Have you “checked-in” today? If you are one of the six percent of U.S. online adults using Geo-Social Marketing (aka location-based) applications like Foursquare, you’ve probably done so several times already. By sharing their physical locations at restaurants, shops, hotels, landmarks, and entertainment venues via smartphones and other mobile devices, geo-social users can connect on- and offline with friends – and brands. This makes the platform one of the most innovative marketing opportunities for companies willing to experiment to attract a highly engaged and participatory audience.

Location-based mobile solutions encourage users to check-in at cultural, dining, and shopping venues to access information and tips – and even access deals and discounts – by sharing their physical location with their online network of friends. SCVNGR is a location-based mobile gaming app supported by Google Ventures that rewards participants for completing fun challenges at venues and businesses. Other technology leaders like Apple, Google, and Facebook continuously develop and tweak location-oriented features for their products.

However, Foursquare is currently the unequivocal leader of the geo-social space. In addition to the ability to check-in to locations to meet up with friends and earn discounts and sales rewards, Foursquare offers competitive gaming. Users earn points and virtual badges for checking-in to certain locations – and can even achieve “mayor” status of venues for having the most check-ins. Foursquare also has a List Service that allows users to create lists of related venues. Colleges and universities like Texas Christian University are leveraging this feature to offer targeted, self-guided campus tours to prospective students via Foursquare, including athletic and benefactor tours.

The good news for business owners and marketers is that geo-social users are brand enthusiasts. They share product details and discount codes, promotions, and coupons with their networks. The majority of geo-social users are between 23 and 45 years of age; presenting a significant opportunity for businesses to engage with a young, social, and extremely active online audience that has already opted-in to interact with brands.

Geo-social marketing is new and evolving, making campaign experimentation the norm for this medium. Major corporations like JetBlue, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts have leveraged location-based check-in campaigns to boost foot traffic and brand loyalty.

If you’d like to dive-in to geo-social marketing, make sure you claim your business on the major location networks. This will ensure accurate business data, contact information, and branding. Also, create a Foursquare page for your business and leave tips targeted to your typical customer base. Then start brainstorming! Check-in campaigns with discounts, prizes, or rewards are a great way to gain geo-social experience – as are partnerships with local businesses or non-profit organizations.

Geo-social marketing has narrowed the gap between businesses and their customers. By connecting brands and consumers online through a casual and fun gaming experience, businesses know when customers are nearby – or even in – their physical business locations. Using targeted geo-social marketing, businesses can then deliver instant brand information and deals in the palms of their customers’ hands that will increase sales and online referrals.