Social media tends to spark addictive habits. People may bemoan their obsessions with Facebook or their attachments to Twitter, but they just can’t seem to stop using these platforms. And who says that’s a bad thing? The premise of these technologies is to keep people connected at any time, in any place, so it’s easy to see the appeal.

One of the common addictions among social media users is check-ins, either through a dedicated platform such as Foursquare or within the larger framework of Facebook Places.

Check-ins are a great form of indirect advertising for a business, but that’s usually not the main motivation for people using those social networks. To encourage more of your customers to check in, you’ll want to understand the psychology that drives them to post their whereabouts in the first place. Here are a few reasons why checking in is so popular.

Creating an Open Digital Diary

Many of today’s social media platforms are aimed at giving people a place to tell their stories. Facebook’s new Timeline, the focus on personalization in Google+, and the rapid success of Pinterest all point to a growing interest in creating a narrative to be shared with others. Check-ins make place a bigger part of that story.

But remember, even though people are creating digital diaries, these only include the lives they want to display to friends and acquaintances. Locations that demonstrate character and personality are more likely to inspire check-ins. For instance, a person who takes pride in being a foodie will probably want to check in at restaurants of every persuasion, kitchenware stores, and cooking classes. Those locations wouldn’t be as important to someone who eats peanut butter and jelly every day!

There’s also the cool factor. If people are going to openly post about their whereabouts, they’re most likely to check in to hip locations with their hip friends. It’s unlikely that anyone wants the world to know when they visit the dentist or a garbage dump, but they’ll want to brag just a bit about going somewhere with social caché.

Getting Perks and Deals

Everybody loves a bargain, especially when all it requires is a few taps on a smartphone. Saving a few bucks is a major reason why people choose to check in. Deals could be anything from a free drink to a discount after a certain number of check-ins. Foursquare has an additional option for people looking to save money. The network has partnerships with LivingSocial, Gilt City, Amex, and Scoutmob, allowing members to access more deals while on the go. The “Specials” section of the Foursquare app shows all off these partnered deals.

Not all perks are financial rewards. Foursquare has two other programs that keep its members engaged. The first is naming Mayors. The person with the most check-ins at a location in the past 60 days is granted the title of Mayor for that spot. The second program is “Badges”, which are awarded in a similar fashion to badges in the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. For example, checking in at five different airports will unlock the “Jet Setter” badge, or going to the same place three times in a week gets you the “Local” badge.

These Foursquare games encourage light-hearted competition among members and encourage them to use the application more frequently. And more frequent use of the applications is good for businesses because each check-in exposes new potential customers to the check-in location.

Supporting Favorite Businesses

In the old days, friends would simply tell each other about the new favorite restaurants or  cool stores they found. As more and more social interactions move to the digital realm, word-of-mouth is making the switch too. It’s similar to buying a band’s T-shirt at a concert, then wearing it around town. You may discover that a friend likes the same group, or strike up a conversation with a stranger who saw the same show. It’s a way for people to publicly support the music they like and to connect with others in new ways.

Checking in serves the same function. By making consumer choices part of a digital identity, people can forge stronger ties both with the businesses they endorse and with other supporters. By offering perks, as mentioned above, you can keep the word-of-mouth strong among your customers and continue being a part of their stories.

Have you found ways to encourage customers to check in at your business? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credits: dennis crowley, Joel Montes de Oca, Images Money, Mike Baird]