So, you’re at your favorite local coffee shop when the guy in front of you pulls out his smart phone and starts clicking away. When he gets to the counter, the barista congratulates him for becoming the “Mayor of Java Joe’s” and hands him a free coffee.

As you look around for the hidden camera, the happy customer is clicking away again — this time telling all his online friends that Java Joe’s is the best coffee shop in town.

What just happened here?

Chances are the local coffee shop is taking advantage of a location based application like Foursquare — offering Specials to its loyal customers for “checking in”.

Sounds like a great way to build loyalty and drive sales, right? It is. Here’s how you can create Foursquare Specials for your business.

Types of Foursquare Specials

Before you jump right in to creating a Foursquare Special, take a moment to review the various types of Specials available. Foursquare divides its Specials into two main categories.

1. Specials to Encourage Loyalty in Existing Customers

How to Create Foursquare Specials for Your BusinessSpecials are designed to reward your most frequent customers and to give them a reason to keep coming back to your venue.

Foursquare offers two kinds of specials to accomplish just that; the “Mayor Special” (like the “Java Joe’s” example above) and the “Loyalty Special.”

For successful examples and details of Loyalty Specials, go to Foursquare’s venues page and click the “Foursquare Deals” tab immediately to the right of the blue “Quick Start Guide” tab.

2. Specials to Attract New Customers

Foursquare has become popular with businesses because it’s a social media platform that can attract new customers, not just reward regulars.

At the time of writing, Foursquare has five New Customer Specials, including the “Friends Special,” “Swarm Special,” Flash Special,” “Newbie,” and “Check-in” Specials. These Specials provide rewards for individuals to come check out your business for the first time or they can be configured for a “swarm” of people to congregate at your business all at once.

For successful examples and details of these New Customer Specials, go to Foursquare’s venues page and click the “Foursquare Deals” tab  immediately to the right of the blue “Quick Start Guide” tab.

Create a Foursquare Special

If you haven’t already done so, claim your business on Foursquare. That’s a necessary first step; you won’t be able to take any of the following steps until that’s been done.

1. Log in to Foursquare via your venue’s account and click “Manager Tools,” then “Campaigns,” then “Start a Campaign,” and finally, “Add a Special.”

Choose the Type of Foursquare Special2. Choose the type of Special you want to offer. Refer to the “Types of Foursquare Specials” section above for details.

3. Next, you can specify the parameters of your Special. For example, if you chose the “Friends Special,” you can set the minimum number of friends you’d like to reward for visiting your business, and the Special is only validated if that many friends check in.

4. It’s a good idea to write a description for your special. Foursquare allows you slightly more than a Twitter update — up to 200 characters to craft a custom message to your customers. One example: “Thanks for visiting Java Joe’s! Get 3 Foursquare friends to check in today and you’ll get a free coffee!”

The more creative you can be with your description, the more likely it is to appeal to a potential visitor.

5. Finally, click “Create Special” to confirm your Special. If you have more than one physical location, select the venue or venues where the Special applies. It’s even possible to create different specials for each of your locations, if you so choose.

Promote Your Specials

Once you’ve created some great Specials, make sure your in-store staff knows about them and how to redeem them. Encourage staff to let all your visitors know you’re on Foursquare and that there are deals to be had for checking in.

You can also let your customers know about your Foursquare deals via your other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The more people you tell about your Specials the more likely they are to be redeemed.

To help people find Specials, Foursquare shows all of the businesses that have Specials in the vicinity of where a user checks in. So go ahead and follow the steps above to create your Special; you just never know who might be checking in nearby!

Have you created some fantastic Foursquare Specials? How do you encourage people to check in and redeem them? Let us know in the comments below.

[Image credit: Dennis Crowley]