Location-based Social Networks: Business Opportunity or Privacy Nightmare?

Today I bring you a post from Nicole VanScoten as a part of #BeMyGuest month (a month of guest blogging).

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Location-based social networks: some people love them, some people hate them. While networks like Foursquare and Gowalla have been becoming very popular over the course of the past year, many people are still unsure of whether or not they should jump on board.

I’ve written before on what Foursquare could mean for small businesses, and I truly believe that the service (and others like it) could mean big things. Not only does it give a business insight into how many times a customer frequents their spot, it also creates friendly competition among patrons aiming to take the mayorship, thus promising more sales and free online publicity. Foursquare can easily become an extra element of a spot’s marketing campaign through its intrinsic, viral word-of-mouth components. And what business doesn’t want that?

Users love it because they’re often given special deals at their favorite venues just for checking in. And if you’re able to secure the mayor badge at your favorite location, you get bragging rights to match. And what about if you’re in a new city and curious what to eat? Checking a spot’s “tips” on Foursquare can provide some local insight.

But what about privacy?

Earlier this year, a site called PleaseRobMe popped up with the intent of showing the world the dangerous side of location-based social networks. While its purpose was actually to open eyes instead of inspiring robberies, it brought up valid questions: Is “checking in” to a location safe? Or does it just broadcast that your home is ripe for the robbing?

While the site had a valid point, and we entering an era of less privacy, there are other things that could tell a potential robber you’re not home: your car isn’t the driveway, you didn’t answer the door when someone knocked, you have a vacation email auto-response, your home phone (if you still have one) went to voicemail. So while it’s smart to be careful, it’s important to realize that if someone wants to rob you, they probably don’t need Foursquare or Gowalla to do it.

So what’s the verdict? IMO, the business potential of location-based social networking is great, and for those of us that just love to play, it’s fun! And of course, you always have the option of checking in “off the grid” if you’re not comfortable sharing your location.

As with most things, they key is being smart and not putting information online that you don’t want others to know. Otherwise, there’s no reason you can’t have fun with location-based social networks.

What do you think?

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About Nicole
Nicole VanScoten is a public relations specialist at Pyxl in Knoxville, Tennessee. She is a New Jersey-native and a University of Tennessee graduate. Nicole co-founded the Knoxville Chapter of the Social Media Club, and currently leads the planning committee. She writes on PR, social media and other topics at PRettySocial, and you can follow her on Twitter @PRNicoleV.


Want to take part in #BeMyGuest and write a post for my blog? Send me an e-mail with a brief description of what you’d like to write about and we’ll chat.

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

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