Tuesday, December 8, 2009

(empo-plaaybizz) FarmVille, Foursquare, and "Snoop Dog" (InformationWeek on engagement)

Normally social media doesn't turn up in my line of work - criminals aren't always kind enough to tweet when they commit crimes, although they sometimes do - but I just ran across one of the most bizarre social media mentions in my work arena.

I subscribe to the print edition of InformationWeek, and I happened to notice the editorial headline A Web Presence Needs Sizzle, For Shizzle. And yes, the word "For" is in the title. We'll return to the title a bit later.

The premise of the article is that there are a lot of "buzz" items floating around in the social media space - some frivolous, some downright embarrassing, but some that are engaging. Fritz Nelson, author of the article, starts off by talking about FarmVille and Foursquare. I haven't really talked about FarmVille in this blog (I prefer Farm Town), but FarmVille is an obvious example of something that seems extremely silly - until you realize that Zynga enjoys $150 million in revenue, and FarmVille has 60 million farmers per month. Foursquare doesn't enjoy that level of usership or revenue, but it's certainly talked about in some circles.

Nelson then states:

Despite the inanity, there are interesting ideas here. Who knows why farming worked rather than, say, assembling your own race car or quilt. There are, however, interesting lessons, lessons that assume a business already believes in using the Web to listen to, follow, and engage customers -- and most important, get them to act.

However, Nelson notes that some ideas aren't all that engaging:

Much was made of Microsoft's Windows 7 parties, an idea the company thought could generate a viral buzz around the launch of Windows 7. Microsoft created a YouTube video showing party-throwers how to prepare for the throngs who would descend upon their homes to get glimpses of (and then purchase copies of) Windows 7.

Seemingly modeled after some sort of Food Network show, with an attempt to appeal to Dockers-wearing tools (just a guess), this was the epitome of marketing gone wrong -- a disastrously straight-laced idea dressed up in trappings of hip, for the ultimate in banality. Like the school nerd with bling, or a Tupperware party with Crystal Meth favors and Akon playing in the backyard. Luckily for Microsoft, most observers laughed, thought it was cute, and chalked it up to Microsoft being Microsoft. Kind of like your grandmother spewing a few Snoop Dog lines.

And yes, Nelson spelled "Dog" with one g, just like he included an r in his rendering of "For Shizzle." Which is why I quote Nelson in my business blog, not my music blog.

But Nelson's premise remains - use the data to engage the customer. In his hypothetical airline example (which can be extrapolated to other companies), Nelson notes that a firm can use the data that is collected, "listen" to the data, and use that data for the mutual benefit of the company and the customer. Foursquare provides an example of this (although none of my Foursquare sites offer me benefits for being mayor - hint hint), and Nelson brainstorms some other examples. Here's one:

Flyers could become "mayors" of certain routes, offering tips to other flyers on everything from best travel gear to books to adapters.

Hey, why not? Some people crave recognition - needless to say, it's an innate craving in bloggers - and if someone can be recognized as an expert on the Ontario to Dallas route, more power to them. And, most essentially, it lets customers be "engaged." Perhaps "engaged" is in danger of becoming an overused word, but it's certainly true that a customer is more likely to patronize a business if some sense of engagement is there.

And that's enough to make the company's sacred cows moo with delight, even when things are done the wrong way.
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