Can Disney Make Gowalla Mainstream?

"I'm going to Disney World." It's the chant of Super Bowl champions and award winners alike, and now Gowalla users too. For Disney fans it's a new, virtual way to share memories. For Gowalla, the partnership with Disney could be a game changer.

“I’m going to Disney World.” It’s the chant of Super Bowl champions and award winners alike, and now Gowalla users too. For Disney fans it’s a new, virtual way to share memories. For Gowalla, the partnership with Disney could be a game changer.

Gowalla, the smallest of the current location-based social networks that allow users to “check in” and secure deals, will serve as a ‘virtual tour guide’ for Disney visitors in the exclusive deal announced this week.

The companies have designed 100 virtual pins, with 100 more to come, that visitors can collect by checking into rides and places at Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. Also part of the deal are tours that visitors can use to plan their time at the park and customizable Gowalla pages for visitors to share their experience with family and friends.

To put the potential for Gowalla into perspective, the site currently has about 600,000 users, while Disney attracted more than 120 million people to its theme parks last year alone.

Foursquare, Gowalla’s main rival, has four million users, while social networking giant Facebook, which just expanded its own location-based service, has more than 500 million users.

Gowalla itself noted that, even before the deal, visitors to Disney World in Florida created as much traffic on Gowalla as a medium-size city.

Both companies are also shattering ceilings with the deal, marking the first time a major theme park has partnered exclusively with a location-based service and the most comprehensive brand launch for a location-based service to date.

The partnership shows that, despite its smaller audience, Gowalla still has the power to attract big-time corporate players. The site, perhaps more than others, focuses on allowing users to plan their own experiences, while also sharing with friends, through virtual passports and virtual tours in cities around the globe.

Perhaps the greatest get for Gowalla in the deal is the chance to reach a new demographic. Nothing is more mainstream than Disney, so now Gowalla has a chance to recruit new users like families and travelers rather than compete with Foursquare and Facebook for current users in the young, tech-savvy demographic.

Also in the mix is where, and if, a mainstream, corporate powerhouse like Disney can take the location-based social network trend as a whole.

As we’ve reported, the spotlight placed on location-based services is brighter than its bite. Despite the attention they receive, location-based services are actually used by only four percent of online American adults.