Lawyers: Foursquare & Yelp May Be New Discovery and Marketing Tools

Lawyers were fairly quick to catch onto the trend of Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook.  It is now common for lawyers to ask deponents about email addresses, Internet usage, and social networking activities.

A new Internet trend is afoot and savvy lawyers may want to at least be aware of the new media.  No, it’s not Google Buzz, which both the Wall Street Journal and CNET recently panned here and here.

Foursquare and Yelp are similar social networking systems which integrate, rather than replace, Facebook and Twitter into a person’s real world social life (indeed, that’s how they overcome the hurdle of creating a new Internet space, which is Google Buzz’s hurdle).  Both are apps which are used on a person’s smartphone (iPhone, BB, and Android).yelp

Yelp began and remains a solid restaurant/bar/hotel finding app to be used on the go via the smartphone.  You can get names of places near you and read quick reviews.  A small community has developed, especially now that users can “check in” when they arrive — letting friends (real and internet-y) know where they are AND giving the business owner a chance to offer specials just for Yelp users.  You can even post the fact you’ve “checked in” to a certain place go to Facebook or Twitter.

Over the weekend, I saw a Yelp sticker at a business and, when I fired up the iPhone app, it beamed me a 10% off coupon while I was in line to pay.

Foursquare is a similar — if not better —  concept which, in their words, is “a cross between a friend-finder, a social city-guide and a game that rewards you for doing interesting things.”  Each time you check in to a place, you receive points.  If its a new place, you get more points.  As you check in to different types of places, you get badges.  As you drop Twitter-like “tips” about a restaurant, business or place, it will reward you with more points and even badges — if you are familiar with Xbox Achievement Points, you’ll realize this is a Barnum-like tool which does, indeed, drive participation.

Foursquare also lets you check-in and share via Twitter and Facebook; businesses likewise can reward you with specials for checking in.  If you are the person who “checks in” the most at a particular location, you will become the “Mayor” of that place.  In short, Foursquare takes Yelp and incentivizes it with a game.

Why should lawyers care?

One, if you are interested in a person’s activities, this provides their personal experiences, a timeline, and some of their commentary about their day.  For a personal injury plaintiff, this might amount to  jaw-dropping disclosures since Foursquare amounts to a breadcrumb trail mixed with a Twitter-like diary of the person’s day.

Second, on the business side, it may be interesting to ferret out defamation; determine whether there were witnesses to a particular event; find out how often someone have visited the location; or it may help locate potentially favorable witnesses who frequent the establishment.

Third, lawyers may  want to use these services to market their practice.  While clients may be hesitant to publicly “check in” that they have gone to their lawyer’s office (much less be the “Mayor”), it does list your business on the Yelp and Foursquare maps when users are looking around to see what “locations” are near them when they are playing with the app.  There’s even room for comments/tips.

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