New Marketing for the Socially Digital Age – TiE CON East 2013

Can a room full of experienced VC’s learn some new tricks about digital marketing, from the perspective of video game PR? That was my hope today as I represented TriplePoint during the 7th annual TiE CON in Boston.

It’s a conference that brings together both established and startup entrepreneurs in Technology, Life Sciences, Education, and Cleantech. I lead a boot camp with help from two other marketers, on the topic of New Marketing for the Socially Digital Age. The panel touched upon everything from Facebook and YouTube to email blasts, lead-generation, and timing for advertising campaigns.

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Bourbon Cupcakes, BBQ, and a Sense of Community at the East Coast Game Conference

Two weeks ago, hundreds of game industry professionals and industry hopefuls gathered for the fourth installment of East Coast Game Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. While the southeast doesn’t quite have the bustling industry reputation of San Francisco or Los Angeles, attendees didn’t seem to mind in the least. That a show planned almost entirely by a board that has separate full-time jobs, competing with giant expos that bring in 30 to 70 thousand people, continues to thrive says a lot about the industry today.

The expo hall, much like the show’s attendees, featured a unique split of well-established companies (Insomniac, Funcom, Red Storm), growing independent developers (Spark Plug Games, Mighty Rabbit), and industry-focused businesses, all rubbing elbows as they showed off their work and wares. Panels and presentation topics ranged from business to mobile and social gaming, along with a standalone track led by the region’s most recognizable name: Epic Games.

Of these varied panels, one in particular provided some helpful insights into the continually evolving relationship between consumers, journalists, and public relations in the gaming industry. Within trappings of bourbon cupcakes and actual bourbon, covered to great effect by Kotaku’s esteemed Mike Fahey here, editors from Polygon, The Escapist, Kotaku, and IGN spent an hour going over some of the tougher ethical questions they face in their work.

At the end of the final day, as the expo hall closed and the last panels wrapped up, the unique spirit of the NC Triangle’s gaming industry became a bit more apparent. Attendees lingered and chatted as they broke down their booths, some helping others as they packed up to head home and very few seeming in a huge rush to leave.

While it’s true that hubs like SF and LA lead the industry in size, there’s a lesson to be learned in the continued success of the ECGC. No matter how competitive the space gets, or how much worry goes into predicting the future landscape, we’re all in this together in the end.

Oh, and one more extremely important takeaway from the show: bourbon before noon can be dangerous. Drink responsibly, and preferably a bit later in the day. Cupcakes optional.

Should Gaming News Report on Anders Behring Breivik?

On July 22, 2011, Anders Behrig Breivik killed 77 people in a horrific tragedy in Norway.  Within a day, game-centric journalism sites and blogs began covering stories about the killer because Breivik wrote a 1500 page manifesto that included recommendations on using Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as training for an inevitable war with Islam.  He also discussed using an obsession with World of Warcraft as a cover – saying you couldn’t answer your phone because “you were busy raiding” isn’t likely to invite any questions.  “If you’re planning requires you to travel, say that you are visiting one of your WoW friends,” Breivik writes, “or better yet, a girl from your ‘guild’ (who lives in another country). No further questions will be raised if you present these arguments.”

Violent events have been linked to videogames countless times in the mainstream media, usually to the dismay of gaming journalists.  While some have strong connections, such as Breivik explicitly saying he used Modern Warfare 2 to train, others have much more tenuous connections, like when the Denver Post claimed the Columbine school shooting was caused by parents revoking the shooters’ videogame rights.

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Social Media Circus: Harnessing Social Influence for Games

Which social ploys do you employ in trying to generate discovery for your game? Here are a few of the usual suspects:

The Persistent Pesky Pop-Up
“Hey, you just set a high score! Want to share it? Oh, you’ve leveled up, that’s awesome; you ought to post about that! Did you know this game is more fun with friends? You might think about mentioning that to some friends you can have fun with! Oh, no way, you just harvested your 37th crop, hey you know what would be great is if you posted about that!!

The Bald-faced Bribe & Blackmail
“Say, you’ve gathered enough experience to reach level two! Now all you need to do is get five friends to click on this for you. You do want to get to level two, don’t you? Oh, and look at how nicely you’ve set up your mafia empire – it would be a shame if it were to burn to the ground while you’re offline. Maybe some friends of yours will keep an eye on it for you by clicking on this post you’re definitely about to make, eh?”

The Gut-punch Guilt-trip
“Thanks for playing this game of ours. This free game we provided to you, for no cost, out of the kindness of our hearts, which you’ve been playing for 5 hours now for free. We know you care about indie development and small studios – like us! – and you want to do your part to keep us afloat. Surely you can take a moment to write us a 5-star App Store review, and ‘Like’ us on Facebook, can’t you? After all, we live or die by your support alone, and if you like this game, and don’t want its creators to starve, alone, in the street, you could mention us to a friend… that’s not so much to ask…”

Nearly every social game is guilty of one or more of these “Please, please, share us with your friends” tactics, and it’s not restricted to Facebook. Show us an iOS game that doesn’t continually ask you for an App Store review, and we’ll show you a development team that forgot something. While you’re at it, ask us if it’s coincidental that every Steam Holiday Sale includes “write a recommendation” as one of its prize-worthy achievements.

Don’t think too poorly of the developers and publishers, though, for trying their hardest to leverage your social network. The personal recommendation still carries more weight than the advertisement for most of us, and as discovery becomes an ever-harder proposition in the crowded marketplace, it’s not just enough to get a few of your friends to talk to you; publishers need all of your friends to talk to you.

As social media continues to supplant traditional media in our attention spans, so too must our mass-media strategies adapt and evolve. In a world where the Internet has given a voice and platform to every single person you know, friends and family have now become analogous to the different channels on your television. Your daily Facebook crawl has taken the place of grabbing the remote and surfing to see what’s on. Furthermore, while we’d never admit this to our friends’ faces, let’s face it… there are channels we like and trust, and channels we almost always just flip past.

Much in the same way that we favor the opinions of certain news outlets, we categorize our friends and their “channels” for trustworthiness and taste. The decisions we apply to television (Bah, those hacks on channel 51 are so biased, and the guys on channel 28 just show fluff pieces. Oh, an interview on channel 12? This I’ve got to see!) have now migrated to social media (Ugh, Jesse posts a message every time he clicks a cow; I’ve just begun to tune him out. Wow, Kate usually hates all social games and works as a developer; if she posts about a game it must be amazing!).

Better Learning through Social Games

This carpet-bombing of coercion is the new version of a broad ad campaign across several TV networks, in an effort to secure as much attention as possible. It’s no longer enough just to get the casual posters to share a link to a game; it’s important to get a wide cross-section of evangelists who can capture an equally wide audience with their recommendations. There are thousands upon thousands of games out there, all hoping to turn into the next FarmVille, and they can’t do it with an audience that isn’t growing.

Until there is a scientific way to codify who the key influencers are in your social sphere, via Klout or otherwise, developers have to assume that every one of us could be the most trusted name in gaming to our friends and relatives – the Leonard Maltins and Roger Eberts of our own private circles, whose opinions drive the purchasing/playing decisions of the world. You are a media empire unto yourself, so you’d better get used to being schmoozed.

Social Media in 2012: You’d Better Start Swimming

In the past few years, so much has changed for social media that little of our quaint old landscape remains at all anymore – at least, not as it once was.

Now it’s spread to encompass much, MUCH more than a few social networks. Social media affects every corner of the media landscape – traditional press outlets just as much as blogs.

Spilling Over

And that’s only a small piece of the social explosion – tech companies, web, mobile and app developers, be forewarned. The new generation of consumers is not nearly as interested in new technologies as the last. Forget confusing, varied user interfaces – there is no learning curve for platforms and programs today’s consumer already knows. Free social services with unlimited content, like for a case-in-point example, YouTube…

Teens today would rather use YouTube for music discovery than apps like Pandora or Spotify – even more than the almighty iTunes itself.

It’s all traced straight back to social media and the implications go on for days… If you don’t understand how teens (and other mainstream consumer demographics) are using social media, then you will have a hard time succeeding in web-based business at all anymore. Why? Because it’s no longer just a matter of reaching – or even engaging – fans in social media.

The whole social industry has forced its way to the top of a virtual landscape that once didn’t exist.

Now What?

Now, not using social media to its full potential is a silly missed opportunity. Not realizing you need help is a leading cause of brand drama. (Okay, that was a made up fact, but probably still true.)

Social media is about reaching your most important audiences with messages that SCREAM genuine, relatable thought leadership.

For some, “doing” social media is obvious. But for others – the ones balancing budgets and doling out dollars – the question is all about measuring results. What metrics and analytics are representative of a successful, data-driven social strategy? Answering that is a mountainous task. There is no one right answer. Social media isn’t just about what you do, it’s about how you do it.

Numbers Game

From the PR agency perspective, we’re entering an exciting (and somewhat scary) new era of measurement. Ours is an esoteric craft with typically intangible – though highly influential – results.

Until now, advertisers had their CPPs and CPMs… Web marketers had their affiliate links and traffic analytics… And then we PR folk came in and guaranteed little to nothing numerical… Awkward.

TriplePoint long ago realized the need for SEO driven websites and blogs. We’ve built a system with more measurability than ever for press release distribution, website referrals, measuring influence and sharing information internally. If you’re wondering what any of that has to do with social media – it’s everything.

Now, we can implement these same strategies for social media – marketing and promoting our clients more effectively, and finally having hard, measurable data and results – proof of pass or fail.

Double Trouble

If the next (ahem, current) generation of online consumers gets their news and multimedia through social networks instead of through traditional media… Well then welcome to comboville, because now (and for the foreseeable future), you have no choice but to “do social” and PR. “Old school” generations aren’t going to stop reading USA Today anytime soon, you know.

For more info on TriplePoint‘s social media and content creation services, please contact pr (at) triplepointpr (dot) com.

Window-Shopping: Whether to Put Your Game in a Browser

You’re getting ready to unleash the best game ever upon the unsuspecting public. This game is addictive, clever, charming, challenging, and fun as hell. The design is coming together nicely, the art is jaw-dropping, and your focus testers love it – even your mom loves it, and she doesn’t even play video games. All anybody wants to know at this point is, when and where can I play this thing? So, what’s your answer – can they download it, or can they play it in their browser?

Before you answer, take a moment to consider the major differences between releasing a browser-based game and a dedicated, standalone application. Better yet, take a moment to consider how many differences don’t exist between the two as of recently. Browser games have come a long way since the Bejeweleds and Desktop Tower Defenses of the world first began to appear. Not only have programmers gotten more out of Flash, but new platforms like Unity, Silverlight, and HTML5 now allow for the kind of rich game visuals, animation, and sound that one would expect from standalone games. The Chrome Web Store, in fact, offers a browser version of Bastion – graphically and functionally identical to its Xbox and PC counterparts – that will run in one tab while you read this blog in another.

Bastion in a Browser

If browser games can deliver everything that non-browser games can, is there a difference at all? Why shouldn’t everybody go with the browser route, and all of the accessibility and compatibility that comes with it? The answer is because, as capable as the browser may be, it is still a platform that isn’t a perfect fit for every game. It’s an issue of presentation: not everybody wants to browse and play at the same time.

Think about the word “Browse.” Merriam-Webster defines browsing as the act of “looking over casually,” or “to skim through.” While most of us frequently use a Web Browser throughout our days with a bit more purpose or direction, the meaning still applies. How many tabs do you have open right now besides this one? Five? Ten? A few dozen? The modern browser user is accustomed to multi-tasking, frequently changing focus and giving each tab only as much attention as it absolutely needs.

Framing and presentation are an important part of an experience. You wouldn’t want to watch Schindler’s List or The Shawshank Redemption at a matinee full of laughing children, nor would you want to try to take in van Gogh’s Starry Night through a telescope. When you play a game in a browser tab, you’re engaging in casual gaming. This isn’t to say that browser games are inherently “casual games” –we’ve already established that browsers can deliver “hardcore” games like Bastion, or 3D MMOs like FusionFall, or games from any genre. It’s that you are playing the game casually, giving it half your attention, and allowing for perpetual interruptions from the rest of your desktop.

This is appropriate for any number of games: any title meant to be consumed in brief, bite-sized chunks of time, or any turn-based affair makes a perfect fit in a browser tab. Being able to flick over to a simple Facebook game like Solitaire Blitz or Triple Town, play for 90 seconds, and jump right back to another task is wonderfully convenient. There are even games which stray towards the “hardcore” side of the fence, with tricky gameplay and emphasis on immersion and difficulty, yet are broken up into discrete instances or turns. For the typical multi-tasker, these experiences are great diversions to keep open alongside their email and news feeds.

Other games, however, demand the full measure of their players’ attention. How is a game like Deus Ex expected to establish the suspense of stealth or the intensity of a firefight if the player keeps glancing up at his Twitter feed? Who would want someone on their Modern Warfare team who kept idling during the match in order to read a new round of Huffington Post articles? There is a reason these games typically run in a full-screen format. More than just idle diversions, these are experiences that are trying to establish stories, characters, and moods, and you’re doing them – and yourself – a disservice if you’re not paying attention.

Some may argue that many browser games, from the average Facebook farming facsimile to the aforementioned Bastion, also give players the option to run in full-screen. If that’s the case, however, then the entire question of presentation is rendered moot. If a game operates as a discreet, non-streaming download, and occupies your full attention when in use, then the only real differences are technical – is your delivery mechanism a browser, or some other digital distribution platform like Steam or Impulse? Which one will provide you with the biggest audience? Is your company able to build a game that fits into HTML5 or Unity, or will you have an easier time developing your own code structure?

As technology improves and these differences continue to evaporate, the question of presentation will remain as the deciding factor for your game. To those who still doubt the value of environment and framing, consider the famous experiment run by the Washington Post, involving world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell playing anonymously in a Metro Station, to the utter indifference of a thousand people. Now, imagine that you’re Joshua Bell, and the game you’ve crafted carries the majesty and spirit of Bach’s “Chaconne.” Do you present it in a proper symphony hall setting, or does your audience pass right by because it’s just one more bit of fluff in their busy day?

Being Intentional About Your Message

I’m reading through the Hunger Games series right now because, at this point, how could you not? In the ninth chapter of the first book, main character Katniss has just been chosen as a tribute, or contestant, in the annual Hunger Games where members from each district fight to the death. The Games are held each year by the Capitol, the presiding ruling class of Panem, to keep the lower-class citizens in check and assert their power. Wait a minute: is this a metaphor for Corporate America? Is every company competing in their own twisted version of the Hunger Games?

In the book, tributes go through a beauty pageant-like contest before entering the battlefield to win the favor of Capitol sponsors, who can send gifts during the Games to assist in the competition. But as she prepares for her first public speaking appearance, it becomes wildly clear: Katniss Everdeen has a PR problem.

“I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to present you. Are you going to be charming? Aloof? Fierce? So far, you’re shining like a star. You volunteered to save your sister. Cinna made you look unforgettable. You’ve got the top training score. People are intrigued, but no one knows who you are. The impression you make tomorrow will decide exactly what I can get you in terms of sponsors,” says [advisor] Haymitch.

How Katniss positions herself at the beginning will affect how much sponsors will give her throughout the competition. Though she might be technically skilled, people still want an image they can easily connect with. For startups, the same advice applies.

Even though your startup’s product might be amazing, how you position your company can greatly impact the attention you receive from investors, especially if you’re eyeing that grand prize: an exit. To go even further, imagine how much more of an impact you make when your position is pre-meditated and intentional. It means that much more to your company in shaping its identity, and it means a whole lot more to your audience. Are you the “fastest growing startup with a quirky personality” or “the brand that sells a lifestyle of thinking differently?” You might be tempted to go with the flow, figure out messaging when you’ve perfected the product and solidified your business model. Chances are you’ll be so busy you won’t have time to think about it.

It’s best to have the defining characteristics of your company set from the beginning. Instead of allowing the press, users, and influencers to form your corporate identity, create it yourself. Be intentional about creating it and letting people know about it. Remember to be consistent, bring it up in every interview, place it on your website, and make sure it’s included in your elevator pitch. Performing this exercise at an early stage of your startup can help you go a long way when it comes to public perception and identity.

Right before the start of the Hunger Games, Katniss solidifies a strategy with her prep staff: her fighting spirit is her shining feature and sets her apart. Every story she tells in an interview and how she acts in the Games speaks to that particular feature. How do you think she fares in the Games where only one survives? I don’t want to give away the ending but let’s just say… there’s a second book.

The Practice of Persuasion: Lessons from Mom [INFOGRAPHIC]

It takes a special breed of influence (and persuasion) to inspire others to WANT something (on their own, for themselves) from within.

Public Relations Prequel

One of the first metaphors – and one of the first PR lessons – I remember was at age 12 when my mom explained how and why I needed to “plant the seed” with my dad about getting a puppy. I did…

Mere weeks later, we got a puppy.

“Planting the seed” is more than just a handy, widely-applicable analogy. It is the heart and soul of persuasion and the foundation of great public relations.

When done correctly, it makes everyone a winner.

The thing is – when you feel passionately about something, it’s hard to fathom any approach (to management or persuasion in general) that doesn’t involve stating your case. Why does it matter so much? When you care, it seems like other people should feel naturally compelled to act. It would be crazy not to be as passionate as you.

If your case is truly worthwhile, this is a valid thought process.


Sidenote: If you question whether or not my puppy quest was worthwhile, I urge you to Google “child with puppy” and tell me that’s not the happiest collection of photographs you’ve seen all year.

Be Contagious

Whether it’s convincing your dad to get a puppy or convincing a reporter to write about your tech start-up, effective persuasion involves patience – lots of it. (On top of a compelling argument and the strategy, diplomacy and determination needed to communicate it.)

Chances are, the first time you suggest something, people WON’T be compelled to act. Don’t be discouraged. It doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

Flattering Imitation

The best kind of influence happens weeks or months later, when your message sinks in and people start “stealing” your ideas as their own. If the end result is what you aimed to accomplish, this is (humbling, but) effective.

And if accomplishing your goal isn’t satisfying enough, take comfort in this – as long as you’ve voiced yourself loudly and clearly enough, it doesn’t go unnoticed that you were the seed planter. It doesn’t take long before people take you very seriously.

Wait, what?

It’s usually not until you’ve successfully influenced someone that you realize a seed was ever planted. In fact, the only main difference between my puppy story and day-to-day PR is that in this case, I was consciously aware of planting the seed.

It’s easy to take process for granted when you’re going through the motions. It’s also easy to get discouraged and feel helpless when you’re at the mercy of someone else. But when you practice persuasion objectively, you start to recognize the many times you can’t strong-arm your way through. Perhaps the world’s longest flowchart would be helpful in illustrating real-world application?

You simply can’t expect others to accept your idea as fact right away every time. And that’s not a bad thing. If you’re thinking three steps ahead of everyone else, then it only makes sense they’ll need some time to catch up. And if you’re not forward thinking, you’re going to have trouble influencing people, approach notwithstanding.

Further Reading

How does a 12-year-old seeking puppy compare to a tech startup CEO trying to get coverage for his company? Check out this step-by-step breakdown of persuasion gone right:




SOPA – PR Poison?

What does the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) mean to you, if you’re in public relations? Nothing good. For a business increasingly dependent on social media, whose arsenal has always relied upon viral, user-shared content, and whose aim is to get everyone talking about their clients, SOPA poses a significant threat.

If it is somehow possible that you have not yet read about SOPA – an unlikely scenario, given that reading this blog makes you an able consumer of online content, and the SOPA debate has dominated the web for the last several weeks – the proposed legislation is available here. Put simply, SOPA would allow for court orders to be issued against websites accused of piracy or other illegal activities, potentially requiring (among other things) that ad networks halt their business with said sites, search engines de-link said sites, payment processors cease accepting payments for said sites, and more. In essence, a site accused of facilitating piracy can immediately lose all access to business-vital functions such as site discovery, content sale, and ad revenue.

Everyone whose livelihood is rooted in the gaming industry can likely agree that piracy is terrible and its practitioners should be punched in the head. Trying to solve the issue with SOPA, however, opens the door to entirely new problems, many of which may disrupt your life as a PR professional (or a company that uses PR to promote itself). Continue reading SOPA – PR Poison?

Don’t Work…Rework!

A book full of “Don’ts” and “No’s” sounds a little exhausting and damp, yet Rework is inspiring — a breath of fresh air. Fortuitously, this book reminded me of

my year living abroad in Indonesia. I struggled to grasp the culture there when some things just seemed opposite to what I’d been told and done my entire life. Touching someone’s head: offensive to an Indonesian, yet a sign of affection at home. Shaking someone’s hand with your left: abhorrent in Indonesia, indifferent back home, and so on.

This same pattern is found inside Rework as authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson try to unteach all of our bad habits and misbeliefs.

A sampling of the book’s “radical” statements:

1. Ignore the real world — it’s not a place, it’s a justification
2. Think and review reasons you have to quit… frequently
3. Meetings are toxic — the worst form of an interruption
4. “Good enough” is fine, because flexing your intellectual muscles can be exhausting
5. Underdo your competition — instead of one-upping your competitor, try one-downing
6. When hiring: pass on great people, skip the rockstars, and remember resumes are ridiculous

I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is “no,” happy hour has not commenced. These are actual pieces of advice taken from the New York Times Bestseller.

The conclusion? There’s not a hard set of rules, or a magical recipe for a successful business, otherwise we’d all have our own Microsoft, Google, or Starbucks franchise under our belt. Rework isn’t the key to the billionaire’s door, but it rejuvenates the mind like a tropical vacation does for the soul, returning one fresh, clearheaded and ready to take on the world… or at least ready to start thinking about what you can rework in your life (given that there are no “rules”).

What would you rework?

Shoot me your thoughts; let’s get this virtual “book club” rolling.

New Media Mavens Convene in Memphis to Talk Modern Branding


Some of digital media’s brightest and most passionate branding minds were at Emerge Memphis yesterday for an event from LaunchMemphis and Southern Growth Studios, “Masters of the New Modes: Insights and Innovations from the Blending Worlds of Tech, Marketing and Culture.” Adrian Ho and C.C. Chapman, two leaders in innovation, interactive marketing and user experience gave a private workshop in the afternoon and a public panel at TechFuel yesterday evening.

Up first was Adrian Ho, Founding Partner of Zeus Jones (greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area), who discussed “Modern” vs. “Classic” Branding. Ho said “everything a company does is marketing,” so it should be a more closely-integrated role within companies, with marketing teams working together with teams such as customer service and product development to provide a cohesive user experience. In fact, Ho mentioned that his agency recently created a “User Experience” position, which focuses on the way people (end-users) actually interact with the product or service. That’s opposed to, say a communications or marketing expert.

Continue reading New Media Mavens Convene in Memphis to Talk Modern Branding