A few weeks back Pew Research came out with a study that said only about 4% of us are participating in geo-location – or, geo-social – services. As I wrote at the time, a big reason for this is incentive. There has to be more in it for ‘me’ besides the thrill of checking in. Clearly, letting your friends know where you are is not enough.

This might be about to change.

Disney has partnered with Gowalla as the check-in platform for their two US parks.

From a brand recognition standpoint they don’t get much better than Disney. Gowalla hit a home run with this one. By creating a whole new series of passport stamps and tips they have added the fun element back into geo-location tagging.

If you have ever visited a Disney park you know you do a lot standing around, waiting in line and feeding the kids. Occasionally, you actually get on a ride. That leaves you with a lot of free time to check in. That is why this is a perfect marriage.

Will it lead us to a tipping point in geo-social participation? Millions visit Disney theme parks every year. You can be sure Disney will do their usual masterful job of promoting their Gowalla partnership inside the parks. Chances are they will convert a fair percentage of park patrons over to the Gowalla platform. Once they experience the experience it is likely they will continue to participate after their vacation. At the very least this program will drive thousands of new sign ups for Gowalla.

This also fires a warning shot across the bows of Foursquare and Facebook Places. Those services need to find a marquee partner – pronto. As part of that partnership they must create offers that are fun, easy and worth my time.

Checking in at a theme park when you are in vacation mode with ample free time on your hands is one thing. Encouraging check-ins when you’re rushing though Starbucks for your morning caffeine fix while heading to work is quite another. The motivations for participation are polar opposites.

Gowalla and Disney looked at the sociology of park patrons and realized how to convert that into social media participation. It is now up to their competition to do the same.

Your thoughts?