Can social media work as a for-profit game? The game Empire Avenue may be just the beginning of new ways to monetize social media activity and influence.
Social media indices such as Kred, Klout and PeerIndex have illustrated the almost universal human need for peer support and influence. Sites like BrandYourself are making a business out of the the desire for people to improve their online profile and search rankings. Humorists are even striking back.
Using a range of algorithms, these tools track your usage of networks such as Twitter, Facebook and, in the case of Klout at least, Google+. Add Flickr, YouTube and a myriad of other networks.
The general assumption seems to be, the more people give you a 'like' or a '+1', re-tweet, comment or recommendation, the more influential you are. And your activity in respect of other people adds to their influence on you.
It seems to be early days for these systems, but some high-ranking people have found that there are tangible benefits, including free car hire, theatre tickets and the like. The added fame and fortune brings its own rewards.
Sadly, many people have been so engrossed with the need to increase their scores, they are focusing on 'gaming the system' and largely ignoring the reasons they joined these networks in the first place and which might have more bearing on their actual influence.
A recent story in WIRED magazine profiles Klout and the angst of trying to get a better score. I particularly like the final paragraph:
Over time, I found my eyes drifting to tweets from folks with the lowest Klout scores. They talked about things nobody else was talking about. Sitcoms in Haiti. Quirky museum exhibits. Strange movie-theater lobby cards from the 1970s. The un-Kloutiest’s thoughts, jokes, and bubbles of honest emotion felt rawer, more authentic, and blissfully oblivious to the herd. Like unloved TV shows, these people had low Nielsen ratings—no brand would ever bother to advertise on their channels. And yet, these were the people I paid the most attention to. They were unique and genuine. That may not matter to marketers, and it may not win them much Klout. But it makes them a lot more interesting.
To illustrate how engrossing and addictive this trend has become, Empire Avenue is turning social media indexing into a virtual stock market. The site gives members points, or virtual currency, for their social media activity, including their blogs.
Members can invest their points buying 'shares' in other members. Earn money on your portfolio of social media stock and you can pay a dividend to your shareholders. If you are not earning fast enough you can buy more points for real world money - and that is where it gets very interesting. This is described by many members as a 'game', which doubtless gets around securities laws. But it is clear that the mix of egos, popularity and real cash is drawing lots of attention and could prove seriously addictive!
Empire Avenue is obviously trying to hit the hot buttons that draw people in the biggest numbers. Their forums have a visual style that reminds me of Pinterest and similar fashionable sites. Mashable previously described it as seriously addictive. You don't have to look far to find a day-trader mindset and people who might have previously been kept busy selling multi-level marketing schemes (among the many others who are clearly in it for fun). Whether the Empire Avenue model is sustainable remains to be seen, but we have not seen the last of social media rankings.