One of the newest trends in the social media and marketing arena is the use of geo-location software to connect consumers to the businesses they patronize. The most popular of these are in the form of games which use global positioning software (GPS) on a smartphone to identify where the player is located then give them a way to ‘check in’ to a certain location to earn points. Some of the most popular of these are Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and Yelp.

“This genre started getting hot when Foursquare launched, but there’s still quite a bit of debate on whether geo-location programs will be a mainstay in the world of social media,” says Valorie Reavis, who launched LinkUp Marketing to help salons navigate the opportunities of social media, SEO, e-mail marketing and direct-mail campaigns. “But now we’re seeing these programs merge into already popular networks, such as Facebook Places.”

For the salon, these programs offer you a chance to reward and celebrate loyal customers and attract new ones. For example, you can offer a special to Foursquare players who earn a badge for your business or become the mayor. “I’m in constant battle with a few other women over the mayorship of my Pilates studio,” says Reavis. “And while I’m tempted to try other Pilates studios from time to time, my desire to keep my mayor status keeps me loyal.”

At the recent South by Southwest, a conference for technology experts, Reavis learned about Scvngr, a new geo-location game in which people check in and earn points after answering a challenging question about the business. “For example, you could ask them to describe the hidden door to the back office or figure out which stylist grew up in Waco, Texas,” says Reavis.

“You have to stop using social media simply to offer promotions, you have to engage,” she advises.