As I continue to investigate the social network Empire Avenue many questions have arisen. I figured the best person to ask would be the source, so with the assistance of Tom Ohle, VP of Marketing and Media Relations at Empire Avenue, I was able to have those questions answered by Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana, the CEO of Empire Avenue. Before we get to the Q&A, let me just say that, though I don’t know him, I’m a big fan of Dups. He’s been doing tons of interviews, engaging people on Twitter and doing so with a great attitude. That goes a long way with me.
Q1. To me, the interesting distinction between Empire Avenue and Klout or PeerIndex is that you can affect your score/stock price by taking actions on the EA site. While I appreciate the effort to get people to engage, does that allow for too much gaming of the system?
To answer the question you need to first ask, “What exactly is the point of a game?” So if our game was to give you a definitive, one-time, value and that was it, then perhaps we chose the wrong vehicle. However, our goal is to give you a set of metrics that are about being “social” and that you can improve by being “social.” Our belief and our goal is to set the mechanics up in such a way that trying to raise your score means that you will end up being more social. For example, we say, “increase your share price by interacting with people more on Facebook.” That’s not saying, “Go spam people,” but more like: get them to interact with you, and as your interactions increase your share price should too.
That’s an interesting point. The people who are “winning” in EA aren’t the spammers, they are the people who are creating content and engagement across multiple social networks. It doesn’t mean the spammers don’t exist, but they exist on Twitter and Facebook as well, as we all know.
Q2. 10 years ago sites like Wall St. Sports and Hollywood Stock Exchange offered virtual exchanges, were they in any way the inspiration for EA?
Not really; ultimately we didn’t even base Empire Avenue on an existing stock exchange. In existing stock exchanges, virtual or real, you bid and ask. It’s very complicated and not at all easy for people to get into. Empire Avenue has a system of “Market Makers.” We set your share price every night based on your activity, engagement and interaction. You then buy at that price and drive it up further or sell. Ultimately the data that can be gleaned is pretty much the same, but not at the expense of making people run away from complexity.
Q3. How do you see brands utilizing Empire Avenue in the future?
In any number of ways. Empire Avenue is ultimately a game, but a game that can have some real-world marketing and networking value:
1. The easiest way for a brand to get involved is simply to create an account and then just watch their social media stats. Use the game stats and advisors as a way to be better at Social Media in general, use it as a training tool. This requires little to no activity on their part, just a dedication to checking on their scores and putting them to some use.
2. Play the game itself and really boost your brand and brand awareness. Ultimately Empire Avenue is a meta social network. What you do on Empire Avenue can spread to many, many other networks. You can use Empire Avenue to gather shareholders, reach out to people, offer incentives from Luxury Items to other stuff that we will roll out in the future. Brands like Intel, AT&T and Ford are doing a fantastic job of embracing Empire Avenue’s platform.
3. Use our site to find people of note that are of interest to you and your brand. After all, we do have some cool metrics, so research people, find out what they say and heck, reach out to them and interact with them all on the same platform. Perhaps your brand could benefit from their expertise, knowledge or as a spokesperson.
Q4. Recently I saw that Jane Fonda joined Empire Avenue. Are you encouraged by celebrities joining EA, or do you fear that could tilt the balance in a negative way?
We’ve created the platform so that it’s difficult to “run away” with the share price. So celebrities joining is a good thing. It’s a lot of fun, gets people involved and hey, we all want to buy those that we know. Ultimately, we hope that it will drive you to connect with people you’ve never met in a meaningful fashion, and perhaps even, connect with brands and with celebrities you’ve never met or considered either!
Q5. What additional Social Networks will you be plugging in to EA in the future? LBS platforms like Foursquare and Gowalla? GetGlue, Orkut, Cityville?
We want to put every network into Empire Avenue. Our algorithms are scalable, so it is simply a matter of time and resources now.
Q6. What response do you have for those people who view Empire Avenue as another simplified metric and ‘vanity score’ for those in Social Media?
People will see what they want to see and I would hope people join to try it out and then make a judgement call! I see my share price at 65 as something to improve, not necessarily something to lord over my friends. I would say that most people still tell me how Twitter is basically a simplified metric and a vanity score in number of followers, or that Facebook is about getting the highest number of likes and/or friends. But in all cases you miss the point; in each case getting those numbers up involves you having to connect, to reach out, to engage. As human beings that’s what we do, that’s what we want to do. To engage with someone else half-way around the world just because they bought you on Empire Avenue and you start reading their Twitter because you want to see if you are going to invest… and then you realize, you might have met someone really of value to you… now that is power, that is fun, and that is the point.
A big thanks to Dups for taking the time to provide these thoughtful responses. I think a lot of people are trying Empire Avenue now and are frustrated or haven’t taken enough time to explore all the possibilities. Right now I think the platform is really interesting and has real potential. I encourage you to give it a try, meet some new people and decide for yourself.