from Waggener Edstrom Worldwide's Digital Influencers Series
Foursquare registered its four millionth member this past week. As the network has grown in popularity, it has evolved from a location-based game to a social media staple that has shown potential in civic engagement, education, and non-profits. It has also become much harder to beat out the competition for coveted mayorships and badge counts.
When IBM employee Eric Andersen took over the mayorship of a popular Boston ice cream shop, for instance, he had to stop in two to three times every week for ice cream or spiced butterscotch lattes (a Boston Globe reporter dubbed the not-so-painful battle the bloodless revolution). The mayor who ousted him checks in about 35 times every 60 days.
“One way to think of it is, for nearly every venue, whether it be a bar, a coffee shop, a laundromat, or a park, there is probably someone who owns a smartphone who is there almost daily,” Andersen says. “So as Foursquare adoption increases, mayorship battles will heat up as regular patrons of every location suddenly begin to adopt their new virtual status.”
When you find yourself in such a battle — or just want to get the most out of playing the game — you can rely on these five tips from Foursquare’s most accomplished players.
1. Make Foursquare a Habit
“I don’t know if I really have a strategy, but playing Foursquare has definitely changed my habits,” says Chris Preiss, who has checked into Foursquare more than 5,800 times, the third-most times of anyone on Foursquare according to Osnapz.com. “If I am in a mayorship battle, I will frequent that place a little more often. Or if there is a location that I know will help me earn a badge, I will go there.”
Adding Foursquare to your habits is a common theme among Foursquare champions. It seems obvious, but most people still don’t naturally check in when they arrive somewhere. Remembering to do so is a huge advantage, especially if you have a job like Preiss’s. His company provides CO2 to bars and restaurants, so he’s often in new places that he might not otherwise even know about.
2. Pick a Strategy
Gathering mayorships, badges, and checkins requires different and often conflicting strategies.
“In the past, many badges had clearly defined rules, and you could check venues’ tags to determine if a checkin there would help towards the badge,” explains Andersen, who currently has the second most number of checkins on Foursquare. “Now, most of the newer badges can’t easily be obtained by a concrete set of checkins. There are some sites like aboutfoursquare.com that can help guide you though – but these strategies typically involve checking in to new and different places, whereas something like [becoming] mayor involves going to the same place every day.”
In order to truly excel in a Foursquare power user category, it can be beneficial to define your strategy. Chris Radzinski decided to focus his efforts on badges.
“I am not a fan of going for mayorships — if you notice my account does not have many,” he says. “In terms of Foursquare, getting badges doesn’t really affect any other user specifically. But if I went around and had a thousand mayorships, some users would be irritated and would actually be affected.”
Radzinski is currently the Foursquare record holder with 131 badges. Those who wish to focus on badges, he says, should focus on the limited time badges first.
“Unlike mayorships, which can be taken, not everyone can say they have certain badges after they are inactive,” he says.
Preiss is less targeted. “For the most part, I just check in where I am and let the chips fall where they may,” he says. “Earning a badge unexpectedly can be more fun than working for one.”
3. Know the Rules and Decide What is Cheating
All checkins are not created equal. If you’re planning on being competitive, it’s important to know the rules.
“Many don’t realize that only checkins in the last 60 days count towards mayorship, or that only one checkin a day counts towards mayorship,” Andersen says. “Multiple checkins a day to a place aren’t necessarily mistakes, but someone might be doing it thinking it will help them become mayor more quickly.”
There are, of course, ways to bend the rules. You can check in on the mobile Foursquare website without actually being in a location, you can check in to a location as you pass it without ever actually going to it, and you can decide not to “share with friends” in order to unabashedly check in multiple times per visit to one location.
“I don’t really see the value in doing this more than a few times a day,” Andersen says about checking in off the grid. “You lose nearly all of Foursquare’s social benefits when you aren’t actually sharing anything with friends other than the fact that you’re accumulating points.”
Some people also consider employees who check in to their own business’s Foursquare page to be cheating.
But, as Preiss points out, “There aren’t really rules to the game, so cheating is kind of a touchy thing.”
Preiss says he considers checking in to places that he hasn’t actually visited to be cheating. He doesn’t do it, but, he says, “Foursquare hasn’t done anything to end this practice, so if they don’t have a problem with it, why should I?”
Foursquare has, in fact, made an attempt to stop rewarding armchair mayors. It continues to permit people to check in wherever they are, but, as Foursquare puts it, “We’re never going to NOT let you check-in –- you can checkin wherever you want, whenever you want — the idea is simply to not award points, mayorships, badges or venue specials if it looks like you didn’t really earn them.”
Before you get competitive, it’s good to set some boundaries for what you will count as fair play. Foursquare pride isn’t as much fun when accompanied by cheater guilt.
4. Use Twitter
Radzinski says Twitter gives him a competitive edge. “Following the right people is crucial because many of the badges are only valid for a few days if it is event based, and the news hits Twitter faster than anything,” he says.
These are some online resources the power users we interviewed recommended:
- @aboutfoursquare: “Lots of updates on new badges and brands that are part of Foursquare,” says Preiss.
- @4squareTips: Great for tips, how-tos, and swarm alerts
- @mattersofgrey: General Internet news, but often reports on Foursquare. Great for badge lists.
- @foursquare: Get Foursquare news directly from Foursquare
- @getOsnapz: The Twitter feed of social media leader board site Osnapz.com.
- @4squarebadges: Outlines the best strategies for earning specific badges.
- @foursquarehelp: Get a guaranteed response to every Foursquare support issue.
- Andersen keeps a Twitter list of “Foursquare gurus” that collectively span anything you would want to know about the platform.
5. Stay Social
Foursquare is intended to be a game. It can get competitive, but it should still be fun. Even the power users say the most important parts of the game are the social aspects.
“As a social person who works in a very social industry, it’s nice for friends to be able to see where and what is going on,” says Radzinski, who works as a general manager at a Cleveland Heights restaurant. “I can’t even tell you how many times someone has stopped at a place I am or texted to see how long I am staying at a bar or restaurant because they saw me checked in. The badges are just icing on the cake.”
Preiss says that the badges he’s most proud of are not those that were hardest to win, but those that remind him of good times. One of them he won at a friend’s birthday party while visiting New York. Another is the Jet Setter Badge, which he is proud of because it shows his passion for traveling.
What are your tips for becoming a Foursquare power user? Add them in the comments below.