This location-based service uses your smart phone to track where you shop, eat, relax, and have fun. It can also help you keep you in touch with fellow community explorers, point out new places to hang out, and help you earn discounts on clothing, drinks, meals, and more. To check in to locations, you must download the mobile app (available for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia, Palm, and Windows Phone). Check-ins earn you points and badges, as well as mayorships for being the one who checks into a venue the most (which can result in a free drink, or just bragging rights).
1. Check in without effort
While you can check in from your phone’s Foursquare app, check-in fatigue is a whopper of a problem. Fight the disease with apps such as Check-In Droid for Android and CheckMate or Future Checkin for iOS. These check you in to frequented venues automatically.
2. Earn badges
Some badges are easy to earn, such as the Newbie badge that you earn for your first check-in. Others can require work. For instance, the Zoetrope badge is earned by checking into movie theaters 10 times. The Bender badge is earned by checking into a venue four or more times in a row.
Some badges can only be earned by adding a tag to a venue. That means visiting a venue’s Foursquare page on the desktop, scrolling to the bottom, clicking Edit, and filling in words that help identify the place to other users. For instance, adding “pizza” to a restaurant that serves pizza can get you close to the Pizzaiolo badge, which is earned by checking into 20 restaurants that have the Pizza tag.
3. Share what you liked
Big fan of the cocktails at your favorite after-work bar? Be sure to leave recommendations, advice, or warnings in the form of a tip for later Foursquare visitors. Check into a venue on the mobile app, hit menu (or the light bulb icon on the iPhone version of the app) and select Leave Tip.
4. Chat virtually or in person
Chat with fellow Foursquare users with ChatSquare, an app for iOS and Android devices that lets you talk to others who have checked into a particular place using a venue-specific chatroom.
5. Keep it private
Opt out of Who’s Here lists that show Foursquare buddies at your location. To do this, log in to the desktop version, click Settings, and uncheck “Show me in the ‘Who’s here’ list in the mobile app.” You can also use “Off the Grid” shouts (a shout is the Foursquare version of a status update) to check into locations without revealing your actual location. To change this setting, un-check Tell My Friends (or Share With Friends, on iOS) when you’re about to check into a venue.
6. Keep a to-do list
Found a great venue from a friend’s check-in or one of your favorite brand pages? Make a reminder to visit it later by adding it to your To Do List. Create your list by using the mobile app to access a venue, then click Add To-Do. You can also add specific venue tips to your To-Do list in the same way.
If you take advantage of another Foursquare user’s tip, be sure to let them know you liked their favorite dish or drink by selecting the I’ve Done This button in the Tips tab of the mobile app. The most heeded pointers are pushed to the top of a venue’s list of tips.
7. Follow a brand
Follow such brands as Racked, Wall Street Journal, and Zagat for great recommendations on local venues, attractions, and more. Brands can be followed at www.foursquare.com, but the social network doesn’t make it easy. You can find a smattering of options at the very bottom of the desktop screen, but currently there is no full list of brands to follow; searching a brand’s name won’t necessarily bring you to the brand’s page. Refreshing the page will bring up different options.
When you click on a brand, it takes you to a special URL (usually foursquare.com/brandname). Here you can click Follow. This will add the brand to your friend list. Different brands offer different perks. For instance, following Mashable provides special tips on various venues from Mashable’s editors and reporters. Following InStyle can earn you special deals at specific stores; during the 2010 holiday season, checking into a Saks Fifth Avenue store unlocked special shopping tips and earned a free gift for InStyle followers. Following the History Channel unlocks historical facts about a location after you’ve checked in. There is also a Historian badge you can unlock if you visit enough History Channel-supported locations.
8. Eat, post, love (or hate)
Share your love of good eats with FoodSpotting, an iOS Foursquare app for foodies that not only lets you share pictures of great meals but allows users to rate them as well. Just don’t forget to set the app to share all posts in Foursquare as check-ins.
9. Crowdsource your nightlife
If you’re in a new neighborhood and want a fun place to hang out, check the Trending Now feature under the Places tab in your mobile Foursquare app. The restaurants, bars, and lounges with the most check-ins of the day top the list.
10. Find deals faster
Many businesses offer specials for those who check into a location. For instance, checking in at Modell’s Sporting Goods in New York City can save you $10 off a purchase of $50 or more by showing the cashier your phone. A first-time check-in at a Crunch Fitness for non-members earns a seven-day pass, while the Mayor earns a free bottle of water. To fully take advantage of these deals, use a third-party app such as Snacksquare.com, which lists every deal available on Foursquare. As always, you must check into the venue to redeem the deal. Add bargain-offering venues to your To Do list at Foursquare.com or on the mobile app.