Digital word-of-mouth is ushering in a new era for local business. Much of it is happening via mobile. Everyone has an opinion, and since we live in a mobile age, connected via social apps, we are more likely to leave that opinion after a prompt — sometimes even without.

Social apps like Foursquare, Facebook and Yelp are at the center of this new connected world, making small business owners more open, more transparent, and more responsive. Foursquare recently broke a long silence after tweaking their product offering. I want to highlight here how they are making “expertise” their new gamification mechanism.

Foursquare began moving away from it’s trademark check-ins, mayorships, and other gamification tactics in early 2014. In January, commerce was added through a partnership allowing users to order from over 20,000 US restaurants. In May, the company announced an entirely new app called Swarm to separate check-ins altogether from the flagship Foursquare product.

If you haven’t bothered with Swarm (a uniquely millennial app, since the real purpose is to passively broadcast ones location so friends can meet up) but were a consistent Foursquare user, you may have received an email from Foursquare HQ which Pando Daily covered here.

As noted by PandoDaily’s Michael Carney, Foursquare notified top users of a new “expertise” feature. It’s a bid to create more valuable content for the platform in an ongoing war with Google and Yelp for local discovery. So now, rather than determining influence by check-ins, the new Foursquare will reward users based on the popularity of their tips. This new approach to gamification may not only help with content, but also with syndication partners such as Bing.

Opinion is often the basis for interaction, both online and in-person. The recent changes on Foursquare, Yelp and Google all underscore a clear and promising trend for small business owners: customer word-of-mouth still drives business and in store visits…it just gets around a lot differently today. What this means is rather than focusing on social media vanity metrics (total followers, likes, etc.), brick and mortar stores should optimize their time and personal communication to their best existing customers. The best part is, this doesn’t take a mobile strategy or hefty digital marketing budget.