If you own or run a small local business or a franchise such as a restaurant or shop, you probably care about your reputation. Word-of-mouth marketing it nothing new: People are social, and tend to share their experiences. But with new tools such as FourSquare, Instagram, and Facebook, people don't just share: They broadcast, and you should be listening. VenueSeen (plans start at $20/month; 14-day free trial) lets you listen to what people say about your business and look at the photos they share.
When someone checks in on FourSquare, shares an Instagram photo, or posts a Facebook status update, the service often attaches their location to the status update or photo. When you register a new VenueSeen account, the service asks you to add a venue. It then shows you a dashboard with photos and messages about that venue, pulled in from Foursquare, Instagram, Foodspotting, and Facebook. It also lets you filter photos by service, so you can look only at Facebook posts or Instagram photos, for example.
When you click an individual photo in VenueSeen, it opens in a lightbox showing a larger version of the photo, the comment that was posted with it, and comments other users made about the image. You can also see who posted the photo, and if you click that user's thumbnail, you get to the person's profile page on Instagram or whatever service they used. The lightbox also lets you tweet that photo, share it on Facebook, or pin it on Pinterest. This is brilliant, because it means you can take genuine moments your clients captured, and then broadcast them to show what your business is like.
To see a user's Instagram profile, you don't need to have an Instagram profile yourself. Not so with Foursquare: If you wish to see someone's Foursquare profile page, you must be logged onto Foursquare with your own account: A drawback, but not something VenueSeen can do anything about. VenueSeen can use information from these networks, but it can't change the way they work.
Apart from photos, VenueSeen also lets you look at tips and reviews. When I tested the service in a pre-launch sneak peek, it only pulled in text updates from Foursquare. Text reviews can be more important than photos, especially for finding out about disappointed customers and things to improve. That's why I was surprised to discover there is no way to reach the users who posted the reviews: Clicking their username or thumbnail does nothing. This can be frustrating, especially when you stumble on a negative review and want to reach out to the customer and make amends. (On the other hand, "Is Yelp Fair to Businesses?" tells a cautionary tale about customer contact gone awry.--Ed.)
Despite this shortcoming, VenueSeen is an invaluable service for local brick-and-mortar businesses. Monitoring your online presence isn't just for big corporations anymore, and VenueSeen's clear and simple interface makes this task manageable, and even fun.
Note: The Download button takes you to the vendor's site, where you can use this Web-based software.
This story, "See what people are saying about your business with VenueSeen" was originally published by PCWorld.