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://www.mikemerrill.com Mike D. Merrill

    Thx for pulling this together. Personally I have been obsessed with these apps trying to see how they will mature and evolve and prove beneficial for brands. I wish the iPhone interface for Foursquare made the posting to facebook optional as Gowalla does for each checkin. I do prefer the graphics of the Gowalla FB checkin though.


  • http://timspangler.com/ Name

    re: Retroactive check-ins:

    I've done it before and I'm sure a lot of others do it as well. Gowalla actually checks how far you are from the location's reported coordinates and won't allow you to check in if you're too far.

    Along these lines, I recall recently reading one of the guys from Foursquare say that while they don't actively police “cheated” check ins, they do keep track of where you actually are when you're checking in. This data could potentially be used later to flag not only legitimate “cheaters” but people who have been practicing retroactive checking-in.

    more: http://emptyage.honan.net/mth/2009/09/foursquar

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  • http://www.theincslingers.com/blog Simon Salt

    I've been using Foursquare for a while now. Originally via the mobile web interface and more recently on the Blackberry app, now that I got into the beta program. The Blackberry app version is excellent, it makes deciding where, if at all, you want to post your checkins.
    Overall, I'd say you have hit the etiquette full on. Especially the don'ts but at the end of the day, just as with Twitter, FB and other services there will always that “Game” the system. So what, let them, they miss the point of “Social” media. Their loss.

  • vharres

    “Don't let it consume you” can also apply to other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It's not fun being with someone who is constantly updating their status or letting everyone know what they're doing.

  • http://andy.teamsoell.com amsoell

    Also, don't “checkin” to your house or apartment. I was guilty of this at first, and it's fun to say that you're the “mayor” of your apartment, but it does kind of take the fun out of the leaderboard competition if you're racking up points for being at your house every day.

    My rule of thumb is: only check in to places you are going to be for a little while… the point is to let your friends know where they can find you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=591295027 Perri Blake Gorman

    Hey there thanks for writing this. We have a pretty active #foursquare community in Hong Kong & with it being a relatively compact place, when someone checks in somewhere someone is usually within a minute away potentially even passing by – it happens all the time. It can make you feel like you are stalking your friends or vice-versa! A point we all discuss is not to check in unless you are available and willing to meet up.

    I have to say though, I am already over it. Bigger than Twitter? It would really depend on how we define bigger – users? revenue?, but I have serious doubts. People still like to maintain a sense of privacy and I think we are going to see all kinds of crazy case studies, and court cases! where four square comes into play in the future. It is one to watch for sure.

    Perri @bethebutterfly

  • http://passepartout.posterous.com/ passepartout

    I agree. There's no value to anyone but yourself if you check into 'Mom and Dad's House.' It's a little like cheating.

    I've been doing this for a few months now and I'm starting to get bored with Foursquare. Also, it's a nice way to find out how boring your life is compared with others..

  • BryanPerson

    I'll admit to “cheating” once–last week, when my competitive spirit got the best of me. I checked in to my local Barnes & Noble, even though it was closed. In my defense, though, I was sitting in the parking lot outside the B&N; it just hadn't opened for the day. Working against me: I deliberately pulled into the park lot to check in, *knowing* the store wouldn't yet be open.

    OK, I've made my confession. What's my penalty?

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Public humiliation. What else?

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    My pleasure, Mike. I'm sure the Facebook cross-posting functionality will come soon.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Thanks for the acknowledgment, Simon.

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Amen. My girlfriend, Mollie, can attest to that.

    Of course, now she has a smartphone!

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    Well, how boring IS your life?

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    I could easily see Foursquare getting bought by a Yelp- or CitySearch-type thing; one that hasn't yet mastered the location component.


  • http://andy.teamsoell.com amsoell

    Yeah, it definitley helps if your friends are on as well… You get clued in to cool places you may not have heard of, and you can meet up if they're nearby.

    I know what you mean about boring, though… I feel like I get out a good amount, but nowhere near as often as my friends who are in their mid-20's. Ah, to be young again ;)

  • http://www.twitter.com/lindsaydavies Lindsay Davies

    Thanks for this post :) I don't reckon I'll be checking in to my apartment though.

    Like Perry's comment about not checking in unless you're willing and able to meet up. That makes lots of sense.


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