Social media initiatives reach far beyond the walls of a Facebook page or Twitter account, farther still than feed widgets and search results.

What brands do on social media can have a significant effect on offline engagements, and vice versa, especially for businesses with brick-and-mortar locations. Here are a few simple and inexpensive ways that businesses can encourage these online-offline engagements.

Check-in Apps

Hundreds of check-in apps are available for mobile devices, but Foursquare is still the most popular for businesses and consumers alike.

Businesses must first claim their venues and ensure the information is accurate – input the correct address, add a brief description and potentially identify employees who are on Foursquare.

Then brands can begin to offer mayor specials (given to the customer with the most check-ins at the venue over the past 60 days), count-based specials (given to users after checking in a certain number of times) or frequency specials (given to users every so many check-ins).

For franchises or other multi-unit businesses, specials can be set across all locations, or selected on a location-by-location basis. Offering these specials can create a group of loyal customers who visit often and drive additional foot traffic to the physical stores. An added benefit is the online exposure that a business can receive when users share their Foursquare check-in on Facebook or Twitter.

Businesses can also drop tips on other relevant venues to drive traffic to their own stores – or draw attention to their brand. For example, the History Channel used Foursquare to promote the TV documentary miniseries America: The Story of Us by scattering interesting historical tidbits in locations across the United States.

When users check in near these locations, they are shown the History Channel’s tips and receive the History Channel badge (another marketing option, but one that comes with a hefty price tag and requires a very well-known brand to make Foursquare even consider it).

How businesses use tips depends on the industry. A Panera Bread restaurant located across the street from a 24-Hour Fitness could add the following tip to the gym’s venue: “After your workout, swing by Panera Bread for a healthy snack to keep you energized all day. You deserve it!”

This should be a complementary initiative, not a shady practice to defame and steal customers away from competitors. Foursquare doesn’t have any regulations on tips yet, but if businesses start abusing them, they’re sure to instate some rules and start cracking down on brands that are using the service in bad faith.

To measure the success of Foursquare efforts, companies should be sure to include a unique discount code in the special and use Foursquare’s analytics to monitor the total number of check-ins, peak check-in times, basic demographic info and more.

Customer Reviews

Customers trust their fellow customers. In the digital age, it’s absolutely crucial to monitor online customer reviews, especially those in the retail, travel and food service industries. Naturally, a glowing customer review can inspire on-the-fence users and new customers to visit the venue, but the same can be true for negative reviews.

In fact, negative reviews convert even more effectively into sales than positive ones, according to some research. The main explanation for this phenomenon is trust – consumers have more faith in a brand that is transparent enough to provide honest feedback, and thus, are more likely to give them business.

Smart brands regularly monitor customer reviews on sites such as Google Maps, Yelp and Insider Pages. If a customer has a legitimate complaint, brands can then use the information to improve their offering and customer service processes – call it free market research.

Brands should also take time to respond to both negative and positive reviews on sites that allow business-owner feedback.

Signage

We’ve discussed how online activities can affect offline engagement, but it also works the other way around. Offline properties such as in-store signage, receipts, product labels and print ads can be used to inspire online interaction.

Brands can include links to social media networks on these items and encourage customers to write online reviews, Like their Facebook page and check in or leave tips about them on Foursquare.

Another growing trend is using QR codes so customers can make the jump from real-world to digital engagement with the flick of a smartphone. For example, say a customer named Janie has an exceptional experience with Jiffy Lube. The staff was helpful, the long customer queue was handled efficiently and the manager happily applied a discount from a recent coupon in the newspaper.

On the way out the door Janie spots a QR code decal that says, “Like us on Facebook.” She scans it, Likes Jiffy Lube’s page, her friend Jeff sees the Like in his newsfeed, asks her about it the next day and then goes to a Jiffy Lube for his next oil change. That’s one new customer for Jiffy Lube, and the potential for many, many more.

To measure the success of QR codes on in-store signage, brands can use a trackable URL, which will provide stats on the number of QR code scans per hour as well as the devices used and even more detailed customer information.

Convergence

The lines between online and offline marketing are getting hazier every day because the lines between the digital world and the real world are blurring.

To leverage the conversation and community surrounding their brands, businesses need to understand that content and engagement exist in both worlds simultaneously, reinforcing each other in a symbiotic relationship. And if that seems like a heavy load, just think about how emerging technologies like augmented reality are going to obscure things even further.

It’s only going to get more complicated – and exciting – in the days and months to come.