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

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

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

  • http://friendfeed.com/jinxedtimes2 Mandy Jenkins

    Some of us out here don’t live in a city that has FourSquare yet (damn it), but from what I’ve seen, it has all kinds of potential for journalists. Take a look.

    This comment was originally posted on FriendFeed

  • http://oldmedianewtricks.com Daniel_Honigman

    I take it, then, Foursquare's not for the antisocial, eh?

  • Natebw

    Nice, I'll be sure to pass this along. I am trying to get Foursquare some visibility in the Tampa, St. Pete area, but is pretty new yet. I'm sure this will help!

  • reedracer

    I'm a little fuzzy on whether it's kosher to check in at private residences? Gaining points for going home or to a friend's apartment seems a bit shady.

  • http://www.jananas.com/ Jana

    I'm okay with checking in after/before the fact. Although as someone without a data package on my phone, I often can't check in when I'm actually there. Instead what I try to do is check in right before I leave.

    I'd also add another 'don't', which is that not all businesses need to be added. We don't need to know that you went to the bank or the doctor or which bus/streetcar/subway you take to commute to work daily.

  • http://blog.otabi.com scerruti

    Do contribute feedback to Foursquare via their GetSatisfaction account to tell them what features you would like added/changed.

  • seattle_wa

    I know people who cheat, by checking into every bar/restaurant they can find on their iPhone. One guy I know checked into 36 places in six minutes. You might say, “who cares?”, but businesses on Foursquare more and more will offer incentives for those who check-in, especially repeat customers who become “mayor”. If a cheater becomes mayor and gets financially rewarded for that behavior, that cheats those of us who actually go to those venues. I am the mayor of 22 locations, but I have physically visited and spent time and money at those locations. It would suck if someone supplants me as mayor of one of those locations because they cheat, and they (eventually) get financially rewareded for that.

    Dennis from Foursquare says that they are working on ways to discover and prevent cheating via geolocation. But if someone is within a block of 15 restaurants, they can check into all of them. So, there's a timing issue. How many check-ins within how many minutes? This becomes very difficult to police. I don't see a foolproof way to overcome cheating. And with financial incentives to cheat (as soon as many more businesses sign up to offer such incentives), this could get “interesting”, to say the least.

  • http://www.inyourweb.com Steve Johnson

    Regarding retroactive check-ins, I find myself at places where it’s difficult to pick up network coverage, and cannot check in because of that. I’m a motorcycle rider, and often ride out into the countryside, and pull into a biker bar out in the sticks somewhere. So that’s my vote for retroactive check-ins.

  • Ryan P.

    I’ve always wondered about people who check in at “home.” Do most people do this? (I don’t). To me, it seemed like the idea of Foursquare was to compete over who’s “going out” the most, and racking up extra points by returning home seems like cheating to me.rnrnOn the retroactive check in front, I say it’s OK as long as it’s the same day. Checking in somewhere you went last week seems unfair as well.

  • Anonymous

    Checking in after/before gets tricky if they decide to use geolocation validation to verify that you’re actually there. But on the data package issue, did you know you can check-in via text message? Text your check-in to 40404. Example of text format is as follows (include space after @ and before venue name): @ Maggiano’s

  • http://unknown8bit.org/ liz

    I think the appeal of 4sq could be lost by the acquisition by Yelp or other CitySearch-type property. For these companies, their special interests are business establishment-centric, whereas Foursquare is friends and user-centric. Clearly there could be a conflict of interest (and personally, I’m not a fan of the often vapid and narcissistic user reviews on Yelp). Forcing a marriage of communities is a delicate thing.

  • Rachel

    Re: Retroactive Check-insrnrnI never realized what a gray area this is until now. I retroactively checked in a couple days ago because I was at a business lunch and the location was “not found”. Obviously, I couldn’t sit at the table, add the location and then check in (which I do at places with just friends or hubby). So when I got back to work, I added the location to 4S and then checked in. Didn’t stop to think that maybe this is a rule breaker. Hm…

  • wisemana

    good points. I've done the retroactive one once or twice if I know nobody would meet me there. sporting events, for example.

    I don't get why random people add me though. Why do you care where I go, and why would I care where you go?

  • Nate Mc

    I agree with the rule of thumb. I was actually disappointed to see that checking in at your job is accepted; this seems to violate the spirit of Foursquare. It seems assumed that you will be at your job during your working hours, why should you check in there? This especially applies if you work at a place like a restaurant or an attraction, where you could become mayor for working there; that is just lame and rude.

    I saw an article recently from a media company that added a statement to their social networking policy stating that employees should not check in there, because they are more interested in their frequent visitors than in those who are there because they have to be. This makes a lot of sense.

    I wish Foursquare would also make this bit of etiquette more clear, and I would ask the author of the article to consider it as well.

  • Pingback: Amanita.net » Blog Archive » Daily Digest for January 6th

  • Pingback: Ousted as mayor | Agent-X Comics

  • http://www.photoflounder.com/ Flounder Lee

    I am still up in the air about checking in to work. I teach at a public art school that is part of a state university.
    I can see reasons for checking in such as my students and others know I'm there (I am def not a 9-5er) and can try and find me. I can see reasons for not checking in such as it will be easy to be mayor and we wouldn't get a feel for who is checking in to the gallery as a visitor.
    For now, I think I will check in when I am visiting outside of my class times such as gallery openings, visiting lectures, etc.
    Foursquare isn't huge in Indianapolis yet but I hope it will be soon.

  • Pingback: SignalFive Blog » Blog Archive » SignalFive Conversations #3 : Henrik Berggren / @henrikberggren

  • http://www.dcoates.com/ Dustin Coates

    Here's another one for you: Don't create bogus venues. At the Whole Foods flagship store in Austin, someone went through and added listings for “Men's Room at Whole Foods.”

    It clogs up the search results.


October 2019
« Feb    

Most Recent Posts

Add to Technorati Favorites Add to Google Reader or Homepage