Foursquare Tips & Etiquette: How to improve your recommendations and get the most out of Foursquare

Foursquare is probably the greatest mobile experience ever built since it has the power to “profoundly touch and co-create our real life experiences”. With its ‘Explore’ recommendation engine, Foursquare has now evolved far beyond its roots as the check-in game of a few years ago.

Foursquare has received more than its fair share of negative feedback, usually regarding the “check-in game” of the service’s formative years (read this). While criticism in itself is fine, what bothers me is that the service’s detractors continue to dwell on what the service was, and not what it is today – Foursquare has pivoted into a powerful local search tool, has dialed back the check-in focus, and deserves renewed attention.

Foursquare, along with Instagram, are the only two social networks that I use regularly, on a daily basis (often in tandem). I love Foursquare for a number of reasons:

  • It intersects with my real life and actively influences where I go. 
  • It provides me with the best recommendations, bar none, on where to go, right now. Recommendations are current and highly personalised. i.e. recommendations change depending on the time of day, suggesting good lunch places at noon, great night life spots in the evening etc. Furthermore, they are based on the places I have visited so Foursquare knows the kinds of places I like.
  • It is an invaluable travel tool. I use it for finding the best places around where I am staying. Time and again I have found great restaurants with Foursquare, that I would never have discovered without it. (If you’ve never tried Foursquare’s ‘Explore’ feature, go here to try it out.)
  • It improves with use. Checking in and rating venues helps Foursquare learn where I like to go, and improves my recommendations. Put simply – the more you put into Foursquare, the more you get out of it.
  • It keeps a daily record of my whereabouts. By displaying my Foursquare check-in history in my calendar, it lets me view a detailed daily record of where I was, when. This can be incredibly useful later – it’s a window into the past that I can refer long after my memory has forgotten.
  • Venue tips provide great insider knowledge. The tips left by other users often provide way more insight or advice about a venue than a regular review. This is because Tips focus on what you should do when you are already there, not why you should go there in the first place.

Foursquare is an invaluable tool for discovering great places to go. No other application can provide such personalized recommendations. If you don’t have it installed on your phone, you should, if only for the ‘Explore’ feature. (Download it here.)

Whether you are a new user, a long term fan, or someone who previously got bored of the check-in game, these are my tips on how to get the most out of Foursquare…

(Note – This list is constantly being updated. If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments below. I apologise that this list is rather iPhone-centric – that’s the device I own. Feel free to suggest tips for other devices and I will add them.)

Last Updated: 16th October 2013

  • Firstly – update to the latest version! It may seem obvious but so many people are running old versions of Foursquare. The team are constantly adding new features, squashing bugs, and generally making things work better. If you don’t update, some of the features mentioned in this article may not be available. Download the updates here for: iOS, Android and Blackberry. (To manually update on iOS go to the ‘App Store’ App, click the ‘Updates’ tab and look for the Foursquare App in the list. If an update is available it’ll appear here – tap the’Update’ button to download it.)
  • Check In, but don’t feel you have to. Okay, I admit the whole getting-your-phone-out-every-time-you-enter-a-restaurant thing can be tiresome – checking in everywhere isn’t for everybody. The important thing to remember though, is that to use Foursquare, you don’t actually have to check in anywhere ever. However, if you do, it will help Foursquare provide you with better recommendations. Checking in helps Foursquare learn where you like to go, and when, and how often you like to go there. By comparing your check-in data to the rest of the community, it can then provide amazingly good recommendations on other places you will like, even in areas you may never have visited. Therefore, the more places you check in to, the better your recommendations will be. I personally check in everywhere, but I am borderline OCD in this regard.. ;) If you hate the ‘Check-in’, it isn’t essential, but you’ll get more out of Foursquare if you take the time to check in, at even just a few places.
  • Explore. If you haven’t made much use of Foursquare’s ‘Explore’ recommendations in the past try them again. It has taken them a while to fine tune the system, but Foursquare is undoubtably now the best local search tool on the planet. If you’re unsure on where to go for lunch or dinner today, try an explore recommendation and go somewhere new. This is what Foursquare is all about. Tip – Before using Explore, check in first to receive recommendations relevant to where you are right now. (e.g. If Foursquare knows you are at the theatre, it can probably recommend a great restaurant nearby to go afterwards, that is popular with other theatre goers.)
  • Add your friends… selectively. Using Foursquare with no friends, means your missing out on half the experience. It is much better with a few close friends along for ride. To make it easier to find your friends (and for them to find you), I highly recommend linking your account to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, since Foursquare shares your precise location, I advise only friending your real friends from your other social networks. Get started here.
  • Heart/Unheart venues you like/dislike. This is highly recommended, especially if you don’t like checking in. By telling Foursquare which venues you like or dislike, it can personalize your recommendations in ‘Explore’. Tap the heart buttons on the venue pages to rate them. These ratings, combined with your check-in data, can massively improve your recommendations.
  • Don’t Spam your Friends! The early days of Foursquare had Twitter and Facebook feeds flooded with Foursquare messages announcing how x had just checked in at the office or how y had just become the mayor of somewhere. This irritated everyone, including Foursquare users. Don’t Spam People. If you really want to share a check-in to Facebook or Twitter, make sure you actually have something interesting to share – write a shout or add a cool photo, (ideally do both!). Would you want to see this check-in in your timeline? No. Then neither does anone else….
  • Rate & Write Tips. Tips can provide incredible insight at a venue. e.g. Before ordering in a restaurant, check the venue tips for dish recommendations. If you find a tip useful, ‘Like’ it – you’ll give props to the user and make the tip more visible to the rest of the community. Take the time to write your own tips at your favourite venues to help out the community. Tips can be witty, pithy and informative. Be creative. People love insider knowledge.
  • Upload photos. Try to pick ones that show what a venue is like, especially when no photos exist. This makes it easier for other users to get a sense of a new venue. If a venue is hard to find, take pictures of the store front so people know what to look for. For shops, restaurants and hotels, take interior shots showing what the venue is like. In restaurants, take pictures of your favourite dishes. Try to submit quality over quantity.

Power User Tips

Try these tips to become a Foursquare power user:

  • Use long-press check-in to check in faster. In iOS, press and hold on the venue name in the check-in screen to quickly check in to that venue. A progress bar at the top will show you how long to hold. If you want an even faster way to check in, download Checkie, Checkin or Jarl (iOS) or Simple Checkin (Android). These minimalist apps focus on helping you to check in as fast as possible. They open straight to the list of nearby venues, and a single tap checks you in whereas a long press lets you add a shout with a check in. They are particularly useful when trying to check in in areas with poor mobile data reception, since they use minimal data to get your check-in done.
  • Link your Instagram account to Foursquare. You’re already taking great shots with Instagram. In Instagram – tag your best shots with their location, and then tap the ‘Foursquare’ button to also share the photo to your Foursquare account. The photo will then be visible on the venue page in Foursquare. This way you can take advantage of Instagram’s filters to make your venue photos look great. Furthermore, sharing your Instagram photos to Foursquare has the added bonus of checking you in at the venue (which improves your recommendations).
  • Save money by linking your Visa/Mastercard/AmEx card to your Foursquare Account. By adding your credit card(s) to your account, you can automatically take advantage of discounts just by checking in at a venue on Foursquare and then paying with your credit card. (More info here.) You only give them the credit card number itself so it is very secure. To link your Visa / Mastercard credit cards go here. For American Express go here. You can also do it from the Mobile App (iPhone: Me > My Settings > Connected Cards and Savings OR Android: Drawer > Settings > Connected Cards and Savings.)
  • Display your Check-In history in your calendar. One of the things I love about Foursquare is the fact that it keeps a record of my whereabouts that I can refer to – all the places I’ve been, photos I took and people I was with. This can be great when your memory has long since forgotten – e.g. when trying to figure out which restaurant that faded receipt in your wallet is from. For a stroll down memory lane, you can always check out your searchable history at foursquare.com/history. To make this history even easier to refer to, you can add a feed to your calendar so your checkins are easily accessible and searchable. For all the Feeds from your Check-in history go here.
  • Control your Push Notifications. If you have a large number of friends in Foursquare, the constant pinging to your phone with their check-ins can become annoying. Foursquare provides granular controls to limit this. I suggest turning all push notifications off except for your very close friends. You can also tell Foursquare to only notify you when they are checking in nearby.

Help Keep Foursquare Clean

Foursquare’s database is almost entirely generated by its users. As a user of the service, it’s good Foursquare Etiquette, to help keep the database clean. This will help make Foursquare more useful for the entire community. Here are my tips on how you can help out:

  • Merge DupesMerge Duplicate Venues. Whenever you check in to a new venue spend a minute to merge any duplicate venues in the area, and submit any fixes or missing data for that venue. To merge duplicates in the iOS app – in the Check-in screen, swipe left-right across the venue name, tap “Mark Dupes” and then select any duplicates from the list. Use the “Suggest an Edit” button to submit the correct name, address, phone number etc. For the Android App you can do the same by long-pressing on the venue name.
  • Avoid Creating Duplicates. When you discover a venue that is missing from the database, ALWAYS search for it from the check-in screen before creating a new one. Try searching for different variations of the venue name. This way you can be sure it doesn’t already exist, and avoid creating duplicates.
  • Enter complete venue data. When inputting a new venue, don’t just add the name – take the time to enter as much data as you can – address, phone number, website, twitter handle etc.  It’s much easier to get the venue data right the first time, than to change it later. It often helps to refer to the venue’s business card to make sure you enter the data correctly. If you are at a shop or restaurant, ask a member of staff for their business card. You’ll be helping the community.
  • Categorize venues correctly. Whether you are creating a new venue, or fixing an existing one it is very important to make sure it has been labeled with the correct category (or categories). To make it easier, you can refer to this searchable list of venue categories, which speeds up the process of finding exactly the right category for a venue. An alphabetized list, highlighting new additions, is also available in PDF format here. You can also keep track of any newly created categories at 4sweep’s website. Each venues category(ies) can be edited on its venue page on the website. If you are a Super User, you can also edit categories using the Hopscotch (iOS) or Soup (Android) Apps (see below).
  • Connect the Location Editor app to your account. It pops up occasionally on the post check-in screen to ask for your help with questions meant to clean up the venue database. Your answers fill in missing information like addresses and phone numbers. More info here.
  • Remove Old/Irrelevant/Spammy Tips. Maybe they refer to events that have long since passed, or dishes that are no longer on the menu. Help make the other Tips more visible by flagging the old ones for removal. In iOS, tap on the offending Tip and tap the ‘Flag’ button that appears beneath it. You can then specify why it should be removed. This can also be done via the venue page on the website.
  • Show your favourite local establishments how to claim their business on Foursquare and update their data themselves. Help the owner install the new “Foursquare for Business” App so they can see their visitor statistics. It’s currently available for iOS and Android. Also, teach them about tips, promotions and specials, and how Foursquare can generate foot traffic for their business.
  • Vote on missing Foursquare venue categories. Foursquare has categories for lots of venue types but occasionally you come across a venue where none of their existing choices fit. Head to this page on Google Moderator where you can vote on other users suggestion for new categories they would like added to Foursquare. You can also submit your own ideas. (Disclaimer: I created this.)
  • Become a SuperUser. If you are really passionate about helping the community you can apply to become a Foursquare SuperUser. Foursquare Superusers are the most dedicated and passionate members of the community who help keep foursquare venues organised behind the scenes. You can apply here. It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the guidelines here first. If you have already applied, keep submitting fixes and merges – it’ll help your chances of getting approved.

Keep Up with Foursquare News

If you want to know about all the lastest features being added to Foursquare, and other news, try these sources:

SuperUser Tips

Have you been upgraded to be a Foursquare SuperUser? These tips are for you. As a SuperUser you have more power (and more responsibility) to help clean up Foursquare.

  • Approve Fixes & Merges. Help improve the database by approving changes and merges in the SU queues. Access the queues here. Start with your local area, then branch out to areas further afield.
  • Actively Look for Problems. As well as using the ‘sugest and edit’ button on your phone, you can actively seek out problems with the database (such as uncategorised or miscategorised venues and/or fake venues) by using 4sweep. More info here.
  • Join the SuperUser forums. Here you can engage with, and seek guidance from, the other SuperUsers in your area.
  • Install the SUtools browser plugin. It’s a browser plugin for Chrome, Firefox and Safari that makes using the SuperUser website easier.
  • Install Hopscotch or Soup to edit venue info on the go. You are most likely to notice venue problems while out and about. Foursquare’s mobile apps support a limited amount of editing, but it’s not the main thing they’re designed for. For more advanced editing, download Hopscotch (iOS) or Soup (Android). These dedicated apps let you quickly edit venue information on the go. Another option for Android users is the FluffSquare App.
  • Bulk Edit Venue Info. 4Edit is a tool the lets you paste in the venue IDs of multiple venues at once and edit the data for all of them at once.
  • Spend some time working on your country merge queues, not just your local area queue. This will help fix problems in remote areas where local SUs may not exist.
  • Help out problem areas! Pick an area/country that has a large queue and help out, even if you have never been there. Merge the venues that are definitely duplicates – you can usually tell which ones are. Skip any you are even remotely unsure about. The local SUs can handle them.

That’s it. If you have any suggestions for new tips, please leave a comment below.