Taking stock of your social media influence

Measuring influence within or across social networks and other collaborative platforms is a major focal point for many companies and individuals. I have had good conversations, and more to come, with people like Michael Wu, Chief Scientist at Lithium, and I am excited by his approach. I have also checked out tools like Twitter Grader and Klout and both have their pluses and minuses.

A major flaw in all approaches so far, however, is that they focus on user behaviors within a singular communication channel instead of looking at the efforts of the individual, business, or agency across all channels. Empire Avenue, a new social media application (and game) is attempting to solve this problem.

Empire Avenue is new to the market, with only around 1000 users so far worldwide. It attempts, however, to assign a virtual currency value to each registered user based upon their blog, twitter, and Facebook activities. While still an incomplete view, it is a broader attempt than I have seen others yet take.

What is intriguing to me is that other users of the system purchase virtual stock in companies and people as they would stocks in the stock market, essentially banking on a users perceived influence. This virtual currency, nearly useless today, could ultimately be used to buy other virtual items, ads (a basic system is in place now), and perhaps converted into real currency, real value. It is not hard to envision a virtual marketplace where people are able to turn their influence into real value, becoming brand spokespeople in niches where their influence is strongest.

I chatted briefly with Duleepa Wijayawardhana, CEO of Empire Avenue, to gain insights on where he sees the company going.

Q. How did Empire Avenue get started? What were the initial goals for the product?
A. Empire Avenue was founded in late September 2009 and came about from the founders being extremely interested in how people perceived value and influence in the online world. We believe that everyone creates value with what they do, especially online when they create all this content and share it with their social networks. In that same way, every individual has influence over their social networks but not necessarily in every category. You yourself will know who to ask for computer advice, clothing advice etc. and whose influence in those areas you value the most. Hence was born Empire Avenue.

People can buy, sell or trade virtual shares and thereby put a human value to what they perceive as your influence, the value of your brand and content. By combining that with market makers that look at the content you connect to us and how that content is perceived on Empire Avenue and on the originating site/service, we’re able to give you a value.

Having a value though isn’t the final goal. We want you to be able to monetize that value of your influence. Empire Avenue was created to be a targeted advertising platform where any individual, IF they wish, can connect and run advertising of their choice to their networks on Empire Avenue or elsewhere. You get to choose the ads, you get to choose what your network sees. Who better than than you? You know what your network wants to hear about. We will charge advertisers based on the value of your influence on Empire Avenue and pass along the majority of the advertising revenue to the Influencer.

The idea is to bring consumers into the advertising equation; promotion and advertising are important, but why not let people talk to advertisers, connect with influencers and really make a living from it as well.

Q. What is your vision for the application over the next 12 – 18 months?
A. Over the next 12-18 months we will expand our application. We’re all about targeting communities and local areas and we’ll be adding functionality that reflects our vision. We’ll also be targeting mobile platforms, Facebook and anywhere else that we can get the application installed and running. We believe that Empire Avenue provides a great tool to measure your online Influence, have fun and participate with others in building value relationships and we will add features that enhance that.

In mid-late Summer, 2010 we will be launching the Advertising Platform I mentioned above.

Of course, we also need to expand our user base and grow the company :)

Q. What are the immediate challenges you need to overcome?
A. Immediate challenges revolved around creating a team that really understood what needed to be done. The core group is mostly former BioWare and Electronic Arts employees. We wanted this to be fun and bring a game element to an otherwise boring subject. I think with the expertise that we’ve gathered we’ve managed to create a very sticky and fun application.

The application has been self-funded to date and our next goal is to raise funding that helps us along. It’s not about just getting money; we want to find the right people who understand the disruptive nature of what we’re doing and how much fun we’re going to have getting to the next level.

Q. How large is your current membership?
A. We just opened the Invite-Only Beta and we’re getting close to 1000. Our closed beta, which ended on April 26th, had 500 people so we’re climbing fast.

Q. I think there is real power in the stock-market like approach for measuring influence of businesses, individuals, etc.. Without giving up secrets, how does the process work? How much of the value is driven by user purchase/sales behavior vs. outside influences (blog and twitter traffic)?
A. Ooh yes, secrets. Here’s what I can tell you:

  • We use a system of Market Makers. They have great names like Newton, Wannamaker, Locke and more. They have personalities and they act on your share price at different times.
  • We value both virtual share trading and your online activity. By activity it’s not just about you posting on Twitter. We all know that you could just as easily connect a bot to Twitter, spam Facebook or any of the other services like Flickr and Youtube that we are planning on connecting. No, we also look at how that’s perceived. Now this is where I cannot disclose the math. But I can tell you this:
If you want your share price to rise, increase your influence, meaning: do more online, get more friends and followers, create value and be active. Oh yes, and get them to believe in you and buy your virtual shares!
  • We continue to refine at this stage of the beta, so expect things to change a little. We truly believe that humans make the difference, not the math, which is why we have a dynamic market!

Q. The incentives, virtual credits and badges, tend to work well for applications like Foursquare and will likely work just as well for you. Do you envision a centralized virtual currency ecosystem that can play more broadly, enabling buying and selling of virtual commodities?
A. Short simple answer: Yes! We believe in a Web 3.0 world were connectivity between sites of virtual currency is the key to online success. We believe that Empire Avenue is one of the many sites that will come about that will allow people to create and value virtual presence and monetize their online activity and eventually turn that virtual monetization to real world capital. That capital could be real advertising earnings, discounts or more! It’s not just about social capital.

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