Imagine you’ve gotten out of class on a Friday night. You take a glance at your mobile phone and see that ten of your friends are eating dinner at the campus dining hall, four are at the restaurant across the street, twelve are at the basketball game and, surprisingly, none are at the 16th Century Operatic Yodeling presentation by the College of Music. Knowing where your friends are makes it easy to decide what you’re going to do that night and Foursquare makes that simple.
Foursquare is a mobile friend finder that tells you where your friends are looking at their recent checkins using a mobile or desktop client. You don’t need to wear your thumbs out sending texts or search through Facebook statuses (and Farmville updates) to find out what’s going on. Foursquare encourages users to check in wherever they are by rewarding them with mayorships, points and badges. If you’re not familiar with it, you can learn more in Foursquare 101.
Colleges and universities are a perfect environment for Foursquare. Students are usually in close proximity to each other, so the hot spot where your friends are checking in is usually only a short walk away. Changing your mind as you see other friends at a different venue typically doesn’t require a long car ride.
Schools can take advantage of Foursquare in lots of different ways, from offering tips that highlight features of campus to mayor and checkin specials that encourage students to check in regularly. Foursquare can benefit prospective students, new students and seasoned veterans alike. It also has benefits for schools, by giving them a way to encourage users to check in at campus venues and events.
The key to getting students involved on Foursquare is to involve the entire campus community in using it. A Foursquare account managed by just the admissions office will have its own narrow goals and therefore won’t see nearly the involvement or benefit that an account managed campus-wide by a variety of departments like admissions, athletics and dining services will. Expanding the program to off-campus businesses will make Foursquare an even more vital part of students’ lives.
There are two main ways for schools to use Foursquare: tips and specials. We’ll take a look at both and see how they can help you and your students.
Tips can be left on any venue on campus â€” dining halls, residence halls, even a fountain or statue. A Foursquare user who follows or friends your profile will receive a popup showing these tips when they check in at or near venues where the tips are attached. Other users can see them on the venue page on the Foursquare site or their mobile app, by searching for nearby tips, or on your school’s profile page.
Tips are especially useful for prospective students and new students. For prospective students, you can highlight interesting or historical facts about a building or feature that they’ll see as they explore the campus. Using the Foursquare API, you could even add a page to your website featuring these tips laid out on a map of campus (see what the Brooklyn Museum has done for ideas).
For new students you could point out things they’ll need to know. For instance, a tip left at the dining hall could remind them to pick up a tray before they get in line.
Specials are offered through Foursquare to encourage users to check in repeatedly. Users will get notification about specials when they check in by means of a “Special Here” flag on the venue screen in their mobile app. If they check in nearby, they’ll see a “Special Nearby” flag that points them to the details about the special.
Mayor specials are offered to the person who has checked in the most over the past 60 days; they can only be used by one person at a time. Checkin specials can be unlocked by any user in a number of ways, such as every 10th checkin or on the user’s 5th checkin. Each venue can only have one special going at a time.
Specials are most useful for current students because they’re typically unlocked with repeated checkins. Specials can be used by almost every department on campus. With a little creativity, you’ll be able to create specials that drive your students to check in often. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Encouraging students to check in repeatedly at a dining hall can help to keep them from visiting the McDonald’s across the street. Users who see their friends are already checked in at the dining hall are more likely to go there as well. A dining hall could offer a free meal for every 20th checkin or a free meal plan to whoever is mayor at the end of the semester.
The athletic department could offer things like free apparel or concessions to users who check in regularly at the baseball stadium or the football field. The mayor of the basketball arena could get special courtside seating. Rewarding users for checking in at athletic events through Foursquare is easy since it’s something they’re doing already as opposed to other loyalty programs that require scanning separate cards, etc.
Campus programming boards can offer discounted tickets to students who repeatedly check in to their events. The movie theater could offer free drinks and popcorn every 5th checkin.
Activities and events are also a great place to use tips. By posting a tip at the venue where the event will take place a day or two before it happens, any user who is following your profile and checks in at that venue or nearby will get a popup about the event. It could be something as simple as:
“Check out guitarist Ari Hest here tomorrow night at 8!”
Getting Started with Foursquare
The best part of this is that everything discussed here is currently free. It costs only your time to set it up. Follow these steps to get started:
- Register a campus-wide account with Foursquare. Add the full name of the university in the first name field (and leave the last name blank). This will show the full name on your profile page. If you split it (i.e., Stanford in the first name field, University in the last name field), it will show as “Stanford U.” to users who don’t follow your profile and as “Stanford University” to those who do.
- Link the account to your main university Twitter profile. This will make your Foursquare username the same as your Twitter handle.
- Claim every venue on campus by clicking the “Are you the manager of this business?” link on each venue page and following the steps. It may take some time for the venues to be verified by Foursquare’s staff.
- While you wait on verification, you can start adding tips to venues all over campus using the Foursquare website. If a venue doesn’t exist, you can add it on the Foursquare site.
- Find a student or alum who is a Foursquare superuser to help you in editing venues and merging duplicate ones that have already been created. Use CheckInMania to help you find venues on campus that have already been added with misspelled names, etc.
- Once the venues are verified, set up accounts for groups like dining services, athletics and the campus activities board. Add them as “staff” to the appropriate venues. This way they can set up their own specials and have access to the stats for their venues (more on that later).
- Start setting up specials through the business interface. Get creative, but remember you can only have one active at a time for each venue.
- Promote the heck out of it. Foursquare has benefits for both students and schools, but it doesn’t help anyone if people don’t check in. Here are a few ideas:
- Promote it on your blog, Facebook and Twitter.
- Post stickers at venues to remind students to check in.
- Add a note in your viewbook to let prospective students know to check in for interesting facts about each venue as they walk around campus.
- Send students to Foursquare 101 to help introduce them to Foursquare and its benefits.
- The possibilities here are endless.
Registering as the manager of a “business” on Foursquare gets you access to a business dashboard that shows you stats about who’s checked in at each venue, who checks in most often, when they typically check in and more. You can use these stats to track how effective your Foursquare campaign is. Each user’s Facebook and Twitter pages are linked as well so you can send them a quick “thanks for visiting our dining hall so often!” tweet.
- Increased visibility: These profiles receive their own URLs (e.g., foursquare.com/harvard instead of foursquare.com/user/harvard) and special headers and information boxes on their pages.
- Foursquare users can “follow” these profiles rather than “friending” them: Following a profile is done with a single click on the user’s end. Friending requires sending a friend request and waiting for it to be approved by whoever manages the account for the school.
- Increased privacy for users: Friending your school profile would give you access to each user’s “feed” which shows their 10 most recent checkins. If users follow you instead, they gain privacy by not sharing that information with you.
Stanford and Harvard offer Foursquare badges to their students for checking in a certain number of times on campus. While these are nice additions to a Foursquare campaign, they are costly and unnecessary. You can get a good level of user involvement by using just tips and specials. Additionally, Foursquare has indicated they are on a badge hiatus at this time, with enough badge commitments over the next three months that they feel uncomfortable adding any more.
Foursquare is a fast-growing service that more and more students will be using whether you encourage it or not. It’s to your advantage to make use of it on your campus. It is a great way to encourage students to stay on campus, whether it’s at the dining hall, basketball arena or movie theater, and it helps students find each other quickly and easily while earning specials and rewards.