Online networking is a great – and underused – way to customise your offer to local communities, says Iain MacMillan

There is a prevailing trend toward 'local' throughout the UK. Big society, the growth in popularity of the staycation and increased emphasis on buying locally and/or independently are indications the British public is beginning to better embrace its local communities.

And while supermarkets look to demonstrate their local credentials in-store, consumers are increasingly doing it online. The rise in popularity of 'location-based' social media such as Foursquare suggests there is a big opportunity for supermarkets to reaffirm support for 'local' online. With the huge increase in smartphone use, this could be the perfect time for supermarkets to consider the benefits of 'location-based' social media too.

RMM undertook an audit of brands already finding success using location-based services. The biggest early successes have come out of the US, with Starbucks and Foursquare already working together trialling a customer rewards programme. The coffee giant rewards users who regularly visit their local Starbucks with discounts. Starbucks has hinted it plans to expand its loyalty programme to include invitations to special events, access to exclusive content and even the creation of customer reputation scores.

As location-based social media services grow in popularity, Facebook and Twitter have had to adapt. Gap has already benefited from Facebook's moves towards a more location-based approach by streaming its Facebook updates to fans in specific locales, letting them know about promotions and offers local to them.

Similarly, Marriott has created separate Twitter accounts for a number of its hotels in order to foster a greater emphasis on local communities. Organisations are realising that putting an emphasis on location-based services provides benefits in terms of customer loyalty, sales and marketing, and increased data to inform R&D.

There are undoubtedly organisaional challenges around implementing location-based services consistently across individual stores. But, with the right approach, it can really help supermarkets prove and improve their local credentials.

Iain MacMillan is director at social media agency RMM.