Good Social Games Have No Ending

Most games that we play are about winning.  People may emphasize personal achievement, team play or the spirit of the game, but talk to anyone whose had a losing streak or a winning streak and they’ll tell you, it feels good to be a winner.

Most games set-up clear competitive goals in which quantifiable outcomes determine a winner.  What keeps the games going are the series of competitions which are often nested inside each other.  Take baseball.  The first unit of competition is the single pitch.  The batter either wins, by hitting the ball or loses by striking.  Several pitches make up the at bat game to get an out.  Several outs make up an inning, nine innings make up a game, all the games make up the season.  At each stage, there is a clear winner.

This is also true in the world of gaming.  You kill the monster, you clear the sector, you finish the level, you destroy the all powerful final monster.  Many games, such as World of Warcraft, have collaboration features where you can help friends, create teams, go on missions, etc.  These collaboration features have give rise to social interactions and endless possabilities of play.  But the core game mechanics are still built on winning – developing the most powerful character that can defeat anything.

A true social game is not about team play or playing poker with a few friends online. The best social games are based on rules that generate social interactions which emphasize creativity, support and endless play.  Games without winners or endings.

Yes, social games may have competition and may have ways of rewarding winners, but the center of play is the social interaction. You take care of my pet or visit my restaurant, you help out both yourself and me.  Games that have social rules at their center invite reciprocity.  And reciprocity is never finished, each action requires a reaction that tightens the bond to the other player and the gaming environment.

Winning is not at the center of a social game.  The competition and rules are a sideline to creativity and fun.  And as along as the game never ends, everyone really can be a winner.

Your Theatre is an Entertainment Niche

In June of 2009, the NEA released the results of their Arts Participation Survey (download).  The overall results shows that arts participation has continued to decline among adults in America since the survey was first conducted in 1982.   Attendance for non-musicals was listed at 9.4% and attendance for musicals was 16.7%.  That means only 1 out of 10 Americans will see a play and only 1 out of 6 will see a musical.  Now, compare these statistics to Neilsen’s latest Three Screen Report (download) that came out in May of 2009.  The average American watches 153 hours of television a month.

Everyone knows that people watch more television that theatre, so the data is not surprising.  But let’s look at the difference in how the data is measured.  Theater going is measured almost in a binary format.  Did you or did you not attend.  Television is measured in volume.  To compare the two reports, you actually have to get the data on the same scale.  So, let’s say the average person attending the theatre subscribes to a regional theatre for 6 shows a year and sees 2 broadway musicals a year.  About 8 shows a year with an average duration of 2 hours a show for about 16 hours of theatre going.  But only 1 out of 6 peple are attending any kind of performance, so you get an overall average of maybe 3 hours of theatre watching a year or about 15 min. each month.  Compare 15 min. of monthly theatre going to 153 hours of television waching, you get about a 1 to 600 ratio.  And I’m only comparing television to theatre.  If we included music, video games, movies, and sporting events, the entertainment landscape would be immensely huge and theatre only a small spec on the horizon.  But by comparing like data sets, it might change how theatre marketers think about their strategy.

Theatre marketers are asking primarily one of two questions:  “how do I get our exisiting audience to return next year?” and “how do I develop a new audience?”.  The problem is that the artistic mission of most theatres, which defines the companies niche within the theatre community, also ends up influencing the marketing.   If the theatre’s mission is “We do heightened language plays” or “We do physical ensemble theatre”, you will see similar statements in the marketing material.  What this does is ends up constraining the strategy.  The theatre ends up marketing their stylistic approach to the existing theatre audience rather then marketing their theatre in the wider entertainment landscape.

If theatres want to truely grow their audience, they need to see that theatre is a very small entertainment niche.  That niche can expand, but only by marketing the uniqueness of not just their particular show or style, but the uniqueness of theatre-going itself.  Why does the music-lover, video-gamer or sports fanatic want to attend the theatre instead of their usual past-time?  Asking that fundamental question might be a better way to develop a new audience that fuels the fire behind new social media campaigns.

So if you are involved with a theatre, remember that you don’t have a niche in the theatre, your theatre is an entertainment niche.

Don’t Let the Social Media Treadmill Run You Over

I was at the gym this morning running on the tread mill.  Since I’ve been doing a lot of weight training recently, I now have extra strength in my leg muscles that makes running much easier.  I quickly found myself running at the front of the treadmill, as if my feet were gripping the tread and pulling it back.  This is much different than the way I had been running, in the middle of the treadmill, touching the tread as it ran under me.  I then experimented with running at the back of the treadmill – which felt like trying to catch up.  Sometimes, it can even be a little scary because it feels like you might fall off.

The funny thing is, in all three instances I was actually running at the same speed.  But the difference of my mental state between being at the front, center or back was significant.  These three positions serve as a good metaphor for how you define you or your organization’s relationship to social media.  Let’s look at all three:

CENTER

Running at the center of the treadmill is a reactive position.  You are basically letting the treadmill run you.  Something happens, you respond.  It’s the position of being the follower or the fan.  It’s the marketer who says, “Yeah, we got that facebook thing covered.  We’ll post our PR and discounts there as well”.  Or it’s the impulse to use idea from a competitor instead of finding a unique application of social media for your organization.  When you run your social media marketing campaign in a reactive way, you aren’t taking full advantage of the medium.  You’re watching the road go by.  You might not fall behind, but you’re not going to get ahead.  If you approach social media with this attitude, you won’t gain any advantage from it that your competitors don’t have as well.

BACK

We’ve all been here at some point in our lives, just trying to keep up with things.  This is the organization who might have a facebook page, but hasn’t updated it in months, or updates it as an after thought.  If you or your organization is behind on embracing and using social media, the only thing you can do to recover is to make it a priority.  The further you fall behind, the harder it will be to get something going.  The effort required is actually less than you imagine.  The most difficult part is changing your “we’re behind” mental state.  Yet it’s that mental state that prevents you from exerting the effort to get on top of it.  Just as having a company website is just now part of the regular cost of doing business, so is having a social media presence.  If you don’t, your business will slowly decline and you’ll fall off the treadmill.

FRONT

The amount of energy it takes to run at the front is actually the same as the center or the back.  Marketing work is marketing work. The only difference is that someone at the front took a few moments to accelerate their speed to get there.  Taking some time to get up to speed with social media tools and strategize how to use them is the most critical thing you can do.  Marketing is about creating buzz and social media tools enable marketers to innovate.  You can create new buzz in a whole new way!  When you take the lead position, you are instigating the social media cycle.  You aren’t just responding, you are contributing the media stream.  You build followers and fans.  And once you are innovating, it gets easier to keep innovating, because you will be buoyed by the responses to your work.

Remember, it’s not about how fast you are running – every marketer feels like they are running.  It’s about where you run.  If you aren’t running at the front, you’re letting the treadmill run you.  And if you let that go long enough, the social media treadmill will run you over.

Tip #5: Respond to Feedback

Social media also has a built in feedback mechanism, such as comments, ratings, forwarding links, etc.  As soon as you post, your fans and followers will be able to respond in real time.  Embrace this dialogue.  The more your customers talk about your product, the more exposure your product will receive.  And most importantly, join in the dialogue by responding to their feedback.  You don’t have to respond to everything, people don’t expect that.  Think of it like one of those entertainment shows where they pick someone out of the audience to come up on stage.  That person becomes a respresentative of the audience, it’s as if we are all up on stage with that person.  We feel included in the show.  So rather than be overwhelmed with having to repsond to everyone, just pick one or two people and respond to them.  When people see the product owner engaging with their audience, even if it’s not them personally, they will feel more loyalty to the product.

This is true even if people have negative feedback.  There’s nothing worse then sending a customer service email and never getting it retruned.  People complain because they need to be heard and they want things fixed.  For example, I had been having a battery problem with my apple laptop for months and was extremely frustrated.  But the computer was still under warranty and so I went into the genius bar.  They replaced with battery and external power supply cord.  That totally covered the cost of my warranty and all my frustration was gone.  If you listen, respond and do your best to help them out, your customers will continue to stay invested with your product.  People pay for service as much as they do their product.

So what’s the best way to respond?  Agree with them.  It’s an old trick I learned studying improvisational acting called, “Yes, and”.  Things move forward if you agree, stop if you disagree.  So agree with your customers and ad something.  For example, if a customer posts, “Loved seeing those photos of those muffins being baked” you might respond “Glad you liked them – maybe we’ll print them in edible inks as well.”  In my response, I agreed with them and added some humor, which is a great way to also keep things real and personal.  If they send a complaint, such as, “Hey, you’re sending me too many posts.  Stop it!” you might reply, “Yes, we sent to many posts.  We are sorry and are working on reducing our frequency.”  You may not be able to solve the problem right away, but by quickly responding you acknowledge that you heard your customer, are aware and are taking action.  If you are posting publically, this will also be seen by your other customers which can reduce the amount of negative posts as well.

Tip #4: Share in Real Time

Brand advertising through television and radio often try to convey a sense of real time.  They use the power of images and words to give you a sense that you are there, witnessing something happen.  But broadcast commercials are pre-recorded, editted messages and people now watch them with some detachment.  They know it’s not real.

A major reason why people are enamored of social media, is because so much of it is based in real time message.  The power of “it’s happening now” brings a level of authenticity and excitement.  When you share the process with your customers in real time, the immediate experience deepens their feelings of participation.  The same is true in television.  The biggest draws are live events – news & sports.  While reality TV is pre-edited, it has the feeling of being live because it’s capturing authentic responses of it’s participants.

But with social media, everything you do can become a live event.  So whenever possible, make your message “real time”.  If you are marketing a bakery’s new muffins, it’s not, “I baked the muffins” but “I’m baking the muffins”.   Always use the present tense.  Also, the more specific about details you can be, the better.  Posting a status update such as “Adding fresh eggs to the batter mix” adds authenticity and stimulates our imaginations.

It also invites real time response.  Embrace that as well.  Remember, social media isn’t just about how many connections you have in your network, it’s also about how rich and deep the interactions are you have with those connections.  Real time updates fosters a sense of immediacy that will increase your customers feelings of relevancy and engagement.

Tip #3: Make Them Insiders

Social media is one of the best ways of giving your  customers the “insider” experience.  There are lot’s of different tactics that you can use.  But they all must do one thing well – make your customer feel that they are in a privileged position.  They should feel that they are getting something special that they can only get because of their involvement with you and your social media.  The most common tactics are:

  • Share the Process – by sharing the process, your customers feel like they are getting to experience the actual making of your product.  Think of them as apprentices.  Not only are they seeing your product created, they will understand and appreciate all the work which better enables them to accept and pay for the financial value you assign to it.
  • Give a Tip – why do we love getting tips about anything and everything?  Tips are like free advice.  They are bits of information from an expert and when given freely, people feel grateful.  The value of the information is just as valuable as the act of giving.
  • Express an Opinion – because opinions are subjective, they help to shape a personal voice for your marketing.  Many people are often cautious about how freely they share their opinions.  The closer the friendship, the more honest the opinion.  By sharing an opinion people will feel more connected.  Additionally, a strong opinion can jump start a valuable dialogue
  • Ask a Question – more than wanting to hear an opinion, people want to share their opinions.  So ask for it.  Even better, respond to their answers.  And the coup-de-grace – Use their feedback directly in your business.
  • Let them Share It – the most effective viral marketing is still word of mouth.  Social media tools enable a faster, more explicit sharing than word of mouth referrals.  Social media puts the tools in the hands of your customers.  This of course cuts both ways – bad news spreads just as quickly as good news.  But the medium is the real message.  You are allowing your customers to do the talking.  By incorporating their authentic interest and voice, the authenticity of your brand’s message is strengthened

Lastly, it is important that some of these messages should only be available via your social media channels.  If they appear in all of your other marketing channels, you will lose the insider value of your social media channel.

Tip #2: Sell Them the Experience

A lot of marketing is about the experience that people associate with the brand.  People pay twice as much for particular brands because the advertising and marketing images are associated with particular kinds of experience.  “Buy our product – you’ll have the same experience” so we’re told.

Social media takes it one step further.  It actually includes your customers as part of the experience.  And there is real value, not just imagined value.   Take the muffins from a bakery.  When you share the process, you are giving your followers and fans the virtual experience of having baked the muffins themselves.  Almost everyone I know loves the smell of freshly baked bread.  It amazes me how many times you go to an expensive restaurant and the first comment people make isn’t about the entrees or extensive wine list, but “They have the best bread!”  I really think people miss baking bread as well as many other experiences in which we were once directly involved in creating something, such as hand knit sweaters, organically grown food, custom woodworking, etc.

If you can fulfill a bit of that loss virtually, people will find a deeper satisfaction in buying your product.  They will feel, in some small way, that they are purchasing something that they witnessed being made.  They were closer to the creative experience.  By fulfilling this secret lost desire, your product will be more appealingly than your competitors.

So don’t just sell the product, sell the experience.