Got GetGlue? It Could Be the Next Big Thing

You watch TV. You see movies. You listen to music. You might even be doing any of those things right now. But what are you getting in return?

For most, the answer is probably, “Not a lot.” But if you’re a user, you could be getting some Glee stickers in the mail, an exclusive video clip from Rihanna you can watch on your phone, a discount to HBO’s online store, or even a prop from the set of Fringe.

Launched in 2009, GetGlue is, according to founder Alex Iskold, the number one fastest growing social media network for entertainment. As a GetGlue user, you “check in” to the various media you’re consuming, telling your friends online what you’re watching, reading, or listening to. Your friends can respond and comment on your posts. You have a profile, which you build up to different levels by checking in to what you’re doing now, as well as rating things you’ve liked (or haven’t liked) in the past. Based on that, the site recommends new music, TV, books, and movies it thinks you might like.

The site has 1.5 million users and the company says that they’ll soon reach more than 10 million check-ins in a month. Although the company is still dependent on venture funding and is not yet self-sustaining, the business earns revenue from advertising campaigns. “We work in partnership with networks, so as an example, when Gatorade buys sponsorship on Fox for So You Think You Can Dance, part of this campaign can cover GetGlue, and Gatorade can be integrated into that offering,” says Iskold. The site then receives funding from the ad campaign.

The Gamification Situation

But, says Iskold, GetGlue isn’t only about keeping up with media trends. “It isn’t just socializing with friends. You can also unlock pretty cool rewards from pretty much every major entertainment brand,” he says. GetGlue is currently working with more than 35 television networks, plus major movie studios and music labels. Thanks to their partnership, with each check-in, comment, or rating, users can unlock officially sanctioned merchandise, whether in the form of a sheet of stickers sent to your mailbox, exclusive content, or discount codes.

GetGlue is a prime example of the appeal of gamification, the use of games and rewards to encourage interaction, and increase traffic and audience par-ticipation. “I think entertainment lends itself really well onto gamification,” says Iskold. “But not all types of gamification really work. I think that a lot of people think of gamification as, ‘Let’s just create some badges and whatever a user does, we’re going to give them a badge.’ That does not work.” Iskold credits part of the success of GetGlue’s gamification to the official nature of their rewards. An “I ❤ Mad Men” sticker that you created in Photoshop? Not that appealing. But an official poster of Don Draper, designed by AMC? Now we’re talking.

“What’s interesting about entertainment is that it’s first emotional and then social. That’s a really important and subtle distinction that a lot of people don’t get,” says Iskold. “People fall in love with entertainment brands, they fall in love with characters, and they fall in love with plots. It’s an emotional thing, which is why you give them a sticker with an official image. That resonates with them a lot. If you just gave them some digital bling, they wouldn’t care.”

Getting Noticed

GetGlue is often compared to other social media sites, notably Facebook, Twitter, and check-in service foursquare. And although the site only launched a couple of years ago, major players are paying attention. “Showtime was our first big network partner, followed closely by HBO, and then Fox and NBC. And fast forward to today, literally every major network is working with us,” says Iskold. “The same goes for movie studios, and increasingly we’re making progress with music.”

Although some of the big name partners were slow to get on board, Iskold says that they’re now more eager than ever. “Every time we’re having conversations with these guys, they’re like, ‘What’s next? We want to do something that no one has done before,’” he says. The company has recently announced GetGlue Business, a dashboard that lets networks manage and reward their own fans without using the GetGlue team as a middleman.

Getting to Work

Since the beginning of 2011, GetGlue has nearly doubled the size of their company to 35 employees and moved their headquarters to the Flatiron district in Manhattan. “I’m hopeful New York is on its way to becoming another tech capital. People are really focused on making New York a tech hub, and I think it’s fantastic,” says Iskold. “Because a tech hub doesn’t mean just techies, it also means smart business people, it means smart marketers, it means great people all around.”

Although the company is focused on entertainment, GetGlue employees know how to get things done. “We’re very ‘to-do’ oriented,” says Iskold. “We don’t spend a lot of time hanging out. We get in, we’re focused on tasks, we get them done, and we get out. As a small startup, we try to be as efficient as possible.”

Iskold’s previous CEO experience was as the founder of Information Laboratory, a software company that was sold to IBM after just three years. Combined with several years at the helm of GetGlue, he’s learned some valuable business lessons. “I think it’s fair to say that we really don’t spend any money on marketing,” says Iskold. “That’s the thing about social networks and consumer products in this day and age. You really can’t market them. You just have to build stuff that people want.” And if numbers are anything to go by, GetGlue gets what people want.

“We’re here because of our mistakes, but we’re very good at recognizing them and saying, ‘This didn’t work,’” says Iskold. “My biggest take away is, empower people and get out of their way. Let them connect with each other and let them connect with entertainment they love.”