The next Twitter or a geeky fad? We look at five ways you can raise awareness of your nonprofit's cause with Foursquare.

What is it?

Foursquare is a geosocial networking service. It lets people ‘check-in’ to virtually anywhere they go using their mobile phone, and read and leave tips for other people.

For example, you might check into a restuarant, and see a tip about a discount scheme left by a regular, you can check in to tell your friends you’ve been there and tell anyone who checks in that the sausage and mash is really good.

If you check into a place more than anyone else, you get to become “Mayor” of that place. This doesn’t just show you love that venue, but if it’s a business like a bar, and the owners are Foursquare savvy, you may get rewarded with free drinks for being their best geosocial customer.

If you’re in a busy place, you can even see who else is in that place, view their profile and check out links to their website or Twitter account. A great (if a little creepy) way to strike up a conversation at a conference or meet up.

Is it worth it for us?

Foursquare can be a really powerful tool for organisations that interact with volunteers and the public at their offices, user facilities, charity shops and for organisations that do outreach work.

It’s also a neat way to raise awareness of social issues. Tips were designed for people to share experiences of places, but no-one seems to be nighlighting negative experiences such as homelessness, bullying, racism or other unseen social problems, so use tips to shine a light on your cause.

So, before diving in, ask yourself…

  • HQ: Do people visit our office/services/shop? Is it useful for more people to know where we’re based?
  • Outreach: Do we go out to places to deliver services, fundraise or raise awareness of our cause?
  • Cause: Does our cause relate, or sometimes relate, to places in the world? For example attacks, pollution, social issues.

How do I get started?

Just register for a free account (remember to register as an individual, not your organisation) at foursquare.com.

Next you’ll need to get connected on your phone. If you have a modern ‘smartphone’ like an iPhone, Android, Palm or Blackberry then you can install the free ‘app’ from the app store on your device or from Foursquare.com.

If you don’t have a smartphone, that’s no problem, you’ll just need to use the web browser on your phone to visit and bookmark http://m.foursquare.com/. The experience is better on a smartphone, but you can do almost all the same things through this mobile webpage.

Next just log in with the account details you chose on the website and you’re ready to make your first checkin. Have a look at “Nearby tips” to see what’s going on around you, and find somewhere to go for your first Check In by visiting there, tapping Places on your phone, selecting where you are (it should be at or near the top at list) and tapping Check In Here, Easy as that.

But how can you further the aims of your charity and cause? Here’s 5 great ideas that won’t cost you anything but a little time…

1. Put yourself on the map

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone using Foursquare saw the name of your charity when they were near your office? It could spark their curiosity and get them to read more about you, check out your Twitter feed or your website.

This is one step every organisation should take. Just stand in or near your office and hit the Places list, you may be suprised to see you’re already in there thanks to a tech savvy staff member, volunteer or even a service user.

If you don’t see your organisation in the list, just type your name in the search box, and if you don’t see your organisation in the list, tap Add This Place. Fill in a few details, and you’re done.

If you’re in a city then hundreds of people a day could be seeing at least the name of your organasation, and knowing that you’re nearby is great for potential service users and volunteers.

2. Tell your workers and volunteers

Now you’re on the map, you’ll want to see some geosocial life springing up around your organisation. Let your service users, volunteers and workers know they can now check in on Foursquare. It only takes a sentence in your next newsletter, or you can print a poster from the Foursquare website.

As these people check in to your venue, their friends will be notified, getting your name out . If an ‘influencer’ checks into your venue it could get your name out to a few hundred people in a single stroke. Plus, friends tend to be interested in similar causes, so there’s some basic audience targeting there too.

3. Get tipped

Once people start checking into your venue, encourage them to leave tips.

Tips are short messages – like tweets. People near your location can read them, and they show up on your venue profile on Foursquare.

They help people see what’s going on around them, and the more adventurous Foursquare users will add tips to their list of to-do lists when exploring.

It’s tempting just to leave a bunch of gushingly positive tips about the fantastic work and services you provide. This is probably the quickest way to get ignored on Foursquare. Social media works because people trust genuine, honest opinions from people without an agenda.

If your volunteers are having a really positive experience with you, and wished more people would get involved, then encourage them to leave a tipl.

If your service users want to tell people what’s on offer at your outreach centre, then a tip is perfect for that too.

There’s one, much more interesting use some organisations can put tips to, leaving a trail of tips in other places…

4. Get out there

Remember, geosocial tools like Foursquare are all about encouraging people to explore the world around them, try new things and share experiences with other people – friends and strangers alike.

Encouraging your volunteers to do the same. Setting up a stand at a festival? Make sure your volunteers check in to the festival and leave a tip about what you’re doing and where to find you. Having a drop in mental health surgery at a community centre? Check in! Even if people don’t see it in time, it leaves trails scattered far and wide that lead back to your cause and organisation.

It’s not all about saying “I’m here”, though. With a bit of creativity you can do some amazing virtual outreach and awareness work for nothing more than the cost of a few hours of your time…

You might want to raise awareness of the most poluted roads in your town, highlight a surge in homopobic attacks in your city, educate people about the lives of homeless people around parks and public spaces, or educate people about the social history behind a place.

With a bit of creativity and a wander around your city with your mobile phone you can leave a breadcrumb trail. One that leads right back to your cause and to your charity.

Plus, your expert perspective on your cause will add richness to the experience of users of Foursquare in your area – it’s not just an advert for your organisation, it’s an interesting, meaningful bite-sized chuck of information that makes people more informed of what’s going on around them.

5. A bit of friendly competition

When checking into places in Foursquare you earn points and badges. Coupled with the idea of Mayorships these provide powerful incentives to the X-box generation to be adventurous and explore in order to climb the leaderboard, and get the next badge.

If you take the steps to enable volunteers to check into your offices and outreach events, it’s not hard to see how this friendly competition could seriously increase the frequency that Foursquare users volunteer with you.

Plus, if you can see who else is volunteering, who tends to show up every saturday, who’s at the festival stand, it gives you and other Foursquare savvy volunteers helpful information and encouragement of where the get involved, and reassures them that people they know are active with your organisation, and at your volunteer events.

Want some more help with social media?

If you want some more help and advice with social media, there’s a range of ways we can help you out.

We have free training events as well as more in-depth courses, we speak at several national charity events a year, and we can help you develop strategies and creative campaigns. We even manage the social media presence of some charities.

Get in touch if you’d like to know more or to let us know how you’re getting on with Foursquare.

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