April 25, 2011 by Ken Yeung
Buying & Selling On Empire Avenue: The Stock Market Approach To Influence
We all love playing the stock market. Here in Silicon Valley, companies love the stock market even more when their business begins the process of going public and getting ready for their Initial Public Offering (IPO). While a majority of people are probably interested in and have the capability of playing the stock market for real, there are those (like myself) who are a bit risk adverse and wouldn’t be willing to part with their savings on some stocks for these IPOs. What’s more, we would probably not have an opportunity to buy it at an affordable price during the IPO before the major shareholders get involved.
But now, there seems to be a solution to those who want to get in on the ground floor on some IPOs, but in a slightly different way. No, you can’t really put your money into buying shares of Google, Demand Media or even LinkedIn. Instead, you buy shares of your friends, colleagues, professionals and even brands to help gauge their influence. This service is provided by this new venture called Empire Avenue and some have even called it the “Monopoly for social media” which tells you some interesting things about its service and application. After all, does it seem to be just another social network? Maybe, but it adds in some interesting perspectives on gauging someone’s influence. Let’s take a look:
Should Klout be worried?
Possibly. After all, it seems that Klout’s measurement of social influence is slightly mimicked in Empire Avenue, but for all intents and purposes, the service is primarily a social network to have fun with. It could be considered the human gamification of social influence – well at least to a certain extent. Klout’s mandate is focused on looking at an individual’s social graph and computing their influence score. For those that have said that Empire Avenue is a measurement of influence, to that I would say that it’s not entirely generated from a computing model, but rather more from the human side of things. Sure, there are scores attached to you adding in your Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Flickr accounts, but aside from that, the true score is people “buying” shares of you and raising your price.
To a certain degree, Klout’s prominence as a strong metric for influence could be challenged, but it might be determined by the amount of people who are on the system – not everyone would be interested in joining yet another social network, no matter how much of a possibility it could have towards measuring influence. If it has a Farmville-like component to it, would it be more annoyance or interest? Let’s take a look at Jeremiah Owyang’s (@jowyang) post on Empire Avenue to see what he says about the threat to Klout and other influence measurement services:
Empire Avenue is a threat to Klout (and competitor Peer Index), as it aggregates data and evaluates from multiple social networks –Klout only uses Facebook and Twitter data. Social Analytics firms that try to understand the engagement of social media accounts are also at threat as Empire Avenue aggregates content from several locations and involves data from their game mechanics.
But can a stock market “game” really have an effect on getting mass appeal? Is it too financial that only those people in the press, in technology and also in business (management, finance, corporations, securities, etc) be truly interested in? And if so, does that limit the scale to which mainstream audiences will care for?
Where’s the value in these scores?
It could have tremendous value, if interpreted the right way. For many, Empire Avenue is just a stock market version of Farmville that people can sign up to buy and sell their friends and use virtual currency to raise their value. So if you’re thinking that Robert Scoble (@scobleizer) is a good investment, then you would buy up to 200 shares in his personality. Of course you can also purchase shares in brands too like Mashable, the New York Times or Eloqua, but the real return is not tangible. It appears that it’s all just a show of support towards your favorite brand. Does a higher price constitute influence? I think it’s rather subjective depending on what you consider them influential about. However, Scott Monty (@scottmonty), Ford’s social media guy, posted on his personal blog an interesting perspective on the gamification of social media, specifically addressing Empire Avenue. In his post, Mr. Monty says that there are two ways to “win”: be an investor or be an influencer – and Empire Avenue has laid out the “rules” for how you can do just that.
By looking at the above images of the Empire Avenue qualifications, you can see that the rules have been put in place to help determine someone’s status as an influencer so that those brands interested in finding people who would be interested in their products can look at individual “scores” and determine that person’s “worth” towards their brand. Confused? Well let’s look at the requirements for being an influencer. In the eyes of Empire Avenue, to be classified as one, simply receive the specific achievements, be placed on the leaderboards and have the virtual equivalent of being a millionaire.
What these accomplishments can tell us is that by putting forth your effort to achieve the status of Influence Mogul is a sign that you are passionate about what you do. The fact that users are buying shares in you to help you become a millionaire is probably another sign of your growing influence. Through the use of human-powered efforts, a person/brand’s influence (or in this case, their share price) can be determined by whatever their social activity is. I suppose that if you had connected your networks with Empire Avenue, like attaching your Twitter account, Facebook profile & page, Flickr, YouTube and blog RSS feed to it, it could analyze your constant activity and determine your contributions towards your social graph and influence.
Brands might need to explore this further
I think Mr. Monty was onto something in his post about Empire Avenue and brands. From his example in working at Ford, what he went ahead and did was lock down the FORD symbol in Empire Avenue and linking the appropriate social pages with the Empire Avenue account. Now for businesses, this isn’t a bad thing to do – in fact, it’s probably encouraged. For us individuals, just like we do on Facebook, we’re always “liking” brand pages. I just liked Zappos’ fan page along with Under Armour and other brands, but what the miracle here is that brands will not need to manually repost their blogs onto a page – just linking it once will have it all tied together on your Empire Avenue page. From a brand perspective, having people buy shares in your company like, say FORD, will be similar to “liking” the Facebook page. Now imagine that if brands started to find out that more and more people are buying shares in their company, they may want to reward them (a la Klout Perks). But only those that have bought the most shares could potentially be rewarded as a sign of thanks as a strong supporter. Whether that’s through individuals buying “eaves” (Empire Avenue’s currency) or through some other effort, the brand could then send a message to thank them.
So what other opportunities lie ahead for brands on Empire Avenue? According to Mr. Owyang:
- Create a company account – even though startups and small businesses can’t be listed on NASDAQ or the NYSE, they can still have their fun and experience on Empire Avenue to help assess possible interest in long-term stock market involvement or how strong people are supporting them
- Leverage your existing social media investments - brands should tie their social networks into Empire Avenue. Perhaps more interaction will show more promise from consumers towards brands
- Find out who’s an influencer and see how they behave online
- Game mechanics can be a reward mechanism – as discussed above, more shares may mean better rewards from the brands for customers. What achievements could be unlocked for specific brand engagement?
- Have conversations with your influencers
- Advanced features will allow brands to deploy virtual branded goods from Empire Avenue – According to Mr. Owyang’s interview with the founders, “they are going to be doing branded items soon. They also have a system to convert Eaves to real world offerings (maybe coupons/discounts) etc.” (a Groupon experience, perhaps?)
- Leverage the open API – an integrated social platform is a nice thing for brands to use and is a smart way to get a big picture about your community
So there we have it with Empire Avenue. Is it a measurement of influence, an entertainment platform, or just a way for people to get involved in picking stocks and enhancing the way we view popularity? Only time will tell, but it so far remains yet just another social network…but with some business promise.
Here are some additional blogs and resources for finding out other opinions/perspectives on Empire Avenue.
- The Quantification of Individual Social Equity (Geoff Livingston)
- Empire Avenue Provides Social Gaming Opportunities –and Challenges– for Brands (Jeremiah Owyang)
- The Gamification of Social Media (Scott Monty)
- Empire Avenue CEO Dups talks about The Game Layer, Influence, Network Value and Foursquare (Esteban Contreras)
- Is a Social Currency System The Next Big Thing? (David Armano)
- This social media stock market game is building a real-world “value score” about you (Robert Scoble)
- Will Empire Ave take off or is it a fad? (Quora)
Photo credit: PocketAces / sxc.hu