Gowalla Eyes Entertainment to Drive Check-Ins

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Earlier this month, Gowalla tried something new: it signed deals with indie band The Freelance Whales and small but superior film “Win Win” in a bid to take the check-in service is taking into local music and film promotion – and drive check-ins up 500%.

Street Fight got the low-down on this new direction from Gowalla’s Jonathan Carroll, the music and community manager who handles the service’s events, the Gowalla blog, interaction with the street teams and helping build a worldwide user base. (Read our interview with Gowalla CEO Josh Williams here.)

It started, as many things do, at the be-seen event South by Southwest Interactive in March. Carroll found himself on a music and location panel where talk moved to how businesses had advanced their brands on Facebook and the like, but bands – particularly smaller ones – had not done as well. So he decided to do a little instigating: “As a music fan I’ve been disappointed to see not much adoption of location services among bands,” he thought at the time. “I’m not seeing a lot of check-ins happening.” Even Gowalla had not been doing a lot themselves, he lamented. Carroll noted many bands were still riding MySpace, which had no significant location angle for artists.

Out of that session came a lot of conversation among the team and music labels, and they’ve decided to go deeper into the space, in part owing to the positive early experience they had with promotions for Josh Ritter and Weezer.

The entertainment check-in campaign includes the hugely lauded new Paul Giamatti movie called “Win Win” — Gowalla users who check in to any movie theater worldwide will receive a “Win Win” pin in their (virtual) passport and free music from the soundtrack, which was composed by Lyle Workman and includes music from The National. Gowalla worked with Mom + Pop Records, which Carroll calls “scrappy” and in collaboration with Fox Searchlight Records to make it all happen.

Jonathan Carroll

On the live music front, The Freelance Whales kicked off their new tour on April 9, “fully featured” on Gowalla, with custom stamps for each concert stop. According to Carroll, users who check in to the concert will receive a free b-side track from Freelance Whales and other treats via email. The Freelance Whales are also calling on Gowalla users to help make a music video for their song called “Location.” After receiving submissions via Gowalla.com, the band will select their favorite video to feature on their official web site and Facebook page, and reward the lucky video director with an autographed vinyl of their album, Weathervanes, as well as many other prizes. The video promotion kicked off April 20.

Carroll said that generally the model for these campaigns includes putting tools in the hands of artists so they can run their own show – the band is featured on Gowalla and fans check in at the venue where they get messages, free stickers, T-shirts and possibly discounts from the band and execute them right there at the merchandise table before the band leaves the stage. Not too dissimilar from the likes of LivingSocial and its programs such as Escapes.

So what’s the real value of all this, beyond making us feel good about being part of the action? Carroll breaks out a bit of a formula to explain.These campaigns are expected to drive check-ins up nearly 500% and the number of tweets and Facebook posts about the check-in up 60%. If that happens it means significant and relevant exposure, as surely a solid number of those (jealous) readers will message their lucky friends back; a conversation starts and ultimately the artist is a catalyst for the music community.

One could wonder if this is a hedge against a movement running out of steam – there’s more and more chatter lately about check-in fatigue, and desire to have “auto-checkin.” Time will tell if it will be gimmicks or more substantive lures that keep the checkers checking. For Gowalla’s part, Carroll said a great deal of labels have expressed interest, so we can expect to see more of this kind of promotion.