MAPPING FUN: Could Foursquare work for local government?

It’s relentless this social media lark. One minute it was MySpace. Then it was Twitter. Whatever happened to Friends Reunited?

The latest in this relentless onwards march is Foursquare. What the heck is Foursquare?  Basically, it’s a metrocentric social media platform that has locations and geo-tagging at it’s heart. That means places and plots on an online map.

By January 2010, according to, there were 600,000 unique users globally per month. Still way off the more than 300 million people signed up to Facebook. But it’s probably no coincidence that Google Buzz has emerged with mapping as an option.

How does it work? Basically, you ‘check in’ to good venues that you’d like to recommend, like museums, galleries and restaurants.

You can lay down recommendations too through ‘shouts’ at the locations. Maybe there is a great picture to see or a special dish that is worth a visit. The constituency of Foursquare are city-based 20 somethings who love exploring and being ‘seen’ at hot places.

It’s big in downtown New York. Not sure how it’ll work in rural North Yorkshire.

How it works is this. There is the tour guide part and the boy scout part. You are at somewhere good. You take out your mobile. You log onto Foursquare. You see if you can find somewher nearby that looks interesting. Maybe you are at somewhere good.  If it’s on you can check in. If it isn’t you can add it along with it’s address and postcode. You can ever make a ‘shout’ to your friends to let them know where you are.

And you can maybe leave advice for the next person to check in. That’s the tourist guide part of Foursquare.

The boy scout part?You score points through check ins. There is a weekly challenge to see who can score most points. New venues and other landmarks can see badges unlocked.

All fine, you are probably thinking. Great if you are 23 and live in Greenwich Village. But what exactly does this offer local government?

At face value, slim pickings. This won’t help you explain changes in council tax or let people know about school closures.

You also can’t take part directly as a council as you can on Facebook or Twitter. But after two months of using it as an experimentmyself  it’s started to emerge that some use could be made of it.

Where it starts to make sense is with leisure and culture. Your gallery, your museum and even your Town Hall and leisure centres could all be destinations. Why wait for them to emerge? Stick them on as locations.

You can also work with marketeers to put on offers for Foursquare users. For example, those with the highest number of check-ins at a venue can win the status of ‘Mayor’. The Mayor, once a week could then be rewarded with a free cup of coffee or a free swim. That’s the idea.

This is not going to be a game changer in the way that Facebook and Twitter have become. But it does offer interesting alternatives and what it does start to do is herald the era of mapping using mobile phones in a big, big way.

Remember, most mobiles that are sold come with GPS positioning capabilities. I’m convinced that the mapping capabilities of mobile phones will become massively significant in the future. This is the first platform to really take that seriously.

I also quite like the idea of encouraging people to be ‘friends’ with a venue. This kind of behaviour has worked well with Facebook, for example.

What local government social media visionaries could do…

1. Input key locations onto the Foursquare list. These can be picked up when people are nearby. Cafes, galleries and museums can all work. The New Art Gallery, Walsall for example, is on Foursquare as a location.

2. Offer a discount to the Mayor. You’d be amongst a few hundred locations globally that do.

3. Avoid cyber squatting by securing Mayor status on the Town Hall.

4. Check comments on your venues for feedback. Good service? Bad service? Listen and act.

5. Let the Mayor make a recommendation. Cecily Walker on her blog suggested that the Mayor of a library could be allowed to display their favourite book. Every week the Mayor could make their suggestion via a whiteboard. It’s an interesting idea.

Creative commons credits:

New York Philip Klinger

Walsall Lee Jordan

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