Commentary

The Difference Between 'Social' And 'Engagement' Experts

The newsof an 18% staff reduction at Zynga isn't a harbinger of the decline of casual gaming. It's a warning about being the right type of expert. Zynga proved itself to be a Facebook expert and a desktop casual gaming expert.

Not a social gaming expert.

Therein lies the problem with much of the strategy, training, discussion and thinking around social media. People mistake "social platform" expertise for "social engagement" expertise.

Here's a good test for your "social experts" -- ask them to put together a social engagement campaign that does not take place on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Vine or Tumblr. See how well they can harness social dynamics and consumer psychology to encourage social behavior.

That’s a whole different ball game.

You can't simply throw money at a lack of consumer strategy -- unless you are using the money to bring in someone that actually has the strategy chops. If you throw money at lack of strategy without fixing the strategy, you are just throwing the money away.

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Just look at Zynga. The company has more than $1.5 billion (BILLION) dollars in cash reserves. But it can't figure out mobile gaming. After all, this isn't the first round of layoffs at Zynga.  It also cut around 150 employees last fall in addition to the 520 people this week.

Zynga needs help at the top. It needs better strategy that takes into account the changing psychology and habits of digital game play, NOT the changing dynamics of social media platform integration.

It's a good reminder for all of us in the industry. How much are we augmenting our skill sets by understanding platforms that are most definitely going to change, versus taking time to understand deep-rooted consumer psychology that is likely to hold true no matter the changes to platforms?

I’m not saying we should ignore platform-specific strategy. I’m just saying we often put too much emphasis on platform dynamics and not enough on consumer dynamics.

I’m guilty as well. Here are the sources I turn to for more understanding of people rather than platforms:

  • TED.com: Many TED talks involve insightful behavioral research into how people act and think. For instance, Alex Laskey’s talk on “How behavioral science can lower your energy bill” gives fascinating data on how social pressure is more effective than financial or moral persuasion.
  • Design You Trust: This blog  inspires both visually and creatively. They key is not to just look at the aesthetics, but to think about the strategy used to combine art forms, or the psychology of how people view the designed objects/assets.
  • AARP: While there is a multitude of media outlets AARP produces (magazine, television, radio, bulletin, emails, blog, Facebook, YouTube), I watch its Twitter feed. Much of the content covers the changing social dynamics and psychological needs of the 50+ age set -- a powerful group with the most disposable income in the country.

Social campaigns are so much more powerful when they begin with psychology instead of platforms

The next time you’re putting together a campaign, try this:

  • Imagine 500 people are waiting outside an entertainment venue to get in for a show.
  • Build a social campaign that gets people talking and sharing with the person next to them.
  • Take the concept and figure out how to port it to a social platform.
2 comments about "The Difference Between 'Social' And 'Engagement' Experts".
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  1. Kevin Planovsky from Vert, June 5, 2013 at 4:28 p.m.

    I was skeptical at first Bryan - but this turned out to be a great article. This is the entire premise around why we built Vert - no matter the changing climate of platforms or technology, consumers and brands will forever need to be able to interact with each other in digital/mobile/social ways. Thanks for standing up for the true strategists!

  2. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, June 6, 2013 at 5:22 a.m.

    You're reading too much into this. Zynga was hit by a load of factors, including: (1) facebook's move from Web to mobile, (2) much greater controls against spamming with game-generated messages, so it became harder to acquire new players, (3) the failed OMGPOP aquisition, (4) player hatred of excessive in-game purchases.

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