Social Media is a Two-Way Street

I love doing interviews, but the bulk of my responses often wind up on the cutting room floor. Such was the case when Jess3 kindly asked me to respond to a few questions related to Empire Avenue. I was more than happy to do so, knowing that I would likely post the information to my blog (in full) in the event of a heavy editing process. Again, I must thank Jess3 for inspiring this piece.

You’ve really gotten into the gaming aspect of Empire Avenue — even sending out updates to your investors. Do you think Empire Avenue could exist without the game?

Well, yeah. And the funny thing is? I don’t really play many games. Tetris, sure. But, I’m usually heads-down in creating and facilitating the flow of interesting information, helping clients with their online presence, building services for content producers, etc.

I’ve never been more addicted to a site, service, game – whatever you wanna call Empire Avenue.

I’ve been producing content and being social about it since the mid ’90s – so this “game” isn’t new to me. Hell, I even looked up my LinkedIn number the other week when Reid Hoffman sent out an email to the first 100,000 members. Get this: I’m #5,986. I’m not throwing that out there to brag, mind you – I’m just trying to better illustrate that when I say I’ve been doing this for a while, I really mean it.

Empire Avenue has given me a chance to reward my community, placing a relative value on the things (gestures) I’m doing anyway: tweeting, Liking, uploading, sharing, and the rest. I was pulled in instantly. I’ve never had as much fun doing something I was doing, anyway.

The game aspect may die down (or likely change) at some point – that’s not too tough to predict. But you can’t ignore the algorithm that “Dups” Wijayawardhana (Empire Avenue CEO) and his team have built. At a glance, I can see just how participatory an individual or brand is on any of the leading “social media” services.

Consider that Klout can easily be gamed (my own Spanish tweeting bot that a fan programmed several years ago has a better Klout score than real human beings who interact more). Klout doesn’t really cover the wide array of networks that Empire Avenue supports today, either. Moreover, the measurement used in Empire Avenue’s scoring is based on participation – not just follower or friend count. It’s better than guessing velocity. Forget the game for a moment, that alone is worth checking into.

So, yes: I do believe Empire Avenue will continue to evolve. It’s addictive in its current iteration, if only because the site is something the likes of which I’ve never used. I had to figure out how things worked, then I started thinking about the possibilities for this particular platform beyond the game aspect. It would blow the lid off of how agencies perceive “influence” in a heartbeat. It does NOW!

I love how people have suggested that I work for Empire Avenue – yeah, just like they work for Apple, Angry Birds, and Google. Gimme a break!

Apparently, I have to be “careful” about mentioning Empire Avenue too much on Twitter, apparently – because all of my followers who love flooding my timeline with conversation replies I can’t track, Foursquare checki-ns I don’t care about, spammy updates, images of their kids, ghastly grammar / spelling / punctuation, random thoughts that aren’t even close to being funny or interesting, name-droppings of who they’re eating lunch with, etc. are getting really annoyed. *AHEM*

2. Besides excelling at the game, has Empire Avenue helped you expand your own community? If so, what results have you seen?

I wouldn’t say I’ve excelled, really. I’ve seen people with far less reach than me excel MUCH further – and that’s what I love. People in the network can propel someone forward to see success, and that means much more to them if they’ve been used to flying under the radar for so long.

I’ve definitely seen engagement pick up across the board – from my YouTube videos to my tweet stream to my Flickr account to my blogs and beyond. I wish I had empirical data, although I know Empire Avenue also keeps track of your connected network actions – so they might know more about me than I do.

I’ve been able to connect better with my community, because now there’s a “virtual currency” value to be placed on my actions and their actions. They are FAR more inclined to participate when there’s a reward – it’s that whole “gamification” buzzword people keep talking about. It encourages MORE behavior, it drives MORE engagement, and it opens the door to new relationships outside your typical circles. I love that. LOVE it.

I think some people are gun shy about Empire Avenue because they think they’re buying and selling people – and that’s just an outright mistruth. You’re fueling their velocity, just like you would on any of the other networks. Buying a stock is not tantamount to friending someone. This is a game, and you can help someone “win” by showing them how to play better – and by participating with them more in “social media.” Everyone has a different strategy, though.

3. What are your top three investment tips?

So, ignore the stock prices, portfolio values, etc. for just a second – they are absolutely a part of the game. If people and brands weren’t at the heart of it, none of it would matter. I was getting bombarded with questions (CONSTANTLY) about how it all worked. I stayed up all night last week to compile the first iteration of my blog post, which I’ve been constantly updating with new information as I figured it out. People want to connect with people, but they also want to be a better player – and showing them MY strategy has won me a lot of new friends, not dividends. I’m sure it’s made some enemies, too.

My first tip: friends and “celebrities” are typically bad investments in this game. I know what you’re thinking: “But they’re so valuable to me!” Yes, they are – but in terms of a relative value on Empire Avenue, unless they are someone who is very interactive, they’re not going to perform well. You can help them with that, and in tern, raise their profile across the connected social media channels. Tweet more good stuff, Retweet more good stuff, Like more good stuff, Blog more good stuff, upload more good stuff, create content that people want to see – nothing different than what they could have been doing before.

My second tip: A single number doesn’t give you the full picture. You can’t look at the stock price and think: “That’s a lot. They must be good.” No. You can’t just look at the “share” of your dividend returns and think: “That’s not very high. It must be bad.” You have to look at the full picture. Granted, I’m sure the Empire Avenue team is working hard at the next iteration of the site, but for now – there are great resources out there, including an open source Google Chrome plugin I worked with a couple of developers on. We’re looking for more help with it, too.

My third tip: try not to take it personally if someone buys or sells shares in your stock. It’s not likely you, it’s likely your stock value based on your combined metrics. At least, theoretically. The key which compels people to buy into you on Empire Avenue (just like you’d hope they’d buy into you by following you on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, et al): interact. That will drive up your dividends, and that’s how people get paid for their investments until they sell a stock.

Catch that part? “…until they sell a stock.” There is no human trafficking going on here, despite allegations to the contrary. Anybody who has played the game understands that. Just like Twitter isn’t just for uploading pictures of wiener dogs.

4. Is Empire Avenue a good place for brands to start to invest themselves in? If so, who’s doing it right?

I believe so, yes. There are quite a few brands dipping their toes into the waters, just like they started to do with Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and… you get what I’m saying?

I hesitate to call out brands that are doing it right / wrong, because I think by virtue of them BEING there: they’re doing it right. They’re trying. They’re seeing if it works for them, even if they don’t know where it’ll lead. As soon as I see a big brand jump in, I try to offer them help – not because I become an investor, but because I want to see everybody – EVERYBODY – succeed on Empire Avenue. It’s in my best interest, and it’s in the best interest for the entire world of social media.

I will say the brands who aren’t interacting aren’t doing as well, but if more of their activity is off-network, their Empire Avenue “score” isn’t impacted (so long as they ARE active). Just like a Twitter account that does nothing but post links to press releases is a big fat bucket of #FAIL, well… just think about it.

Now, I’m not going to say that every single brand needs to jump on board immediately, and I wouldn’t admonish anybody if they decided not to play – but I think there are certainly several opportunities for brands to engage their community here in ways they couldn’t before.

I could actually think of quite a few creative ways to make it work well for both sides (Empire Avenue and any brand(s) in question).

5. Where do you see Empire Avenue in six months? In a year?

As I just noted, I think Empire Avenue is really just beginning. I see so much promise in what they’ve put together, even now. Is it perfect? No. But at least I don’t see a fail whale every other hour (not to slam Twitter – but for a while, it was really bad). I’m not going to predict any specific value-add, if only because I’m not privy to what the team is thinking.

One of the community members had suggested (in a recent podcast) that Empire Avenue once had an affinity program, akin to “frequent flier miles.” Think about that one for a second. Would that get you to join? If you could accrue direct value from the gestures you were making, anyway? We’re there now, but with a far less tangible asset.

I think the game mechanics are going to change – they have to at some point (as they’ve changed in the past). But, even if the game aspect disappeared overnight, I’d likely still find a way to be engaged – if only because I can now point to a page and say: “See, I’m active across ALL of these networks.” I love that.

There are certain community aspects that need to evolve, as people are organizing anywhere they find convenient (like in Facebook Groups, for instance). I think it’s incredibly dangerous for allegiances (read: collusion) to form out of these groups, though – for as much as a small group of people can build someone up, they can just as easily tear someone down – and that’s a mechanic that Empire Avenue should already be aware of and has likely set in motion counterbalances.

I would like to see less emphasis on “buying and selling people,” and more emphasis on “building and steering value.” That’s just how I see Empire Avenue today.

6. Do you foresee a shareholders meeting in the future for e(PIRILLO)?

Ha! No, no. I’m constantly live streaming in my home office, though. People watch me buying all the time (I do try to keep my selling private). I did do a series of Empire Avenue videos, though – including a few with Aaron White (Director Digital Alchemy for Empire Avenue). That was a ton of fun, although I realized after new information was presented to me, I did dispense faulty advice. I corrected myself, as I’m prone to do when I realize I didn’t hit the nail on the head. Hey, nobody’s perfect! At least I tried to help instead of hinder.

I’m more than happy to give people specific EAv tips beyond what I’ve posted to my blog before – although if I’ve already answered the question, I don’t know how much more help I could offer. Several people have made business connections through Empire Avenue, and (in that light) I’d like to be the first person on record get paid to be an Empire Avenue Social Media Stock Analyst. šŸ˜‰ Most of that money would get turned into eaves, anyway… *sigh*

It’s not my stock price or portfolio value that I care most about – those are great for inflating egos, but not really anything more. I want to help people figure out how to work together, play together, and build together – and that means I have to produce dividends to keep my shareholders happy. My stock price could drop (and it will), but as long as my dividends are mostly sunny, I won’t cry myself to sleep.

For, you see, the true value of being in social media is… giving. Right? I’m not there for me – I’m there for my community: existing and new. If I can gain from that, just like I’ve gained for the past 15 years of working for myself, then I’m thrilled.

Actually, after I penned this piece, we coordinated a Seattle-area Empire Avenue meetup which is happening next week – possibly our first and last. We’ll see.