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When I asked Duleepa Wijayawardhana (a.k.a. 'Dups'), co-founder and CEO of the self-described 'social media exchange' Empire Avenue (EA), if he wanted to be the next Gordon Gekko, he replied, 'We want to be bigger than Gordon Gekko.' He might just get there thanks to the growing trend of ranking a person's social media capital as well as thousands of new 'investors.'
Massive brands like Intel, Audi, Microsoft, Ford Motor Company, Toyota and AT&T have also invested in EA and are quickly rising up EA's business leaderboard. The real-life success of a company seems to directly correspond with EA's scoring algorithm.
The Fortune 500 ranks public companies by the most after-tax revenue for the year, but how does EA determine its scoring? 'We really look at the following: Activity (how much and what you do), audience (who's listening) and engagement/interaction (how are people engaging you),' Dups said. 'So if you can break down any network in that way, you can figure out what we listen to.'
We spoke to some top brands and power users to figure out what all the fuss is about.
Why are so many brands deciding to invest their time in EA? 'We saw a social property that was about to tip and a new opportunity to engage customers in non-traditional and unique ways,' said Intel's global strategist, Bryan Rhoads. 'The algorithms behind the game mechanics are impressive as well. It's not a simple popularity contest as it looks at your aggregate social equity and capital. Beyond engagement and investing back into the EA community, the scoring allows us to see our overall performance as a social brand.'
Rhoads says that Intel's investment in EA has expanded their larger social community, but feels that the biggest advantage to jumping into the new platform may have been internal. 'We saw an opportunity, quickly ascertained any potential risks and started managing our account,' he said. 'Far too often brands and firms get set in their ways, here was an opportunity to 'lead by doing' ... not hold 10 strategy meetings, but get out there, roll-up your sleeves and do some real-time engagement marketing ... and have some fun along the way.'
The trend for brands on EA is to invest in community development, rather than selling stock and excelling at the gaming aspect of the social network. Instead of worrying about their EA network score, their primary goal is to establish new relationships and make their investors feel good about themselves. Audi's senior social media manager, Andrew White, adheres to these principles on EA., 'Audi invests, Audi does not sell. We are on Empire Avenue to build relationships and get behind those who believe in our brand,' he said. 'If we buy you, we will never sell.'
Like Rhoads at Intel, White saw EA as a unique opportunity to connect with fans. 'We saw it as a great opportunity to interact and engage with individuals who have interacted with Audi in the past, as well as discover new influentials throughout every industry and interest,' he said.
'Games are a proven vehicle for building good brand awareness and brand loyalty, as well,' Dups said about brands using EA as a community-building tool. 'Imagine having Audi buying some shares in you; that will likely make you feel pretty good ... certainly about yourself, but about the brand too!'
Getting In Early
So if brands aren't necessarily going by their EA network score to judge their return on investment, how do they know if their time is well spent? Robert Scoble thinks it's too early to say whether brands will see a major return on their EA investment. 'It's something fun to play around with, but that's all I'd be doing right now if I were a company,' Scoble said. 'That said, you could get a lot of PR by playing around with services in early stages of the game. Everyone remembers [the companies that were early to] blogging and Twitter. No one cares about the 3,000th one there.'
Intel is seeing results from being an early adopter. 'As one of the first Fortune 50 brands on EA, we got first-mover credit,' explained Rhoads. 'People noticed we were participating and were able to interact directly through the game with a very active, pre-existing community. It's very satisfying to invest in that community and I think gratifying and perhaps surprising when a brand re-invests back in you. As far as results are concerned, it's hard to tell.'
Individual power-user Chris Pirillo said he's seen positive results based on his time spent using EA: 'I've definitely seen engagement pick up across the board, from my YouTube videos to my tweet stream to my Flickr account to my blogs and beyond.'
While larger companies are always among first adopters for new social networking sites because they have more resources and staff, the true test will be if smaller companies will flock to EA as they have to Facebook and Twitter. Most companies will likely need harder evidence of return on investment in order to justify getting into the game.
Written for Mashable
Author: Jesse Thomas / Posted: 15-06-2011