Geolocation is a hot topic in technology circles these days. Twitter has already added geotagging capability to tweets and Facebook plans to release a new location-based feature in late April. Google introduced Latitude in 2009, giving us all the ability to share our exact location with our friends at any given moment. Foursquare, Gowalla, and other location-based social networks are attracting new users at a rapid pace with no signs of slowing down, and “checking in” with these apps has become somewhat commonplace among the more technologically savvy (translate: geeks. I can say that because I guess I am one.)
So what does this have to do with your freelance business? Absolutely nothing, if you choose to ignore the next big step in online awareness and decide to relegate your business to the tried and true methods of marketing and self-promotion. I have only recently jumped on the bandwagon myself, but in doing so I have begun to recognize the potential for raising awareness and strengthening the branding of my business in my local community, as well as some simple search engine optimization (SEO) value they can provide. This post will examine a few of these services and how using them can contribute to your freelance business’s growth.
Start With Google Local Business Center
This is not something I had considered using, since I work from home and not in a legitimate ‘brick and mortar’ storefront, but after doing some research I realized that claiming my listing in Google’s Local Business Center (LBC) would create a lot of potential for discovery when someone searched for a designer in my local area. Think about it: how often do you use Google to look for a nearby business? Well, the LBC allows you to edit your listing as it appears on Google search pages and maps, and pretty extensively. I simply logged in and created my business listing, using my home as the mailing address. While some may say this is a security risk or providing too much information, the reality is that I have most of this information on my business cards and would provide it in a phone book listing, so it’s not anything that someone couldn’t find with a little research. I decided it was worthwhile to go ahead and provide the same information in my business listing, and now you can look up bkmacdaddy designs on Google maps!
Everything in the listing is editable, it’s free and it also provides some basic analytics. Once you set up your account you can see how many times users saw your business listing as a local search result, whether or not they clicked any of your links for more info or driving directions, and even if they clicked through to your website.
Another benefit of using LBC is that you can offer coupons on your map listing. This could be used to offer discounts to potential clients and attract local customers. You can also post about upcoming events or specials, so when someone clicks on your business they will see whatever is currently going on.
All of these tools can make your freelance business more accessible, discoverable and attractive to potential local clients in Google’s search engine and maps. Here are some of the main links to get you started:
When I set up my Foursquare account a few weeks ago it was with fear and trepidation of being sucked into yet another “latest social media craze.” I tried to stay away from using this service, especially when I kept seeing tweets about where people were, along with a link to Foursquare. I thought, “I sure don’t want everyone knowing everywhere I am all the time. Nor do I think they care. And what about security? Won’t burglars know when I’m not home by monitoring my Foursquare updates?” I still believe security is a legitimate issue, and therefore I am very careful with how and when I update.
With that said, I have begun to see some of the benefits these check-in games have. First of all, it is simple and not time-consuming at all to make a point of checking in at places whenever you are out and about. There is an app for almost any type of smart phone, and a few quick clicks gets you checked in. Next, you can choose to post your check-in on a variety of social networks (or none at all). This is where I see the potential rewards for a freelance business.
As you post a status update on Twitter or Facebook announcing your current location to the world, those who are near you may be made aware–especially if they have an account on Foursquare. This promotes real-life interaction and possible networking that otherwise may not have happened.
Another element is SEO. When you create your account, you are also creating a link back to your business’s website (if you have one). This is good for the search engines, plus when visitors check out your profile they will see your link and possibly visit your site.
Another thought is that every time you proclaim your latest check-in, you are sharing another part of who you are, which can be beneficial for those potential clients who want to work with genuine, personable people. It gives them insight and interest in who you are as a person, which puts a living breathing face on your business.
A couple personal benefits I have also discovered are:
- I am more apt to get out of the house for a bit, rather than stay in front of my computer all day, if for no other reason than to check in somewhere.
- There’s a bit of fun in the game aspect: you compete at your most-visited places to earn points, badges and become the “mayor” of a venue. Some venues even offer discounts or freebies to their mayor!
I am still very careful to not post too much information or especially when I am away for long periods of time. Recently I took a two-day trip out of town and checked in to a few places, but I simply made sure that no one else could see where I was when I checked in. This way I earned points without creating a security risk.
Gowalla is probably Foursquare’s main competitor, and I noticed enough of my contacts were using this service to justify connecting with them through it. The setup is very similar to Foursquare, and just like Foursquare you can import your friends from other social networks, selecting which ones to import or not along the way. Again, you are providing a lot of the same benefits for your business, but because different people prefer different services–and you’re already checking in anyway–it makes sense to broaden the spectrum of people you could reach through these Geolocation services.
Gowalla has a slightly different game element to it. There doesn’t appear to be as much of a competition as there is an earning of rewards. At each venue you can “pick up” items on your phone app and collect them, then possibly trade them at the next one for something else you prefer. For my purposes, this was not all that relevant, but it’s a cute addition to the use of the app.
All Together Now
One of the coolest things I’ve learned about this setup as described is that I was easily able to find my freelance business on the two check-in services, because they use information from Google Maps to locate venues. So I started checking in to my business on both of them every time I came home to work.
Instead of tweeting that I just got back home, I simply checked in to both services and let THEM post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. This not only gained me points in both services, but it expanded the awareness of my freelance business on all four networks simultaneously! On top of that, it only took two check-ins before I became the Mayor of bkmacdaddy designs. It was a proud moment, and I don’t think it will be possible for anyone to oust me from my title (unless my wife starts using Foursquare.)
It is very early on in my own usage for me to make a strong determination of the benefits, but I can definitely see the potential that using these services–and others as they arise and are deemed worthy of fitting into my schedule–can have for your freelance business with extended use. Perhaps I will write a follow-up post further down the road to let you know any definitive results.
Are you using any or all of these services already? If so, what benefits have you experienced for your business? Do you think this is worth doing for your freelance business? Do you know of other ways to use these or other Geolocation services for your freelance business? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
First and last images by Shutterstock