Ben P. is mayor of the Hartford Insurance Group.  Craig W. is mayor of The Hartford Courant.  Matt T. is major of RBS in Stamford.

Who’s mayor of your company?

By now, I expect the vast majority of you to be thinking: "Has this guy lost his mind? You can’t be mayor of a company!"

Alas, you would be wrong (not only about the mayor but also about losing my mind).

Welcome to the world of Foursquare.  Is your company ready?

Foursquare is the latest social networking site to rise from oblivion; it made a big splash earlier this month at the forward-thinking South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.  It’s still small, as social networks go — less than 1 million users (though can we all agree that "small" is relative?) — but then again, it is just a year old.  It is the one the largest location-based social networking sites out there today and growing quickly.

What makes it different from say Facebook? Well, it describes itself as "your favorite mobile + social + friend finder + social city guide + nightlife game thing".   

That still sounds a bit confusing in my world so let me try this: Facebook allows you to create a network of people based on who you know and connections you make throughout life.  Foursquare allows people to create a network of people based on where they are. 

How? People can use their mobile phones to "check-in" or register their current location. This can be at a restaurant, a library, a park, a company, an office building. Really anywhere.  You can then search out others who are nearby.  Or, you can see where people you know are, perhaps to catch up. 

While it started a way for friends to meet others at the latest nightclub that they were at, it has started to be used more and more by individuals using to show their location at a conference, or work, or any other place you can think of.  And companies like Microsoft (which announced today its Bing maps connection to Foursquare) and Starbucks are also jumping in. 

And what’s this "mayor" label about? Well, if you check-in at a location more than others, you get crowned as "mayor" by the site — at least until someone else knocks you out because they have been to location more (hence the game aspect to it).  There are other "badges" or designations you can get for check-ins. 

So, at various companies now, employees have started to check-in their location and become "mayors" of their companies. 

Of course, Foursquare may not catch on. (There’s still a "war" going on with Gowalla, another location based social networking site)   Or perhaps they will be bought out and something else will take its place.  But that ‘s beside the point.

Indeed, the rise of Foursquare reveals four points that employers must take away:

1) Your computer firewalls at your company”s workplace to prevent employees from accessing social networking sites are becoming meaningless now. Employees are circumventing them by using their mobile phones. All you’re doing is pushing the traffic to places where you cannot monitor or regulate them.

2) Your company name is being used by employees as part of these social networking sites.  Do you want to regulate them? Encourage them? Use them as the basis for building employee morale and networks?

3) While employers are still trying to get their hands around Facebook, there are going to be other sites that will develop.  Being nimble and adapting not only your social media policy — but strategy — to meet these ever changing technologies will help you to avoid being flatfooted when the trends change.

4) Your employees are using social media in their personal lives more than ever before. Having guidelines and policies at your company to set the ground rules for their use are more important than ever.

For companies in the service industry, these location-based services are terrific. You can interact with your customers and even reward them for being loyal, like this restaurant does.  In the meantime, check to see if your company or business has a profile yet on Foursquare. You might just be surprised who is the real "mayor" of your business.