If you’ve paid any attention to your Twitter and possibly Facebook feeds, you’ve seen an influx of “I’m At….” updates courtesy of Foursquare, Gowalla and possibly some others. Location-based social-gaming (where users are rewarded with virtual points and badges based on checking into venues) has exploded in use with Foursquare poised to reach 1 million users faster than Twitter.

While the buzz topic during SxSW 2010 was who will win the Check-in War, Gowalla took top honors at South By (the hip way to say it) over its rival Foursquare in the Mobile Website Awards.

Yet Foursquare is nearly synonymous with the gaming platform, much like Google is to Online Search and Twitter is to micro-blogging. And of course with the popularity come the detractors. Foursquare has attained the critical mass to have incurred a backlash from some bloggers who are upset that they are starting to notice other users in their Twitter feeds.

This of course means Location-Based mobile gaming, regardless if it’s Foursquare, Gowalla or a rose by any other name is going to be around for a long effing time.

For small businesses, location based social gaming should be embraced as it promotes competition by repeat business. We here at WGH would like to offer a Location Gaming quick-start guide for small businesses.

Don’t Avoid Foursquare (or other social/location apps)

With the rise of smart phones and tablet computing, the mobile web is going to explode this year. Applications like Foursquare and Gowalla are going to be the new Yelp and CitySearch (Yelp knows this which is why they’ve added check-in functionality to their iPhone app). And it will be as disruptive to national brands as the Google Local Business Listings were on the SERPs. You’ve already got an advantage on Foursquare because the players that discover more places are rewarded.

Make an offer worth frequent check-ins

Detractors claim that there is no real-world benefit to checking-in on Foursquare and Gowalla except one’s ego at the top of the leader board. Many businesses on Foursquare are adding offers to patrons after so many checkins. Some Alamo Drafthouse movie theater are offering Free Admission to the respective Mayors. Whatever the offer, make sure it’s worthwhile and timely for the gamers. One free drink per 10 check-ins is not motivation enough except to your most loyal customers. It’s tantamount to running a national Pay-per-Click campaign on a $500 budget, and then saying PPC doesn’t work. Yeah, you played with it, but not really.

Add tips to your location

This is especially important for restaurants with seasonal menus. If you have something new on the menu, by all means add it as a tip for customers to find. Foursquare users are encouraged to check off that they have tried certain entrees or partaken in certain events specific to the locations. Let the audience know of your Friday Special. And in the case of the spirit of the law, that doesn’t mean add 600 tips. Add one or two, and let the Foursquare users find them.

Check the listings frequently – merge when applicable

Sometimes the GPS on the iPhone isn’t working correctly, or for some odd reason your already added business may not appear in the listings. This can lead to users adding more listings for your business. Also since users are rewarded for finding new venues, some gamers are taking advantage of the points and leader boards by adding venues that aren’t really venues. Foursquare has built in a way to merge listings of locations for those who have attained “Super-User” status. If you are not a super user, you can log into the Foursquare forums and report that the erroneous listings be merged with yours.

Employees can’t check in

If you are making tangible offers for Foursquare users, do not let your employees check-in to your venue. It’s no fun when an employee of the establishment is the Mayor. The idea is to give a reason for more people to return. If they cannot ever receive the offer, then it stops being fun.

Foursquare is not the magic answer

Don’t think that Foursquare is the magic bullet for your online presence. People aren’t going to show up just because you’re on Foursquare. And by all means, do not equate Foursquare check-ins with increased revenues. The number of check-ins is equal to Facebook Fans and Twitter followers; it’s the new “hits.” Check-ins are an arbitrary number. You might have a lot of activity in the social gaming world, but that doesn’t mean the people are spending money. Your bottom line is the real KPI.