Location-based social networking platform Gowalla makes it incredibly easy for people to check in to “Spots” — places of interest to the people who use Gowalla.

This is very beneficial, of course, because whenever people check in to Spots, they’re essentially exposing all of their online friends to your business.

Even with all of the communication options available these days, word-of-mouth is still the most effective form of advertising. And Gowalla helps spread the word about your business further and faster than ever before.

What Are Gowalla Spots?

Spots are the core feature of Gowalla. They are physical locations, like a restaurant, bookstore, hotel, sports arena — any place that people can visit.

On Gowalla, Spots can contain several pieces of information about your place of business, such as its location, (via a Gowalla map), contact information, hours of operation, and website address.

A Spot can be created by either a Gowalla user or the Spot’s owner. Once at a Spot, a visitor must check in using the Gowalla application to confirm that she is there. Her mobile device confirms her location via GPS. The check-in is then recorded in her history, and she can add a comment about her visit.

Gowalla LeaderboardGowalla also allows individuals to “compete” against each other for the most check-ins to a a given spot, via the “Leaderboard”.

Gowalla gives you a new, powerful way to connect with customers and the online friends they influence, so here are six ways to use Spots to do just that.

1. Sign Up

It’s possible that your business already exists in Gowalla’s database. If you haven’t done so already, claim your business on Gowalla.

This enables you to share more information about your venue while keeping track of who’s visiting your business and what they’re saying about you.

Claiming your business also means that you’ll become a Spot which people can find and potentially visit.

2. Use Your Business’ Proper Name

It may be flattering if your business has a nickname, but never assume that people know you by that name.

For example, most Cleveland Indian fans know Progressive Field as “The Jake,” a nickname that existed before Progressive Insurance bought the naming rights. But you won’t find “The Jake” as a Spot on Gowalla.

Make sure you use the most current and proper name for your venue to avoid any confusion.

Gowalla Check In

Once you’ve signed up and claimed your business, you can edit all of its details — including the business name — if necessary.

3. Get a Customized Stamp

People are drawn to Gowalla in part because it allows them to collect stamps from the places they’ve visited. It’s sort of like a bragging wall to show off where they’ve been.

You can purchase a customized stamp for your business from Gowalla, making it even more attractive to the people who collect them. Customized stamps also help Gowalla users quickly identify your type of business; you could create a menu stamp to show that you’re a restaurant, for example.

For approximately $250, you’ll get a customized online Stamp, and vinyl window stickers with the same artwork to display in your storefront. This will give you a visual identity above and beyond the default template icons provided by Gowalla.

4. Create a Trip

“Trips” are a collection of Spots, usually within a physical vicinity, that people can visit. Once someone has visited all the Spots in the Trip, he or she gets a badge for the effort.

For example, Walt Disney World partnered with Gowalla to create a series of Trips around its theme parks. This was another fun way for park visitors to experience several well known venues and hidden gems within the massive complex.

Create a Gowalla TripYou can create a Trip by signing in to Gowalla and going to the Trips page.

On the right, you’ll find the “Create a Trip” window.

Next, you’ll be able to edit the details of your Trip, including up to 25 spots. You must have a minimum of three spots to start.

Select a name and a category for the Trip. Once selected, Gowalla will issue a standard stamp for your Trip.

Edit Gowalla Trip

Once you’ve entered the details and a minimum three spots, you can decide whether to make the Trip private to only your friends, or public to everyone on Gowalla.

5. Be Desirable

Of course, the bottom line is that your business won’t succeed unless you create a place people want to be.

Check-ins are the Gowalla version of people telling others that you’re awesome. The more people that want to be at your spot, the more those people will want to tell others about it.

And as we all know, there’s no more powerful sentence in advertising than, “Hey, you’ve gotta come check this place out!”

Instant Feedback

Location based services like Gowalla provide businesses the advantage of instant feedback.

Instead of a survey or story shared later, people can tell others about your business right now, while they are in your venue. Businesses that effectively leverage this new word-of-mouth advertising stand to make the biggest gains.

How do you use Gowalla for your business? Does Gowalla give you greater awareness versus other forms of social media or advertising? Share your thoughts below.

[Image credit: el.pelon]