Tag Archives: Social Media

Marketers Look to Game Achievements to Engage Users; The Social Spam Backlash

TheTwo trends hit me in the last week: 1) the desire for marketers to increase engagement through social media is leading them to explore game mechanics to incent users and 2) the quasi-backlash against “Social Spam” which ironically is being driven a great deal by the game mechanics of applications on Facebook.

Seeing Social Media as All About Branding

I attended a great brainstorming session last week held by Eli Mandelbaum’s Founders Roundtable that touched on a couple of these things. Eli gathers VCs, founders of start-ups and industry vets together for small, intimate discussions in an effort to get people to share ideas, information and network better than you would at the typical industry event.

The group noted that several organizations are trying to put the old online metrics on social media, but really it’s less about click through rates growing followers or fans and more about brand marketing which ends up driving long-term customer value. To underscore that realization, Kevin Ryan, the VP of Social Marketing at Barnes and Noble noted they moved social media from the acquisition team to the branding team just this summer.

So while monetization of social media is still elusive, driving engagement and positive brand experiences have become the goals (eventually tied back to CRM systems where you can show the positive impact on customer lifetime value). Indeed, one attendee suggested that their Facebook Fans were actually some of their most loyal customers, with a much higher than average frequency and spend rate. This is corroborated by marketing professor Puneet Manchanda, who noted a recent study in the Fall magazine of the Steven M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan that “just becoming part of the brand community seemed to casually increase the amount spent by brand community participants by about 25 percent.”

Turning to Game Mechanics to Incent Engagement

So as engagement becomes key, marketers continue to try to figure out how to incent users to talk more about their brand. While several attempt to enable customers by providing tools and information to make them feel more a part of the brand, there is a desire to help provide additional incentive to get users to post/blog/comment about the brand.

While there are notable giveaways (from Moonfruit to Pizza Hut to coupon codes for key users to share with friends), many have started to look at tactics typically found in game play to help drive progression: unlocking of levels or content, awarding of achievement badges, leaderboards and limited items to show off.

Marketers are beginning to incorporate this game mechanic in several new ways:

  • Nike+ is letting users chart their running progress, the feedback giving them incentive to alter their running patterns, or as Dennis Crowley, Co-Founder of Foursquare said during the Founders Roundtable, give you the “incentive to get out of bed in the morning and run.”
  • Dennis’ own Foursquare is focused on mobile location-based services, but provides incentive to users to try out more restaurants by unlocking achievements (become The the Mayor of a location by going there the most often), showing leader boards, and using the social connections of its customers to drive others to try out new places.
  • Honday’s new Insight actually tries to make users more efficient drivers, prompting users to “boost their Eco Score” and gain little green leaves based on acceleration and braking skills, providing multiple levels of feedback as you drive.

While providing these kind of achievement-based or feedback mechanisms can definitely boost engagement, there is also a chance of both burn-out and annoyance. From a burnout stand point, users reach a certain level and the incentives just don’t drive them any more (“I’ll never reach the leader board” or “I’ve passed all my friends and there isn’t much of a challenge any more”).

Social Spam and the Emerging Backlash

Likewise, we’ve seen a great deal of annoyance with “Social Spam” – where you are prompted by an application to brag about an achievement, about going up a level, or challenging them to a match. These are basic game mechanics to push progression in a game, but in the social space, they are used to draw the player’s friends into the game.

I believe a great deal of Zynga’s success, in addition to good gameplay, is their ability to latch on to the creative use of “Social Spam” to get users to post to their network – to give their friends rewards (or “share the wealth” to give a FarmVille example).

But when something is successful, everyone starts to follow suit: with more and more games trying to engage users, the notifications and reminders and posts from game applications are starting to When a Facebook user helps a friends farm, they get a bonus of coins, but the friend gets this notification unless the user acts fast to Undooutnumber those by friends. Some recent feedback I’ve solicited:

  • “I try never to post if I can catch it in time…it’s annoying and fills up everyone’s feeds!”
  • “I post as last resort, better to keep in game. I filter all but the few that I play, it’s really very annoying and spamy.”
  • “I hate spamming. I want an easier way to limit spamming to only my friends who play the game.”
  • @SFsourmilk: I wish #Farmville would add REAL social components (Tractor sharing, social harvesting) rather than just social spam

And while those quotes talk about Facebook game applications, the same can be said of users in Twitter: @praxisloki: “Conflicted about videogames being able to tweet my milestones and achievements. Champions Online & Uncharted 2 both opt in.”

Clearly, users are already cognizant that there are repercussions for posting too much. They are aware of the social implications of being seen by friends as “that guy that is always playing Mafia Wars” or “the person that sends me social spam all the time” – just like companies worry about their brand, users are worried about their personal brand amongst their friends. As the novelty wears off, customers will demand more control and be more judicial about what messages they will share. (Shanti Bergel did a nice piece on Social Network Fatigue which is worth a read).

This is not to say that game mechanics are not important in developing a successful incentive strategy to get users to engage their friends across social media. But the ultimate incentive for users is in the value of what is shared. Marketers and companies must first focus on quality content, products or useful data (like Nike+ stats) and only then can they achieve long-term success by wrapping them in the game mechanics to grow them virally.

Between the Tweets: Analyzing How Whole Foods Got to 1 Million Followers

Yesterday I noted that Whole Foods was one of only seven brands in the Top 100 Twitter accounts by follower and the first to move to over 1 million followers. After analyzing over 500 tweets by Whole Foods over the last month, it’s clear the company’s unique culture (devout advocates and purveyors of organic and natural foods) is defining its success on Twitter, similar to what we saw when we broke down Zappos Tweets.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The majority of those 525 tweets (91%) over the last month are replies back to users across a multitude of questions; the Whole Foods team averages just under 14 public responses a day
  • When Whole Foods tweets on its own (averaging 1.3 per day), the majority of those tweets are very culture-specific, lending credence to their cause and authenticity:
    • Culture/Insider: 29% – a wide variety of organic-centric causes (e.g. its Whole Planet Foundation, the USDA National Organics Program, and Non-Genetically modified project) to “Insider” bits like who they buy salmon in Alaska and new store openings (plus the ability to suggest locations for new stores).
    • Promotions: 26% – other than a giveaway around their 1 millionth follower, their promos are also culturally relevant: pitching free organic yogurt and a “wholefoods5” contest “Tell us your food philosophy in 5 words for a chance to win a million grains of quinoa (oh, and a $50 gift card).”
    • Organic Recipes from their blog: 18% – everything from Watermelon Lemonade to Quinoa.
    • Cross Promotion of Other Ways to Connect: 11% – in addition to the blog posts mentioned above, Whole Food promotes its iphone application as well as a bevy of other more subject specific Twitter accounts (more on that below).
    • Other Subjects: 15% – these tweets covered everything from random questions to users (What are you having for lunch? What are you cooking for the 4th) to some non-food product plugs which were eco-friendly products.

Some additional tidbits about the how Whole Foods is managing the tweeting around its core brand:

  • Whole Foods generally doesn’t reply or post on weekends.
  • They have multiple people managing the core Whole Foods account and leveraging CoTweet to do so.
  • Whole Foods has worked with Twitter to set up their account to allow direct tweets without the need for Whole Foods to follow the end user, allowing for more confidential customer support with less hassle.

Whole Foods Growth to 1 Million Followers

Was it some promotion that got Whole Foods to 1 million followers? From the chart below, you can see that the growth has been pretty steady, with an inflection point around June 18th. Looking through the tweets during that time, they did offer an atypical (for them) Dave Matthews Band promotion. But beyond that, there really are no huge promotions running to push up the numbers. Indeed, the only promotion around their 1 millionth follower was launched July 9th (on Twitter, their blog and to their 98,000 fans on Facebook) and they hit the level Sunday July 12th but from the chart you can see no real bump in the new follower rate as a result.

To me the main reason for the continual growth of Whole Foods is due to it being a leader in a specific niche — organic foods — and its continual response to customers and on-topic usage of Twitter to support it’s leadership in that niche.

Getting Local: Twitter as the New-Age Phone Directory?

One of the more difficult issues for brand marketers with multiple retail outlets is how to effectively manage customer communications beyond the corporate office and down into the local markets. Brands like Best Buy are starting to tinker, but Whole Foods looks like they have made a solid commitment and have put together an impressive list of contacts. Whole Food’s list of Twitter accounts by department, region and store is the modern-day equivalent to the corporate phone list, allowing a consumer to contact and connect with the brand both on the corporate level, but at the local level as well. Some highlights:

  • With 38,800 followers collectively, the 3 subject matter accounts (wine, cheese and recipes), 8 regions and 111 stores would rank #859 in the top 1,000 by followers, just ahead of Matt Giraud of American Idol fame.
  • Just under 40% of the 280 stores have a specific twitter account (many in the last two months), and several others in Texas and New York are under regional accounts. Houston and New York City are the two leading regions with 2,528 followers of both accounts.
  • The top stores with the most followers (between 650 to 900) include Columbus, OH (@WFM_Columbus), Nashville, TN (@WFM_Nashville), Birmingham, AL (@WholeFoodsBham) and Boston, MA (@WFM_Symphony). Naming conventions are fairly haphazard, so you can tell that a lot of the impetus behind this has come organically (no pun intended) from the stores themselves.
  • Tweets by store really are a reflection of the local management, highlighting the ability to push local sales, or highlight in-store tours and events. Just as with any marketing program, different stores are actively tweeting, others only periodically.
  • Besides the 111 stores with Twitter accounts, there are 98 stores with their own Facebook Fan Pages.
  • For managing these tweets, there doesn’t appear to be any specific corporate-driven tools, as several are using the web, blackberry and other tools.

Whole Foods appears to have taken a bold step and is leveraging its employees and distinct personalities of its stores in each region and city to provide more outreach around the brand than any centralized PR or marketing function could possibly provide. It will take time to optimize and share best practices for engaging and reaching out to customers across the network of stores, but it sets a helpful path for other organizations to follow.

Questions for Discussion

Who else is setting up similar structures (Best Buy comes to mind)? What other companies have the specific culture around a niche that would make this successful? How do the traditional grocery store chains compete? How could you scale this for local franchises? Could McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts make use of this strategy or is there a limit to the number of stores that can really actively participate and provide truly “valuable” information to consumers? The numbers are still pretty small on a store by store level (and the program is really still very new) – how can we really understand the ROI at the local level?

Maybe Fans Aren’t That Mad About Yankee Ticket Prices

We’ve shown that exorbitant ticket prices appear to be impacting the attendance for the Yankees more than the Mets, but in general, besides bad PR, the Yankees are still benefitting financially. So beyond managing the general news outlets and media through traditional PR efforts, let’s look for negative sentiment within other social media platforms.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that the Yankees hold the upper hand in popularity in New York, according to a recent New York Times, Cornell and NY1 poll. New Yorkers favor the Yankees (34%) over the Mets (25%) – although a third of New Yorkers don’t favor either. In other words, among those that favor one team over the other, 57% favor the Yankees.

Thus it’s not too surprising that the number of posts in blogs, Twitter, forums and other social media for the two New York teams mirror their real world popularity (I used Radian6 dashboards to filter down the posts over the last 30 days):

All social mentions of the Yankees and Mets over the last 30 days

But just as a previous post pointed out the new stadium ticket pricing is impacting attendance for the Yankees more than the Mets, a similar pattern shows up in the volume of posts across social media: the Yankees lead the Mets by a 3-to-1 margin.

Yankees and Mets and social mentions that specifically address ticket prices

Before we go further, it’s pretty apparent that whereas ticket prices were a big issue around the start of the season, it is not a hot topic now: only 1.1% of social mentions about the Yankees concerning ticket prices (202 of 17.679). Even further, we don’t have a feel for which percentage of those mentions are negative.

Let’s focus in on blogs (they make up just about half of all mentions). The Radian6 tool doesn’t provide automated sentiment classificationat this point (a feature coming this summer), so I’ll turn to another tool, SocialMention.com. Of the 137 blog posts about the Yankees ticket prices, SocialMention.com shows a favorable sentiment of 2:1 with 41 positive mentions and 17 negative mentions (the rest being neutral). With only 17 negative posts out of 137, it’s relatively easy to dive down manually and identify specific blogs, their relative post strength signifying the influence of the poster, as well as identifying the extent of the negative sentiment:

Example of SocialMention.com results for blog posts about Yankees ticket prices where the sentiment is negative

This is great for honing in on a specific topic and understanding what users are saying, but it gets daunting if topics drive a prolific number of posts.

After listening to users, if the Yankees identify a specific issue that needs to be addressed, the next step is how to reach those users. Beyond reaching out to hardcore season ticketholders, email lists of fans and the traditional press, it might be worth engaging the blogosphere where a majority of comments are made. While Social Mention lets you sort on comments based on post rank, tools like Raidan6 let you aggregate at the blog/poster level to identify some of the more “influential” blogs (aggregating posts from a specific source and using Radian6’s algorithm based on the number of on-topic posts, replies, inboud links, etc.).

For the Yankees, specifically around ticket prices, these were the top five most influential blogs over the last 30 days: the LoHud Yankees blog by the Lower Hudson Journal’s beat writer, River Ave. Blues, the official YES network Yankees blog (which the Yanks ostensibly control); Sliding Into Home by a die-hard Yankees fan; Kevin Davidoff’s Baseball Insider, by a Newsday beat writer; and Bronx Banter . It appears the most influential blogs appear to be properties already tied to press or beat writers, which are already probably being served by traditional PR efforts.

In this specific example, with only 1.1% of comments being about ticket prices and only 12% of those potentially negative,the perception of bad PR around the high-cost of Yankees tickets doesn’t appear to be as negative as some in the blogosphere would like to suggest. Yankee fans are much more concerned about A-Rod slumping or losing to the Nationals and may be resigned to the fact that they are going to end up watching their Bombers on TV rather than at the Stadium.