The Real Pokémon Go Business Lessons

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Pokémon Go is the hottest thing to hit the Internet since SnapChat. Of course, now there are all sorts of marketing posts popping up espousing marketing lessons Pokémon Go. This wave of expert posts was foreseen. Much like the Oreo real-time marketing chatter that ensued after the 2013 Super Bowl power outage, the post-mortem focus is myopic.

The real lessons to be learned are not in the viral success of the app. Instead, look at some of the mistakes made by Pokémon Go developer Niantic as well as the smarter businesses who have turned Pokémon Go into a marketing opportunity.

Word of Mouth Begins with Listening

Like all businesses, Niantic created something that people love. When new technologies become well used, problems emerge that require a level of responsiveness, a sense of commitment that Niantic still has yet to demonstrate. Now players are complaining about the Pokemon tracker and Niantic’s shutting down of third party apps. Customers are revolting.

Will Niantic turn the ship and does it matter?

Pokémon Go may be too big to fail, but how many brands can really afford to anger their customer communities like this? For every Niantic, there are hundreds of thousands of start-ups that will never experience this kind of success. Each of their customers and word of mouth opportunities becomes that much more valuable.

Listening is paramount for word of mouth marketing success. Customers become more loyal when brands respond, even when they are unable to fulfill requests. If there was any lesson learned from the social media era, it was listen to your community. You never know when or where customers will say something about your brand.

Don’t Mimic It, Leverage It

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Image via Polygon.

When I see a successful community launch, I am not interested in copying its marketing tactics, though it is always helpful to see what worked. Instead, I wonder how I can leverage that community to help my clients.

The third party tracker makes a ton of sense, but like other social communities such as Twitter and Facebook that began with open APIs, Niantic has already shown a penchant to crush successful secondary apps. Develop apps at your own risk! I would avoid plugging directly into the network.

Leveraging a successful platform involves a smart marketing play that works off the platform without interfering with it. Consider how some businesses are working with Niantic to offer sponsored Pokémon Go spots. If I was responsible for marketing a public venue, retail store, or restaurant that 1) had significant physical space and 2) wanted to attract younger users, I would explore this. Further, I would consider making the space friendly for all augmented reality apps.

This reminds me of when Foursquare first broke onto the scene. Smart businesses and nonprofits leveraged the platform and created badges, mayoral contests and more to attract social media friendly customers. The Brooklyn Museum was the most prolific example of past success that I can remember.

Becoming a Pokémon Go spot is just one way to leverage the Niantic community. I am sure there are many others, too.

What do you think of the new network?

Going Off the Grid at SxSW

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Image by saidemily

Welcome to SxSW, the heart of online nihilism. Whether you are at the event or unfortunate enough to tune in via Facebook, Twitter and other social media, you will witness one of the greatest spectacles of popular pageantry. The art of seeing and being seen is taken to its highest form by the faux famous. All the more reason to indulge in the desirous luxury of going off the grid at SxSW.

Is this anti for the sake of being anti? Is it insanity given all the focus on tools like Plancast, Foursquare (3.0, and not much new), and Gowalla? No, it’s not.

Here is a list of five reasons to abstain from the all important geolocation/public network status updates at SxSW (dedicated to Jay Dolan):

1) Business: The true value of SxSW is to meet other people and network. Real business can be done at this event. That means attending parties, private events and maybe even a panel or two to talk to people eye-to-eye… As opposed to peering into a phone entering a not-so witty status update or gawking at what everyone else is doing online (instead of in front of you). Plus, it is enjoyable to get off the computer and actually talk with people. That’s the best part!

2) Listen and Observe: Given the vast amount of technology news and blogging at SxSW, there is little that another stream of updates and posts can add to the picture. However, many trends do get their start at SxSW. Watching, listening and observing allows one to research events and breaking trends as they unfold.

3) The Circle Jerk Distraction: Entourages, attitudes, leader boards, etc. are all part of the seen and be seen game, sadly much of it online via status updates. Playing this popularity game distracts you from one and two, which in turn causes you to spend a lot of money, develop a hell of a hangover, and garner no return on investment. Worse, it can bite back. The rumor mill about acts that occur fact and fiction at SxSW are astounding, and sometimes quite hurtful. Don’t feed the beast!

4) Work Beckons: ADD, the luster of the moment, the excitement of successive party after party from noon until 2 in the morning day-after-day. But there’s a job to be done back at home. There are conferences to attend next week, clients who have major deliverables due, and coming back burned out won’t make it any better.

5) Stalkers Suck: Sorry, it happens, and it is uncomfortable. Getting stalked at an event via geo check-in or status update is surreal at best, and absurd at worst… Especially given that none of us would be recognized in our hometowns at the grocery market. Maybe it’s time to get real. Oh, sorry, wrong event for that.

Does that mean complete abstinence from network updates? To each their own. It does mean abstaining from the hooplah to maintain presence for the people physically at SxSW, and mindfully observing those who await a locked-in participant back home.

What’s your game plan for SxSW?

The Over Commercialization of GeoSocial

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This holiday season has seen a flurry of geolocation deal posts, where people can find great offers by checking in. Foursquare even offers the Holiday Hero badge in conjunction with Radioshack, a 20% discount for mobile courage. But the deals highlight a larger problem, which is a flat (even shrinking) geosocial marketplace according to Pew Internet, with Foursquare and Gowalla showing flat usage during the second half of the year.

There are serious problems with geosocial in its current incarnation, including well discussed privacy issues, but also a boredom factor that cannot be ignored. After so many badges, the game element loses its interest. If one is not extremely open about their physical whereabouts (and older people and parents are much less likely to be open), then the geosocial experience in its current incarnation has challenges. Finally, add in the constant deal spam that seems to pop up wherever you check in now, and the experience has become a turn off.

The Britney Circus Comes to Madison Square Garden

Allyson Kapin discussed the matter in her post on nonprofit use of Foursquare and Gowalla: “My hunch is that Foursquare and Gowalla and similar services are going to need to adapt to survive. Why? Because most of the world does not really care about mapping their check-ins to let their friends know that they are grabbing coffee down the street.”

Since the beginning of the year, this commercialization — the monetization of geosocial — has been the primary development point in the two main networks. Deals are great when you are looking for them, and God news the crazy valuations that Groupon and LivingSocial received last week proved that deals have a place in social media. But deals only offers a limited use experience, and not everyone wants to be the Groupon Lady/Guy.

A balance between community interest and commercialization has been struck, and it has flattened the growth curve. While ROI has been achieved Pew shows a one point drop to 4% of total Americans accessing Foursquare and Gowalla services. The user experience isn’t compelling enough to keep momentum going.

Current geosocial users are primarily young, single people in the 18-29 age range. A powerful demographic indeed, yet Gowalla and Foursquare will need to go further if they intend to be anything more than niche mobile social networks. More needs to be done to develop a meaningful community experience that appeals to additional demographics.

Last week marked the release of Gowalla 3.0 for the iPhone, which saw cross-platform integration with Foursquare and Facebook Places. There is a new Notes feature that goes beyon public tips so users can leave short private messages for friends at specific locations. This provides a much more personal feature set that makes sharing location interesting and exciting. Bookmarks were also added for favorite locations. With more features, more personalization, and increased cross-platform functionality, this new release may be a turn towards the right direction.

The Obvious Next Community Step – Mobile

Mobile World Congress in Barcelona

According to Pew Internet, forty percent of adults use the internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone (up from the 32% of Americans who did this in 2009). Of that group, 38% browse the web using their phones.

This trend, given the ever growing (and cheaper) smartphone marketplace, represents the greatest sea change on the social web since Facebook opened its walls to non college students. Positioning a company or nonprofit to effectively engage stakeholders on their smartphone, tablet or other portable device only makes sense. Mobility is the most obvious change that communities are making wholesale on the interwebs.

As Priya Ramesh pointed out yesterday on the Buzz Bin, mobile web access is expected to surpass desktop access by 2014. Because of the wide proliferation of platforms and, frankly, in the case of the iPhone, apps, it makes the most sense to develop your site to at minimum offer a great mobile experience. Applications can be costly, only work on singular platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.), and need to offer more value than simply repacked web content.

Beyond the obvious mobile web, comes mobile use and how that impacts the data and user behavior. There’s no greater example of this than the current location based social network craze with Foursquare and Gowalla taking the lead, and Facebook and Twitter trying to compete with their own offerings. However, as experts are beginning to notice, check-in programs do not offer real long term value for organizations.

The real development is in understanding how people use their phone to engage the web, and then build mobile programs that serve the customer. In some cases, that may mean delving into the location network’s database via its API and developing custom applications to serve the community.

Consider that Central Park is the most checked in place in New York City on Foursquare. Central Park supported this latent community by adding historical data for check-ins throughout the park, providing context and information to the average Foursquare/Central Park visitor’s experience. There are also mobile applications available so people can track where they are in the Park, and find attractions and locations near them.

Understanding how mobile impacts your stakeholder is the key. Whether that’s easier experiences with less input because of the device, or actual hard location based use depends on the organization. What is clear is that this is a trend that companies and nonprofits can no longer avoid.

The above is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

The Death of Facebook

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The following is draft material for my next book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print). Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of the new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.

Who in their right mind would predict the death of Facebook given its ever increasing dominance? But this is a question everyone asks, “What’s next?”

One thing long term Internet citizens have seen over the past 25 years, communities and social networks get huge, even as dominant as Facebook is currently, and then they fade. Some continue to stay relevant as the leader in their niche — YouTube, for example — and others completely fade away into a second tier or worse — a la Friendster and AOL.

In my opinion, one of the secrets to Facebook’s longevity is its replication of McDonalds’ business model. That’s right, McDonalds.

A good part of McDonalds relevancy lies in its ability to offer a cheap menu of foods and beverages that are popular in contemporary society. You want a latte? Go to McDonalds. Ice cream? We got soft serve! Salad? No problem! And, oh yes, we still have your favorite Big Mac, just in case you want a burger.

Facebook does the same with its social network functionality. It literally watches competitors create new features, and then incorporates that functionality into its network, competing head to head with the leading social network in that functional space. Facebook relies on its incredibly large user base to accept and use the new features.

Most recently, we saw this with Facebook Places and the competition it offers Foursquare. Other examples:


Get to the Funeral, Will You?

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This strength is also Facebook’s weakness. As we have seen over time, Facebook constantly updates its interface to incorporate these changes. This is relatively easy because of its text-based, three column layout.

Frankly, while text allows Facebook to offer all of these features, the user interface has become cumbersome. In essence, being the McDonalds of social networks, the user interface or menu has so much junk on it, the social network has been forced into an over-reliance on text.

Enter a new interface, the almost completely visual tactile (touch) input to a social application. A couple new apps on iPad have shown a new way to interact. Early signs show these applications are becoming immensely popular.

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Flipboard allows users to create their own magazine based on preferences and socially recommended content. And ABC’s iPad app (300,000 downloads) features a visual globe of news stories. Both application interfaces rely heavily on pictures with very few words, and why shouldn’t they given that a picture is worth a thousand words?

To me, it’s only a question of time — maybe even within the next two years — before an almost completely visual social network launches. Processing time, software development and bandwidth will inevitably increase to enable it. How will Facebook possibly upgrade its interface to compete with this kind of competitor?

It would take an almost complete gutting of its social networking code. Frankly, this system has become so clunky that Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg can’t make changes that he wants to in order to open it (Plus Facebook’s original feature of private, closed social networking was its big differentiator. The privacy tension caused by the movement towards openness continues to haunt Facebook).

No, such a network upgrade would likely force Facebook to abandon users that are still text based. It would be very hard for McDonalds to keep serving Big Macs while offering a tastier Filet Mignon sandwich that holds market share (Angus Wraps aside).

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Think it won’t be a tactile input-based network? Bandwidth and technology permitting, how about Third Life, a better would-be virtual avatar based world where interaction occurred in a computer generated 3-D world? Or a video-based network like but more nimble than the original Seesmic?

Isn’t it just a question of time before Facebook meets a competitor with a better, next generation interface that it can’t match? To me, given the context of Internet history and technology development, it’s not an if, but a when. The Fifth Estate moves with what’s hot, and without thinking about

As communicators and strategists, we cannot afford to become too entrenched on a mega social network like Facebook (or Twitter). If we cannot move with our community because of an over investment in one network, we lose our opportunity to serve our stakeholders effectively.

What do you think?

The Delicate Art of Crossing Streams

A Babbling Patagonia Brook

In today’s world of increasingly integrated social functionality, the ability to cross-post across social networks enables time savings and multiple community engagement. Yet, as we have seen overtime, while easier for the content producer, crossing the streams can actually alienate individual communities. A Foursquare check-in is not a Facebook update, which is not a Tweet, nor a Buzz or a bookmark.

There’s no greater example of mindless stream crossing that alienates users than FourSquare check-ins. These are especially egregious when the user simply checks in with no contextual additions (such as, “at baseball game with my son, his first game ever”). Twitter, Facebook and other associated communities are treated with such fantastic, mindblowing contributions as, “I’m at Safeway.”

Add dozens of such updates to your stream, and you find yourself wondering you are on Facebook or Foursquare. Each social network has unique qualities to it, which attract repeat users and diehard community members to their sites. When the users are force-fed another social network’s lexicon and update system, some people start disengaging from the content creator.

Giga-Om featured an excellent piece on crossing the streams between Buzz and Twitter recently. The crucial point is the failure of content creators to engage in conversations across their streams, effectively spamming their friends and followers.

Content creators need to weigh the pros and cons of crossing the streams. Based on feedback from the various communities that I participate in, I tend to decouple social networks, and then selectively cross the streams. Usually, it’s for a blog post, picture or a Tweet (that doesn’t include an @ or a hashtag).

It’s my assumption that these types of content contributions have value across my streams. I’m not always right on the mark, and I can tell that with analytics as well as with occasional feedback. Here’s what Kenley Neufeld and Dave Webb said about the matter on Buzz:

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Others, simply moderate the amount of cross-posted content they are producing so as not to inundate all of their networks with a never ending stream of data. Still others just couple everything and let the chips fall where they will. Finally, some never couple their networks and keep them separate for a variety of reasons, including privacy.

To me, this is the delicate art of crossing the streams. Success requires one to delicately understand which updates matter to their communities, or possess incredibly loyal communities who will tolerate such continuous updates. Otherwise, disconnects occur.

What are your thoughts on connecting the streams?