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Monday, April 4, 2011
Digital Media Toolbox

Foursquare has news value - but be careful

By Jodie Mozdzer

Let's face it: Foursquare can be a little creepy. The mobile social networking site lets you “check in” to places you visit using your smart phone. By linking to your Facebook and Twitter accounts, your visits become public knowledge among your friends and followers.

Getting a trim at the local barber shop? Stopping for coffee on your way to work? Check in and let the world know.

It seems a little Big Brother-esque at first. But Foursquare, and other geo-social networking sites like Gowalla, are also fun and local.

What does it mean for journalism? That’s still being determined by experiments at leading national outlets such as CNN and The Huffington Post, as well as by individual reporters testing the waters on their own.

Here are some ways journalists are using Foursquare now:

FOURSQUARE TIPS

USE DISCRETION

When posting your location, it becomes public. That means your competition can see exactly where you are, if you let them. Meeting “Deep Throat” at a garage in Arlington? Don’t check in; best to leave that one private. But you’re not the only one with a police scanner. So if you’re at the scene of a large fire, chances are it’s OK to let the world know about it.

LINK TO YOUR OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

One of the best features about Foursquare is its ability to broadcast your location via your other social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter. If you were going to post an update or tweet about something, you might as well do it through Foursquare.

DON’T GO CRAZY

Most people won’t care about every time you make a stop at the grocery store or the bank.

Save the updates for times when there is something interesting happening at a place, or when you want to share pertinent information— like if the ATM is pouring out $20s.

1. READER REWARDS

Foursquare works like a game, in addition to a social network. The more places you check in, the more “badges” you earn.

Last year, CNN took advantage of the gaming aspect of Foursquare to push a news series on healthy eating. CNN offered a “Healthy Eater” badge to users who checked in to various farmers markets across the country. In some places, those badges could act as coupons at farmers markets.

2. LINKS

Foursquare lets you leave tips about places you visit, such as what to order at a local restaurant and where to find the bathrooms at the local courthouse.

The Huffington Post uses the “tips” feature to let users know about stories on specific locations. If you visit the Statue of Liberty, for example, there’s a link to a Huffington Post story about renovations to the crown. It’s a great way to connect people to stories about places they are visiting.

3. CROWDSOURCING

On Election Day 2010, Foursquare created a voting map of the country and asked people to “check in” at their polling places. The result was an interactive graphic that showed the times people were voting, the amount of people in each polling place and even their genders.

Clearly it’s not a comprehensive collection of data on who voted and when. But the effort could lead the way to other types of geographical crowdsourcing.

4. VISIBILITY

It’s bad form to use any social networking site for the sole purpose of advertising your work. Foursquare and Gowalla should be no different.

Use Foursquare like the rest of the world uses it: Find out about new places and let people know about your favorites. If you’re active in the community, readers will want to follow you.

Jodie Mozdzer is a Web journalist for the Valley Independent Sentinel in Connecticut. She is a member of the SPJ Digital Media Committee and treasurer of the SPJ Connecticut Pro chapter. She is pursuing a master’s degree in interactive communications from Quinnipiac University, with a focus on interactive news graphics. On Twitter: @Mozactly

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