For years, companies have been debating whether to ban their employees from using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, for reasons I've always found incredibly weak. (My take: If someone's slacking off on Facebook, you should fire them for slacking off, not for using Facebook.)
But now there's a social tool you really should consider restricting in-house, and yet almost no one's talking about it.
Foursquare, a location-based application that awards you points for checking in at different sites around town, is one of the hottest social media tools since Twitter began to trickle into the mainstream in 2008.
The service is fun, engaging and addictive — but that's not why you should keep your employees from using it.
The problem — if you work in retail, food service, or any business with walk-in customers — is that Foursquare is just emerging from the "early adopter" phase and becoming an increasingly popular activity. Which means more and more of your customers are going to start checking in at your business, hoping to become the Mayor (ie, the person who has checked in there the most).
But when your customers go to check in at your locations, guess who they're going to find entrenched as the Mayor? Your most tech-savvy employees, who have probably been checking in there daily for months.
Sure, it's pretty harmless for now, and your employees deserve credit for being ahead of the curve. But more and more businesses, including Starbucks, are offering rewards for their Foursquare Mayors.
What happens if you decide to offer your own loyalty incentive, only to realize that your employees have an unshakable lock on the Mayorship of each location?
The good news is that Foursquare is gradually working to fix this problem. The developers have created a "Staff" section for businesses, so that employees can check in daily without disrupting customers' chances at geeky glory.
But the Staff setting is just starting to roll out, and very few businesses beyond Starbucks have been given the access needed to get it set up. Even at Starbucks locations, you rarely see employees listed in the Staff area — yet. So for now, you can assume that most employees are still checking in with abandon and likely not even seeing the harm.
Again, I'm not saying your Foursquare-using employees have done anything wrong. In fact, they're the first ones you should turn to for advice on how you might be able to leverage Foursquare as an easy addition to your social media marketing.
But it's clear that Foursquare is here to stay, so even if you're not ready to make the most of it, you can at least draft a quick e-mail asking your employees to respect term limits and give the customers a crack at being Mayor.
David Griner is a social media strategist for Luckie and Company and contributing editor
for Adweek’s blog, AdFreak.com.
reach him by e-mail
or on Twitter.
Today's art is from PVPOnline.com's dead-on introduction to Foursquare....er, Hopscotch.