A guide to Foursquare etiquette

December 29th, 2009

There’s been a lot of talk lately about location-based social gaming platforms such as Foursquare, Loopt and Gowalla.  Even Pete Cashmore recently went so far as to predict Foursquare as next year’s Twitter.

That may or may not be an exaggeration, but according to this data, it seems that more people are — at the very least — starting to explore location-based social networks by linking them up to their existing Twitter and Facebook profiles. However, for users who have just gotten used to Twitter and Facebook, these other networks (and how to act on them) may still seem very foreign.

I recently spoke to a reporter about folks who cheat at Foursquare and other location-based social gaming platforms, and was inspired to write up this quick guide to Foursquare etiquette. (NOTE: While I wrote this guide for Foursquare, it may be applied to other location-based social networks or games that involve “checking in” to a location.)

Here are some Foursquare dos and don’ts:


  • Create new, meaningful locations. Is there a landmark or cool restaurant that hasn’t been added to Foursquare? Do your fellow “Squares” (coining that term for Foursquare users) a favor and add it.
  • Add useful tips to existing locations. Do you have a favorite dish at a local restaurant? Is there a waiter or maître d‘ people should ask for? These are the tips that make location-based social networks (all social networks, really) cool — it’s the fact people are willing to share their local wisdom and preferences with others. If you have something to say about a given location that you think will help someone else out, take a second and add it.
  • Edit incorrect listings. Edit locations that have incorrect addresses and/or phone numbers, or restaurants and venues that are closed. By doing this, you’ll find that you may become a Foursquare Superuser in no time!
  • Share Foursquare promotions and deals with your friends. Know a bar or restaurant offering a great deal through Foursquare? Tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter and in real life.  (For instance, there are several I’ve used: The Drawing Room at Le Passage [occasional client] and David Burke’s Primehouse.) The more people use these deals, the more businesses will create special discounts for Foursquare users. Don’t be shy to proclaim your geekiness to your friends — you may save them some money.
  • Moderate how often you cross-post to Twitter and Facebook. It’s easy to connect your Foursquare account to your Facebook and Twitter profiles; that said, it’s easy to spam your Facebook and Twitter contacts with your check-ins. Be mindful of how often you cross-post, and make sure to cross-post only things you think are important. Going to McDonald’s in a drunken stupor at 4am with someone who’s not your significant other? It may be risky enough to post it on Foursquare, but especially don’t post it elsewhere. (A hat tip to Benedict Wong for this one.)


  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you only know through Twitter or Facebook. When someone signs up for Foursquare, they have the ability to pull in connections through their Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you get a Foursquare invite from someone you know only through those networks, and you’re not comfortable with them knowing where you are, don’t add them, but don’t get weirded out that you’re getting these requests either. I only become Foursquare friends with people I know personally, but that’s my cup of tea. (Another school of thought: “Don’t like ‘em? Don’t Foursquare ‘em.”)
  • Don’t check in to places you don’t actually go to. I work on Chicago’s famed Michigan Avenue, and I take the bus to work each day. If I’m active on Foursquare, I may check in to my job, into the Magnificent Mile and to my apartment (not my real address), but that’s it. Some folks, as they commute via bus, train or car, will check into locations they pass by briefly.There’s no reason to check into locations you don’t spend any time at, so don’t do it.
  • Don’t let Foursquare consume you. Nothing will get you in the doghouse quicker than constantly checking in on Foursquare when you’re on a date. If your Foursquare usage interferes with dates or family time, you’re not enjoying the time you actually spend at that location, so you may want to scale back a bit. If you feel you must check in, however, retreat to the restroom.

Up for discussion:

  • Retroactive check-ins. It’s easy to forget checking in to a location, but if you remember after the fact, will you bother going back to check in to locations you’ve left? (I know I’ve done this on occasion, which is why I didn’t put it in the “Don’t” section.)


Have I missed anything? Do you disagree with something I’ve said? Please feel free to post any additional thoughts you have as comments below.

- Daniel B. Honigman

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Entry Filed under: foursquare,future of media,New Tricks,social media

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  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Unless that bathroom has a special deal going on, it doesn't need a location.

    And if an employee set it up, it's an easy way for their boss to see how many bathroom breaks they're taking!

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  • g0rge0usbrunette06

    so today is sunday…& i'm just now getting foursquare today…& i went to some places friday & saturday night & spent a significant amount of time there. can i check into them today??? or just forget about them?? please help & let me know about this! i dont' want to do something i'm not supposed to. thank you, katie.

  • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White

    Foursquare are trying limit the cheating. Recently I got 'caught cheating' when I wasn't. I checked-in to 4 locations in quick succesion and was informed at the fourth check-in my checkins would not count toward Mayor status.

    The irony of it is that the check-ins were genuine.
    Gas Station, Bank, Grocery Store and Home Improvement store, all inside 10 minutes and I did a business transaction at every location. When you only spend a minute or two at a location and there is little or no travel time between them, one can get flagged.

    Clearly no system is perfect. The god news is that Foursquare are clamping down on the cheaters by observing usage patterns.

  • DKwan


  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Don't think it is, but if you're on a business lunch, you may not want to check in there; the point of Foursquare is to tell others you're there in the hopes of meeting up with them, I think.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    With Foursquare, however, I think the point is to tell others you're at a certain location with the hopes of meeting up with them.

    Would you tell everyone you're at a bank in the hopes of meeting up with people? Probably not. Would you tell everyone you're at a restaurant, bar or — in my case — a cigar bar in the hopes of meeting up with people? Maybe.

    Could you express why you checked into a gas station, bank, etc. in the first place? Curious as to what your reasoning is.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Thanks for commenting, Flounder.

    What about Gowalla? MyTown?

  • http://jpwhitehome.wordpress.com JP White


    You are correct, Foursquare provides a good way to meet-up with friends and family at a specific location. However just announcing your general whereabouts, even if its just the gas station, let's those who know you that you maybe in their vicinity. One could call a friend who is known to be close by for a meet-up at a more convivial location. Without that 'ticker' you may not call at all to meet up.

    The other side of Foursquare is the competitive nature of the leader-board, you get points for checking-in to locations, and of course one wants to be as honest as possible with friends, but still be top dog :-)

    I've been experimenting with Gowalla recently and that gives one more incentive to check-in at locations to pick-up and drop off 'items'. I foresee the Gowalla model promoting widespread check-ins.


  • http://www.majorgrooves.co.uk Major_Grooves

    You mention to edit locations to become a superuser, but it seems that you can only edit locations if you are *already* a superuser. I would like to merge some venues here in Oxford but cannot. I have found that I can move the map pin for a location of which I am the mayor, but no others.

  • Lorin

    It's something like three checkins in under ten minutes. It'll give you a warning screen that says you should actually stay put for awhile and then it lets you know that points and privileges aren't counted for rapid checkins.

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  • Fred Magovern

    I disagree about residences, and I think Foursquare would as well – nothing wrong with being the mayor of your own place. Having said that, if you check in their the night before, when you wake up, should you check in? Is it your “first stop?” For example, if I check-in @ night, wake up the next day, don't leave, I was there that day – shouldn't I have a check-in?

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  • Aaron M.

    What's wrong with retroactive check-ins? I wanted to check in to a few places on Foursquare but had to wait til I got home to create the venues and then check-in. Perhaps they should provide a second check-in function for this.

  • Alexander Schroeder

    What about checking into work??? My co-worker Tobin claims it's not allowed!

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Sure it’s allowed; makes for some interesting intra-office rivalries!


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