I don't know how high school dances work these days, but it used to be that the boys slouched against one wall of the gymnasium and the girls huddled around at the other end. It was a selection process and if you were a guy, you had to make a decision, walk over and ask the girl to dance.
It's the same thing for selecting a location-based social media platform to generate leads for your business. Which one is right for helping your particular company, store or service find customers? Just like picking a dance partner, you're going to have to narrow the field, and even though new services, like those from Google Latitude and Yelp Mobile, may eventually gain traction, today I'm going to focus on those location-based services that have a million or more registered users:
Facebook Deals - With more than 500 million active users, Facebook offers a slick mobile-device service that enables members to earn rewards and access deals by "checking-in." Through the application called Facebook Deals, your business can feature individual deals for discounts or free merchandise. In addition, there are friend deals, loyalty deals and even charity deals where businesses donate to a cause when customers check-in.
Foursquare - This GPS-enabled mobile app encourages users to check-in at businesses for points, badges and rewards such as product or service discounts and other perks. Foursquare has more than 7.5 million registered users and works well for both brick-and-mortar businesses and brands that live exclusively online or have no presence in the physical world, like a cable television channel or a brand of laundry detergent. Offerings for merchants with a physical location are called “specials” and there are currently seven from which to choose, including so-called Mayor Specials for the participant who checks in the most. Offerings for brands are handled through Foursquare Pages and Partner Badges.
SCVNGR - With the SCVNGR app installed on an iPhone or other smart device, registered users pick a location-based challenge created by businesses or other users and work toward completing it. Players might get one point for checking in to your business and pick up another point or two for snapping and publishing a photo of your storefront.
Gowalla - This mobile-Web app allows registered users to check in to locations they visit using a GPS-enabled mobile device. But unlike the others, Gowalla focuses more on the gaming experience of geocaching than commerce-related deals. If your customer profile aligns with a strong interest in gaming (advanced board games and role playing, not casino), Gowalla is great fit.
Related: Foursquare, Watch Your Back
Discovering which location-based social networking service that'll best help your business pick up added customers often boils down to what your customers use. After all, connecting with them is the goal.
Regardless of which app you choose, be sure to check out PlacePunch, a location-based marketing platform that enables businesses to generate more leads by creating cross-platform loyalty programs with Facebook Places, Foursquare and Gowalla. That could prove to be the best of both worlds.
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media, and management consultant specializing in website usability and business blogging. His latest book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Facebook, is now available at bookstores. For more information, visit MikalBelicove.com.