Games, Gamification, and Empire Avenue

This year’s South By SouthWest conference had several panels on “Gamification,” which I didn’t get to see. However, there is a great summary of all the gamification panels.

The idea of “Gamification” is, according to Wikipedia:

…use of game play mechanics[1] for non-game applications (also known as “funware“),[2] particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications.[3] Gamification works by making technology more engaging,[4] and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.

Applications like FourSquare use the “Mayor” badges and “points” for check-ins as incentives and encouragement to continue to use the app. We are all animals at some level – we like positive reinforcement, the emails that “so and so is following you” or “John is following your updates” and similar devices that give us incentives to keep doing what we’re doing. This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Mafia crime family structure tree

Image via Wikipedia

I remember just a few years ago when suddenly, all my friends were in the Mafia. They all turned into hit men (and women), looking for territory, weapons, and followers. Yes, sometime in 2008, (but it’s unclear when), this game got really popular, and quickly died off. But for a while, people were very enthusiastically asking for help, support, followers, endorsements, and more. It quickly grew to be too much noise, and I tuned it out. And now, along comes Empire Avenue.

Empire Avenue is a “stock market” type game where you buy shares in others who are online. If you want to join, you can try my link which gets both of us credit (full disclosure) for your joining in that way. The “value” of a particular “stock” or person (or brand – I’ve noticed both Ford and Intel on there so far, and Ford has invested in my profile) goes up based on interactions here in the social web.

Here’s a ticker showing my stock:

The more online social interactions, the more my stock will go “up.” In some senses, this is a prediction market about the value of someone’s online influence.

So far I’ve joined, initially to experience this so I can understand its value for my clients and the way my friends are using it. There are already some good posts on the subject, like Scott Monty’s “Gamification of Social Media,” Jeremiah Owyang’s Empire Avenue Provides Social Gaming Opportunities –and Challenges– for Brands, and David Armano’s “Is A Social Currency System the Next Big Thing?Scoble interviewed the founder of Empire Ave on YouTube.

I’ve invested in some friends (mostly ‘real friends’ and not just people I know online ; the “words for friend” is always a problem). I’ve connected my social accounts. But in order for my value to grow (and hey, I’ll admit to being a bit ego driven here), I have to post and contribute online. I do that pretty naturally, but will Empire Avenue change my behavior?

I’ve already thought of some ways to add posts and have connected my Inc. blog in addition to my personal and company blogs. The main way to “grow your value” in this system is to contribute (and also to be part of the site, log in, etc.).

Is Empire Avenue a better way to predict influencer value than Klout or similar systems? Or even general research – finding people who are of value in specific communities? Tough to know for now – I’ve just started using it, and I don’t know the volume of data or quality of data they’re collecting. I will be looking into that more soon. For now, hope you’re long on HOWARDGR.


Extra credit reading:

What my stock price doesn’t tell you

How Much are you really worth?


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Making a First Impression

This week I’ll be reviewing a Dell Vostro 130 (disclosure*), and asking that you participate with me via Twitter to share your wisdom about first impressions. We’ll be having 2 different Twitter contests, and I’ll be able to give away 2 Dells, one to a participant in each event. Read on (right after you follow me on Twitter.)

Update: A summary of just the contest info is here.

All my readers know I’m passionate about helping small businesses succeed. I write my Start-up Toolkit blog to give startups better tools, and I work with Wicked Start and write posts there regarding the 10 steps to take to start a company. And one of the key steps in starting or running a small company is to make a good first impression. Think of that impression as one of your  trade secrets.

The other day, we visited a deli that my wife’s friend started. She came out from behind the counter, gave us a big Italian hug and kiss, and proceeded to make our lunches a little extra special (Chicken Parmesan hero, but on Garlic bread instead of regular bread, mmm.) Meanwhile, customers came in and she and her husband greeted them by name. The ones they didn’t know, they were still friendly to, and I would suspect they’ll know they’re names soon enough. That first impression of a friendly neighborhood place will stick with these customers. But that’s only one kind of first impression.

Sometimes, you want to “wow” someone. Come up with something unexpected.  I received the package from Dell, and my first take was – Wow, a red laptop. Continue reading

Facebook’s Sponsored Stories

Back in June (wow, was it that long ago?) I was a guest on with hosts Deb Schultz and Heather Gold. On that show, I argued with Heather that “on Facebook, Advertisers are the client, and we (the users) are the product.” It’s not quite as bad as Soylent Green (where we’re the product and the consumer in an endless cycle) but it does have similarities.

I think this latest ad unit proves it. Our actions are being sold back to us as advertising content. See coverage on AdAge, HuffPo. As AdAge reports, “…if Starbucks buys a “sponsored story” ad, the status of a user’s friends who check into or “like” Starbucks will run twice: once in the user’s news feed, and again as a paid ad for Starbucks.”

What’s the value of this additional unit? Advertisers are looking for “social proof.” In other words, if you “Like” a movie, or Starbucks, or a brand, your endorsement may be more effective than an ad just done by the company. As commenters noted in the AdAge piece, many people ignore the banners, so this may give them even more reason to do so.

I think this takes away from the authentic preferences that people have by making us and our actions into content in an even more explicit way than Facebook already does as a platform.

I’m interested to see how this grows, and if it is more effective than other methods of sharing people’s preferences on Facebook. What do you think?

Social Media for Small Business Review

Today I’m thrilled to be speaking at the NY XPO for Business on a panel entitled “Social Media 1o1: Get Your Business Noticed.” I’m going to be making a lot of points in the discussion on Social Media for Small Businesses based on articles and research I’ve already done.

For those who wanted references for your notes from my talk, here are a few links to articles that are really relevant to small businesses about Social Media. Additionally, I’ve also added a video of a talk from last year’s Social Media Camp about Small Business and Social Media, if you want to share that with friends who missed today’s talk.

If you want more regular content from me, please sign up for my newsletter.

For points from today, one question that always gets asked is “How much time do I need to spend on my Social Media presence?” Here’s the answer: Social Media For Small Business Takes Time – How Much Is Up To You

In two recent discussions with a small business owner and a PR firm about many of the things I’ve recently covered in this column, a big concern that came up was time. “How much time will it take me to create a good social media presence?” Great question. The answer is, of course,”it depends.” Read the Rest:

I always recommend that people consider using blog software as the basis for their business website if they need a quick and easy way to set one up. Here are 8, (count ’em 8!) 8 Options to Quickly Build a Web Presence for your Startup

I constantly see small businesses who are using websites created for the owner in 1999, by his nephew who can’t or won’t update it, with inaccurate and outdated information and offers. There’s no excuse for this. Today, anyone who can use a word processor or send an email can have a functioning website. And you can also have blog functionality, which is something critical for helping you site be found in search. Additionally, it is an easy way to create fresh content that brings users back to your site on a regular basis. The rest is at

Next, Social Media isn’t the only technology your small business can use.  Leverage Virtual Workers for Your Start-Up:

Independent workers make up 30 percent of the nation’s workforce, according to the Freelancers Union. Could you use one to help launch your start-up? The rest is at

Finally, when you’re further along, you might consider Connecting Your E-mail and Social Marketing

Your business has accumulated an e-mail list, but you have no idea how to connect those e-mail subscribers to your Facebook page, your Twitter followers and other social networks. You’re looking for a relationship with those customers, maybe something more than responses to your marketing e-mails. Read more at

Finally, just some advice from the heart about motivation: Motivation Lessons from Summer Camp

If you can tap into what motivates your team, you can have people doing more work than you’ve assigned, gladly and without hesitation. In a start-up, that kind of dedication can be invaluable. I got some special insights into motivation at summer camp. Behind the campfires, muddy shoes and early-morning lake swims are valuable lessons in how to motivate a team. Read the rest at:

If you want to know more about social location based services read .

Finally, here’s video from a previous lecture – though a year old, still valuable.

Howard Greenstein and Chris Heuer on Social Media for Small Business:

Corntroversy in the Mom-Blogosphere

In this post I’m attempting to remain somewhat neutral about the actual controversial parts, and just document a few things going on regarding the recent campaign for High Fructose Corn Syrup (now being rebranded as “Corn Sugar.”) My disclosure – I saw a “Corn Sugar is the same as Sugar” commercial and nearly spit hormone-packed milk out my nose. Poorly done, Corn Refiners Association. So I’m not totally neutral here – I’m not a fan of all this refined sugar stuff in general. But I eat and drink it. My kids do too, in moderation. I’ve been known to down a HFCS sweetened beverage now and then (I’ve been to Pepsi on a blog tour, even.)

Mom Central, an organization that “provide[s] strategic advice and resources to companies who want to reach the powerful Mom market” and “help[s] clients execute targeted marketing campaigns to Moms that build brand recognition and loyalty” was hired by the Corn Refiners association to do a webinar for moms educating them about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Mom Central has been in business for a pretty long time, and I met Stacy Debroff who runs it on several occasions. They are in business to create earned media for clients via blogs and other online activities (my words) and have a legitimate right to do so. They also have a “manifesto” (listed in the “borg post” referenced below) about how they work with moms.

The current situation: After their webinar, a bunch of mom bloggers posted entries about HFC. The first two posts below are somewhat skeptical, and the third post seems to to the Corn Refiner’s party line.

One post on Mom Central talks about the “False Health Halo” presented by brands advertising their products as HFCS free. Which became a bit of a challenge in some of the posts below since this summer, Mom Central also ran a sponsored conversation campaign about Hunts HFCS-Free ketchup. (Evidence: The Mommy Files did a review and notes she was compensated by Mom Central.)

I think the fact that Mom Central has come down on both sides of the good/bad HFCS debate is one of the things that lead to a bit of a backlash by Jessica Gotlieb, Mom101 and others. (full disclosure – I did “like” this post and comment as such – Jessica typically tells it like she sees it and I value that.)

After Mom 101 did her post, Stacy Debroff of Mom Central responded, saying of Mom101 :”So how did we arrive at the point yesterday where Liz derides many of her fellow Mom Bloggers as unintelligent, vulnerable to coercion, and naive in general and specifically when posting about high fructose corn syrup?”

There were apparently a lot of comments on Stacy’s post, but eventually she closed the post and deleted comments.

Mom101 responded with her own post about ethics and integrity, suggesting that she did not call the other moms what Debroff said she did, and calling Debroff out for closing off her discussion.

That’s how things seem to stand, today, at this moment.

I’ve tried to document this mostly so I can share it with my NYU students in my “Social Media and the Brand” class, so they can evaluate how campaigns can turn controversial, and how different tactics are used to promote or defend different sides of an issue.

I am not “blog baiting” or looking for lots of traffic here – just looking to document. If I’ve characterized anyone or anything, let me know via comments or via Twitter – @Howardgr.

Participating in an HP Printing Event on Monday, 9/20/10 – contest!

On Monday I’ve been asked to participate in a sponsored conversation* event with HP about Printing and their new ePrint products . I’ll be on stage interviewed about the needs of start-ups, small businesses, and consultants around printing, with interviewer Ramon Ray.

HP and their agency Porter Novelli  have also asked super-mom blogger Elise Jones from BabyBites (a current Harbrooke Client) as well as the very smart David Fano from WhoByYou to be interviewed about their communities needs.

One exciting part of this event is that it will be a live streamed event. The event will start streaming around 10:15am Eastern, and I should be on around 10:30. The event will be streamed many places, but I’ll also have a widget  on the blog at so you can check it out. If you’re a start-up or small business and you have questions about printing, I’m going to have an ID (published at and my Facebook Fan Page later) to which you can email questions and suggestions, and we’ll answer them live on the broadcast.

The OTHER exciting part is that HP is providing a few printers that will be given away during each segment. See the rules below.

I hope you’ll tune in and check it out. There’s probably a pretty good chance to win a printer, and hey, you might learn something (like I did) about printing.

Why am I participating? I don’t often participate in this kind of event, but I’ve appreciated HP and Porter Novelli’s approach with this effort, and their desire to learn more about markets for printing from my knowledge interviewing Start-ups on a regular basis for my column. It also gives me good experience working with a large brand and agency that will ultimately improve my work with my clients. I never pass on an opportunity to learn.

The Rules

  1. This contest is being conducted solely via and not HP or any of its subsidiaries.
  2. Prizes/printers are awarded solely by HP’s discretion and the people employed as part of this contest.
  3. Winners are chosen by decision of on-site hosts conducting live shows. (No current Harbrooke consultants, client employees or direct relatives of Harbrooke members are eligible.)
  4. Please include your name and email address with your question, idea or submission, and indicate whether or not HP representatives could potentially reach out to you in the future. (Without contact info, how can we get you the printer, eh?)
  5. NOTE-by sending your submission you acknowledge that HP and the hosts may read your submission to our live audience.

* Sponsored conversation means I’m compensated for my time related to this event. disclosure: Porter Novelli is a former Harbrooke client.

Interview with Howard Greenstein from Web 2 Open conference

Dave Weinberg from Open Amplify interviewed me at the Web 2.0 Open Conference last fall, and asked me a few key questions about the future of the web.
He asked me about the major trends and challenges for the next year, the future of ad targeting, and the winners and losers in the next year for the web. Here are my responses:

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