National Gaming Day A Great Idea…

It was a well intentioned but underpublicized and marketed event, National Gaming day, 2011. Chances are if you are reading this it may be the first you have heard of the idea, which took place on Saturday, November 12. The concept is simple and effective…pick a day as a way to united family and community in a central location…the library…and use games as the rallying point for all in the group. After all, kids today are more and more about gaming, parents still have an affinity for board games, and libraries are one of the places in almost any community where endless resources for education exist for people of all ages at little to no cost. The event was promoted by the American Library Association as a community and awareness building initiative. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that libraries, like most education-based organizations in the U.S., are critically underfunded these days, so getting the word out or spending time being innovative is not a huge option. So the day came and went with not as much fan-fare as what could be. So here are some thoughts on how to expand, market and make National Gaming Day a bigger success going forward.

1- Make it about not just board games, but gaming in general. Board games are great family events, but in this day and age in order to connect with multiple generations “gaming” means interactive, it means mobile, and it means digital. Presenting new concepts of traditional games and connecting all online where families can play with other members not just in one library but in libraries across the country would be a huge promotion, one that a gaming company could underwrite. It would be a shared experience just like sitting around the table, but to a much larger audience.

2- Make it about education and strategy as well. There is a growing push to use Mind Sports…checkers, chess, bridge, poker, even scrabble, backgammon etc…as a way to promote strategy, and thinking as well as combating diseases ranging from ADD to Alzheimers. Include not just playing games but teaching these games to families and groups as part of the day. Maybe even a national tournament or competition tied to the day would be another hook.

3- Welcome, don’t shun the video game crowd. From Facebook to Zyenga, the casual game brands with huge dollars are looking for ways to expand into education and traditional groups who may not play or understand what gaming is. Use National Gaming Day with the libraries as a hook to work with these deep pocketed companies to co-promote educational and community platforms through gaming, that expand the library beyond its physical boundries. Video games in some ways may be considered “mindless fun but the educational value of gaming is growing with each passing day, and uniting these two communities would make great sense.

4- Use the day as a platform for innovation. Many groups feel gaming alienates kids from normal conversation and traditional interraction, so use the day as a way for parents and kids to come together on a common ground. Use the games, traditional and digital, as a platform to spur conversation by showing families how gaming of all kinds can be a rallying or conversation point,a and how these games and companies are creating innovative concepts and platforms for industries of all kinds.

5- Make it not just about the physical, but about the virtual. The library building is the center of the community on many fronts. However finding one day or time to get families to a location during the day is tough. Therefore by using the virtual and digital worlds as a pass-thru to pull people together makes great sense. Maybe the physical library becomes the central hub where all members have to go to for information or to participate in an activity throughout the course of the month, and culminates with another activity where the family unites in the home on another night. Gaming is all about the shared activity more than the place, so making it convenient and fluid can help expand involvement.

In short, the idea of National Gaming Day is a great one, and has the potential to reunite families around a common simple purpose…playing games for fun and thought. It also has a huge upside in revenue for libraries and education if promoted with gaming companies and brands looking to engage new and diverse groups. It can also serve as a bridge builder across generations, breaking down the stereotypes of board games as boring and video games as mindless. All in all a smart idea that has huge potential to grow in the future, just like the digital world.

Running To Social Media Success…

Hitting a milestone for brands is a natural marker of success. The millionth sale, the 10 millionth customer etc etc always leads to celebration and justification that those selling are delivering on what’s required. In social media however, the ebb and flow of milestone numbers can sometimes be both impressive but can also be confusing. How many of those followers are spam, how many actually follow the “likes” they have or read the tweets that are posted. Are they following 50 or 50,000? Now finding a way to hit a milestone and use that milestone as an effective call to action in the social media space to show the value of all those followers can be tricky.

One recent example of using a milestone to drive ROI was out forth by the folks at Runner’s World this past week. Individual action sports…from running and tennis to skateboarding and skiing…certainly have a good sense of community that is conveyed through social media and word of mouth. While in many instances those communities are not as large or as buzzworthy as team sports or large media properties, individual action sports can drive product, event activation and best practices against a core audience very quickly. Those involved are passionate to be involved, not just watch, and that translates into a very solid following looking to engage and give positive feedback.

Runner’s World social media editor Susan Rinkunas knew that the magazine was approaching some social media milestones, and came up with a good reward system to tie signups and engagement for their passionate followers. As the magazine surpassed 200,000 Facebook fans, they commemorated the event/occasion/landmark/milestone by giving a free issue of the magazine to first 200 U.S. residents who joined. That offer closed quickly and ended up serving 600 new subs thanks to the overwhelming response. Then through Facebook and RunnersWorld.com, the publication also offered deep discounts on Runner’s World branded book titles over the following 200,000 seconds after crossing the 200K threshold (through 2 am ET on Thursday 4/28… approximately 55.5 hours). All in all, the Runner’s World Facebook event/occasion/landmark/milestone sold over 200 units (actually about 350 books, training plans, Challenge packages) in the 55.5 hours the offer was extended. Runner’s World then steamrolled past 210,000 on May 4 (today) just nine days after crossing 200,000. The magazine had been averaging about 10K new likes per month, but surged in April, adding almost 30K likes in the month. That was thanks in part to the Boston Marathon, the brand’s coordinated efforts to keep Facebook compelling (including live updates during the Boston Marathon and other big events) and just plain old good spring running weather. On Twitter, Runner’s World has north of 76K followers, up close to 50 percent from the beginning of 2011 and 8K new followers in April, in part thanks to the brand’s specialized Twitter hashtag (#RWBoston) that allowed runners to ask our editors questions in the weeks leading up to the race, and follow the weekend in Boston and then the race itself.

What’s the lesson learned? Always know your customer and your followers, and service them with offers they want and need and can engage around. It’s great to hit milestones, but showing how those milestones drive the bottom line with engagement is the key, and you can only do that by asking, following, and then creating the right offer around news.

The Social Media Game On A Global Scale…

The social landscape in sports across North America is growing exponentially every day. Teams, athletes, events, brands, media companies, are all scrambling to add followers, build alliances, grow traffic and scream louder than anyone else to draw critical mass for whatever reason, from selling tickets and growing brand loyalty to giving consumers the unfettered access they crave. Yet for all the scrambling and the theories of what is brand success…is it millions of followers or the right few thousand for your audience for example…a great piece by Eric Fisher in this week’s Sports Business Journal shows that American teams are still lagging in the social media footprint to the soccer clubs of Europe, and that the recently completed cricket World Cup had more of an impact in the digital space than almost any other North American sporting event, save the Super Bowl…and that impact was not on non-American servers, it was on a well known platform in the States…ESPN digital.

This type of news may create some consternation amongst the sports social media elite in the United States, and may send some “experts” heading for cover as they advise brands. However in reality the news is a great example again of how the sports landscape is far more global than we sometimes care to admit, and taking a look at best practices of some of the world’s largest soccer clubs can continue to give North American brands insight into social media. Often what is also overlooked is the advanced use of the handheld outside of the States and in emerging companies, where landlines are not useful. Telecom companies have been using the digital space for years…the French Open and Formula One were among the first events ever, as early as the 1990’s…to use digital technology to bring fans multiple images and export data to as wide an audience as possible who were following events in their handheld devices.

The list also serves as a reminder to the tribal nature of soccer as a global brand. The largest clubs in the world have truly global followings…loyal groups who consume all things about their home club win or lose…and while American sports are king here, the amount of team-specific fans outside of this country (vs. fans of the league like the NBA or NHL) is far less than the amount of club-specific fans around the world.

This is also certainly not an indictment of the great innovation and brand activation programs American sport has pioneered in the digital space, and those programs are growing exponentially each day. What it is, is a great look and reminder into the potential of the global brand and the appeal of effective social media programs that are based on both content and support. Passion drives interest no matter what the platform.