Checking in to Foursquare for higher ed

foursquare_logo_mar09Since reading Tim Nekritz’s recent post about creating a campus presence on Foursquare, my head has been buzzing with thoughts about how to incorporate this platform into our campus’s social media efforts. I don’t necessarily have any solid ideas to share right now, but I thought I’d throw a few things out there that I’ve learned in the process of digging into this location-based social network.

Even though a few universities have created official outposts on Foursquare (like SUNY Oswego, thanks to Tim’s efforts), the platform is still largely uncharted territory for higher ed. According to, Harvard, Texas A&M and Stanford all have official Foursquare partnerships. A fourth campus, Cornell also appears to have a Foursquare partnership. (Thanks to @LoriPA for pointing out the Cornell site.)

The Harvard arrangement with Foursquare was picked up by Mashable last January. “The primary idea behind the collaboration,” Mashable reported, “is to encourage students to connect more with friends and professors through location-based game play, as well as to inspire campus visitors to explore the grounds and uncover tips or share to-dos.”

Even before the Harvard announcement, though, the auxiliary services department at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte announced it was using the platform “to spread dining services information and promotions to students, faculty, staff and campus visitors.”

So, what can a campus do with a Foursquare presence?

An post from a few weeks ago suggests that the platform is a natural for our highly mobile student populations. “Students are usually in close proximity to each other, so the hot spot where your friends are checking in is usually only a short walk away. Changing your mind as you see other friends at a different venue typically doesn’t require a long car ride.”

The article suggests a couple of ways campuses can take advantage of Foursquare to solidify relationships and build a sense of community:

  • By offering “tips” that highlight interesting or historical facts about campus buildings or other venues. Stanford’s site did a nice job with this for its Red Barn, posting: When a horse is trotting, do all four of its hooves leave the ground at the same time? Eadweard Muybridge answered that here, with his famed 1878 “horses in motion” photographs. Such tips can provide visitors a better sense of history about the institution.
  • By offering “specials” that reward users for checking in repeatedly. This is what UNC Charlotte’s auxiliary services is doing, and a coffee shop on our campus is doing something similar (offering a free coffee with every 10 check-ins). But as Tim points out in his blog post, it’s tough to provide much in the way of specials if you don’t have a budget.

The article provides a good primer on getting started on Foursquare. But if you want a broader perspective on geotagging platforms in general (since Foursquare isn’t the only game in town), check a series of posts by Tim Nekritz from earlier this year (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Another good resource is Shane Haggerty’s 10 suggestions for using Foursquare in educational marketing. And if you want to find out where the hot spots are on your campus for several geotagging platforms (including Foursquare), check out Checkin Mania.

One of the latest Foursquare innovations is the ability for subscribers of official Foursquare sites to add “layers,” or tips from third-party sources that Foursquare users could subscribe to. This recent ReadWriteWeb article discusses how two online organizations — the Independent Film Channel and the Huffington Post — are using Foursquare to push tips for people who want to see locations the way these organizations and their fans choose to annotate information. This idea of “location as platform” could open new possibilities for colleges and universities.

Is your campus doing anything with Foursquare? If so, I’d like to know about it. Please leave a note in the comments below.


Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

8 thoughts on “Checking in to Foursquare for higher ed”

  1. Andrew,

    The layering functionality that just appeared elevates foursquare from a curiosity to a useful tool. When we initially started working on our brand page for Cornell, we were thinking that we could market the page to users in terms of working towards a Cornell badge. However, it rapidly became clear that getting a badge was beyond our budget. Without the incentive of the badge, however, it was difficult to make a case for why people ought to “friend” Cornell beyond simple affinity — the added value wasn’t clear. However, with the “layers” function in place, people who are following Cornell have the tips we have entered pushed to their phones whenever they are close to one of the check-in locations on our list. The result is a tour of campus of sorts with tips similar in style and tone to the Stanford example you cite above. Our list was developed by our Young Alumni and Student Programs staff, in conjunction with some current undergraduate, resulting in a perspective on campus that’s reflective of the current student experience. This makes it much easier to articulate why people ought to follow Cornell, and it sets the stage for future experimentation.

  2. @Andy – Glad to see that you finally are on board. You know I’ve already written two posts about foursquare on the @eduguru website and created a whole separate website on foursquare over at

    What is really nutz about the whole thing is that @4squarebadges has gotten 80K visits in the last month! Yeah to say there is buzz around foursquare is an understatement. :)

  3. Thanks, all, for the input and further examples of Foursquare’s usefulness in higher ed and in general.

    Aaron and Andrew – I’ll be keeping a watch on how things develop for your campus Foursquare sites.

    Kyle – I did think about your earlier Foursquare badges posts – after I had posted this. And then my next thought was, “I bet Kyle calls me out on this one!” :) And you did. Good man!

  4. It’s exciting to see higher ed folks finally starting to embrace location-based services. At Inigral, we just launched a location based layer for higher ed conferences that leverages foursquare to allow attendees to check-in to which sessions and vendor booths they are in. You can see how we implemented it here:

    We’d appreciate any feedback, as this is the first time. And after all, it’s an experiment!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s