren’t even fake prizes like “You just reached an all-time high. You’ve unlocked the Too Much Time on Your Hands badge.”

When I reach an “achievement,” I want to see one of the Angry Birds dancing on the screen or Conan O’Brien revealing a surprise. Maybe Foursquare should do movie tie-ins, or partner with SCVNGR so we can unlock secrets created by Foursquare users (geo-caching).

Why not have competitions to crown a city champion? Why not have playoffs among friends? Bring it on.

3. Put people who game the system in a penalty box

I check-in pretty frequently at a local restaurant, but never seem to be close to becoming mayor. I found out that there is a guy who works there who checks in more than me. That ruins the whole point. That is not building loyalty. That is not rewarding customers.

Since it is possible that someone can check-in every day, Foursquare should create new categories like super mayors, vice mayors and governors so users can push aside people who are possibly gaming the system to allow real, money-spending customers to engage and earn rewards.

4. Involve the establishments

I’ve never had an establishment manager acknowledge I was in the house.

Acknowledgement might even be better than a prize. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a manager come up to you and say, “Mr. Schaefer, I saw you checked in on Foursquare and I just wanted to thank you for visiting us today.” This doesn’t happen. Why not? If the locations are not getting value out of the system, the model is busted.

5. Make it more social

Foursquare is still so obscure that I don’t have a lot of friends around when I go to a restaurant. Maybe I just don’t have many friends period. In any event, on the rare occasion somebody enters the restaurant when I am there, it would be fun to have an alert. Why can’t we mark our special friends so we can get alerts when they are nearby? And, what would happen if businesses rewarded us with free food and goodies for bringing our friends together and checking in at the establishment? Restaurants and pubs sponsor tweetups, so why not sponsor Four-ups?

OK Foursquare. Based on my current consulting rate, I’ve given you about 23 cents of advice, which is 23 cents more value than you have given me, by the way. Other than the beer of course. That was cool.

What would you do if you were the mayor of Foursquare?

Mark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He blogs at grow, where a version of this article originally ran.

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