Foursquare, Gowalla lead shows' fans to tie-ins

Savvy cable networks, eager to extend their brands outside viewer living rooms, have discovered that while Facebook and Twitter are useful, location-based social media services like Foursquare and Gowalla can enhance the smallscreen experience for their shows’ fans in even more tactile ways.

Both Foursquare and Gowalla are making inroads in marketing entertainment properties via mobile platforms to users who check in at various sites recommended by the networks or their talent, receive tips about those locations and earn virtual badges or pins as a reward.

For the shows and their partners, it’s a way to track the effectiveness of a tie-in.

Users of the service can also vie for site-specific sweepstakes prizes tied to programming, such as a SXSW concert Jewel performed that included Bravo promotion winners in the audience. That concert in turn promoted upcoming Bravo show “Platinum Hit,” which the singer will host beginning in early summer.

“We wanted it to be an exclusive and intimate experience fans wouldn’t get anywhere else,” says Ellen Stone, Bravo’s senior VP of marketing. “There was excitement around it and press and buzz. You’re talking to people who are viral contributors and that’s why it was successful.”

There are real-world benefits to the services as well. For instance, Foursquare biz development director Jonathan Crowley and his wife — hardly the average Foursquare users, to be sure — found themselves in Brooklyn recently looking for a place to have brunch when he got a Bravo tip on his cell phone from a “Top Chef” judge about a great place nearby. They went, and ended up having a memorable meal.

“It’s all about bridging the gap between the online and television world, and what’s happening with your location in real life,” Crowley says.

Other Foursquare ventures with Bravo include promotions for “The Real Housewives” — including a third-party tie-in with beauty retailer Sephora — and for its “Watch What Happens: Live” New Year’s Eve party, with viewer check-ins that ran in crawls during the live show.

“This is a great testing ground to get Bravo messaging to our consumers, who are tech-savvy ‘affluencers’ (the educated, upscale demographic to the uninitiated),” Stone says. “The partnership enables us to bring Bravo to fans in a unique and innovative way.”

In addition to Bravo, which was the first major television network to enter the location-based mobile space, Foursquare has partnered with MTV (whose “Jersey Shore” offers a GTL badge), VH1, History, TLC, CNN, BBC America and C-SPAN.

Gowalla has deals with CNN iReport (a citizen journalism initiative) and PBS, and recently launched a partnership with Disney theme parks.

“We’re creating shared experiences (that revolve) around where people go,” says Andy Ellwood, director of business development for Gowalla. “We found out initially through our first content providers, USA Today and National Geographic, and then with CNN and other networks, that there was evergreen information that was curated and location-specific. Having trusted names like that gave us a tremendous opportunity to showcase their work in a way relevant to Gowalla.”

For the upcoming PBS “American Experience” segment “Freedom Riders,” which chronicles the six-month period during 1961 when civil rights activists traveled to the Deep South in an effort to desegregate interstate travel facilities, Gowalla is teaming with the public broadcaster to create branded trips and offer highlights about the locations involved.

“Some of those bus rides are going to be re-created, tied to historical spots, and people can ‘check in’ via Gowalla,” says Kevin Dando, director of digital marketing and communications for PBS. “It’s part of our overall effort to be aggressive in social media. People will have fun and learn from it.”

Historical sites are a natural element to mine for television networks teaming with mobile platforms. Cable net History, which like other networks is active in marketing itself on Facebook and Twitter, is working with Foursquare on a campaign called “Check in to History.”

“It opened up a whole new way to deepen our social engagement with our fans,” says Ann Marie Granite, the network’s senior director of consumer marketing. “It allows fans of History to discover the history in their own towns and cities, and enables them to leave their own ‘tips’ and ‘facts’ for others to experience. We have also reached new potential viewers and gotten them interested in our brand.”

CNN iReport recently partnered with Gowalla for its user-generated news community, which saw greatly increased amounts of activity during the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Launched at SXSW just days before the tragedy struck, viewers sent in videos and photos through Gowalla’s “Highlights” feature.

“The most important and interesting thing is it extends CNN beyond the news,” says Lila King, participation director for CNN.com. “It’s a way of saying to anyone out in the world that they can share their stories with the world at large.”

Ellwood sees location-based social media as a way for a show to engage people more deeply.

“We want to inspire people around the ideas of exploration and discovery in daily life,” he says.

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