The quest to measure and monitor online influence is one that is enticing a lot of companies and individuals. Empire Avenue is a particularly different approach in that it mixes the financial market of stocks and shares, social gaming and networking, and peer review and influence into one big pot.
It seems to have recently experienced a bit of a growth spurt, around the same time as it received a new round of funding, but can it succeed where most other services seem to struggle?
I signed up a while ago, and the premise behind the social gaming element is a logical one. You buy and sell shares in other people registered on the network (similar ideas have been applied to celebrities in the past, e.g. the BBC and Celebdaq), and you can also earn by registering your social networking profiles and blogs and having activity on those sites earn you cash (or in Empire Avenue, Eaves).
All good fun – especially now I’ve started seeing people I actually know virtually or in real life start to appear. The payoff is that brands will be able to contact and reward the biggest influencers relevant to them.
Information and influencers:
Besides adding your social networks, you’re also encouraged to list the brands and interest you have, in typical social network style to build connections and to gift data to the Canadian company behind Empire Avenue – and to indicate which brands can contact you in the future.
But the big data gain comes from the ability to rate the activity content imported by others – specifically those people you invest in. The level of investment and ratings gives you an influence ranking, and the reward is intended to be allowing brands to communicate with those who are deemed most influential by the investment level rather than follower numbers.
Will it work?
There are definite advantages to this approach. Inbound links to blogs are counted by Google, but the rise of social networks means some highly influential people don’t have their own online presence with trackable linking.
Follower counts, particularly on Twitter, are effectively meaningless, due to the fact so many people are chasing high counts, and you can even buy friends and followers these days.
So a peer investment market seems like a more logical way of judging things – we’ll tend to invest in people we know and trust, even if they’re not digital celebrities (Although I suspect if and when Robert Scoble arrives we’ll see an Empire Avenue investment frenzy)
I’m still not entirely convinced that people will focus on investing in people they see as influential rather than trying to ‘game’ the system by simply investing in new people whose value will rise as they add their social networking profiles etc, but I suspect, as with most systems, it’ll be a fairly small percentage of people putting in the time and effort to gain wealth in that way, and those buying patterns could be tracked and minimised in various ways.
I think the biggest challenge on a membership level is to encourage people onto a platform in addition to their main social networks, and effectively onto one which isn’t amount engaging in sharing or conversation. There are plans to open up APIs and allow developers to play with the information, and a Facebook App or integration into the popular Twitter clients would help.
The other big challenge is on the brand level. Brands are increasingly engaging in social media, investing in time and resource to find influencers and brand advocates, and reach out to reward them in some way. But the fact that this is embedded so heavily in a gaming mechanic may put some off (although the rise of social gaming, and the rise of the average age of gamers might mean that the time is right for their type of mechanic), and I do wonder if the rewards will appear before the initial level of enthusiasm has worn off for many people – there seem to be a fair number of people signing up, filling out some details, and then not doing very much. Mind you, the same thing happened with Twitter back in the early days.
And there is one very clever element of the service – by rewarding external activity, those people who sign-up, link profiles, and never come back are still contributing to the data and receiving investments, so the service is still building while they’re absent. And even if they’re not checking their account or registered email addresses, you’ll be able to see which networks they’re actively using and track them down that way…
Now, who wants to buy a piece of me?