Foursquare Tips and Tricks: Unlock "Secret" Badges and Reduce Privacy Risks

New to Foursquare? Or just looking for advice on how to find and unlock some of that "secret" Foursquare booty?'s Al Sacco offers up tips and strategy for locating and obtaining hard-to-find Foursquare badges, as well as reducing potential privacy risks associate with using the service.

Mon, May 10, 2010

CIO — You've probably heard of social-networking service Foursquare. If you haven't already jumped in headfirst yourself, you may be aware that Foursquare's a location-based social network that lets users "check-in" via mobile device at restaurants, bars, shopping malls, wherever, to obtain points and rewards in the form of "Mayorships" and "badges." And many are calling it "the next Twitter."

The goal: Check in at your favorite establishments more than anyone else to earn Mayor titles for those particular places--and possibly "Mayor Specials" from those businesses. Explore new locations around your city or area to find new favorite places and earn "badges" in the process. And earn points for every check-in to see if you can outscore your "friends" and all other Foursquare users in the area. (Check out the video below for more detail on how Foursquare works.)

Some Foursquare badges are easy to obtain and require very little strategy on the part of the user, including the Foursquare "Super User" badge, which is awarded to any user who checks in 30 or more times in a single month. Or the "Local" badge, which comes along with three check-ins at the same place in one week.

But other Foursquare badges, the hard-to-find ones, don't show up without a bit of work. For example, the "Pizzaiolo" badge is awarded only when you've checked into 20 different establishments tagged or marked "pizza" by Foursquare users. In other words, users must manually add the tag "pizza" to the 20 establishments you visit before you check in to unlock the Pizzaiolo badge. And as you can imagine, obtaining that particular badge can take some effort.

Here are a handful of tips and tricks on how to discover some of the more difficult to find Foursquare badges, strategy on how to unlock existing Foursquare badges and future badges as they're released, as well as how to mitigate potential privacy concerns.

1) Find a Good Foursquare Badge List

If you're serious about Foursquare and you want to unlock as many badges as possible, the first thing you want to do is locate a good online Foursquare badge list. Foursquare badge lists are mostly user-generated listings of all, or close to all, of the available Foursquare badges. And the good ones are updated fairly frequently with new information on existing badges and recently-added badges. So you'll probably want to check back often.

Foursquare badge lists not only give you a good idea of what kinds of Foursquare badges are available, but such lists can also tell you which badges are location-specific, so you don't spend time in Boston trying to obtain badges that could only be obtained during the South by Southwest event in Austin, Texas, or vice versa.

My two favorite Foursquare badge-lists can be found at and The former is more comprehensive, i.e., it lists more badges, but the latter provides some instructions on how to obtain specific badges. Neither list provides solid information on how to obtain all the listed badges--in fact, some badges have been "deactivated" and are no longer available. But both provide tips or hints on how to find existing badges, and both are updated somewhat often with new badges.

2) Find Out How to Obtain Specific Badges

Once you've familiarized yourself with the available Foursquare badges in your area, you can pick a few you'd like to obtain and start investigating how to unlock them. As mentioned above, it will be clear how to obtain certain badges for their descriptions, but others require a bit more digging on users' parts.

image of The History Channel
The History Channel "Historian" Badge on Foursquare

It's also worth noting that some badges cannot be obtained without first "following" the associated "parent brands" on Foursquare. Brands that offer their own specific badges to Foursquare followers include Starbucks (SBUX); Bravo; The History Channel; HBO; Zagat; and The Wall Street Journal. If you want to acquire any of the brand-specific badges on Foursquare, you should login to your account using a PC--some mobile apps, like the Foursquare BlackBerry app, let you add "friends," but it's typically easier on a PC--find those brands' pages and hit the "Follow" button. (Note: The aforementioned brands ink deals with Foursquare in hopes of learning more about their followers, so beware: If you follow one of these brands and they follow you back, you're very likely sharing personal location-information that could be used for marketing purposes in the future.)

But obtaining brand-badges isn't as simple as just following those brands.

Take the Lucky magazine "Elite Shopper" badge, for instance. From a Foursquare badge list, you can see the text that accompanies the badge reads "Wow! You're on a spree! You've hit 5 of our favorite boutiques and still going strong." So it stands to reason that you must check-in to five Lucky magazine recommended locations to obtain the badge. But how do you find those Lucky mag approved establishments?

Simple. You can visit the Lucky magazine page on Foursquare for a list of all available recommended locations. And from there, you can click on any of those locations, to see that Lucky Magazine has left a "tip" on every one of the recommended pages--or the venue has been tagged "luckymag." That means you can search for venues near you on the Lucky mag page itself. Or use the Foursquare search function to look for that specific "luckymag" tag.

Find five listed locations in your area via the Lucky mag page or search for "luckymag"-tagged venues, save the addresses and then hit the road to find them, and you'll have the "secret" Elite Shopper badge just as fast as you can make your way from shop to shop.

Another badge that takes some tagging work to unlock is the "Zoetrope" badge. The text that accompanies this particular badge reads: "That brings you to 10 movie theater checkins! Now, can you pick us up a large popcorn while you're up?" So the badge is awarded to users who check-in 10 times at movie theatres.

However, checking into any old movie theatre on Foursquare won't necessarily count as progress toward the Zoetrope badge; all the theatres you check-in to must also be tagged "movie theater," or they won't count.

Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are also great places to find information on hard to find badges. Just ask your followers. You may be surprised at how many people are willing to help. (Hint: Follow @nanpalmero, the Foursquare King of San Antonio, on Twitter for quality assistance.)

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