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Zynga: How the virtual world can save the real world

April 12, 2011 Comments

I’ve written in the past about the great relief efforts of Zynga to aid the earthquake victims in Haiti. At the time I saw this as a powerful demonstration of what could become a consistent and transformative force for positive change in our world. In the shadow of the tragic consequences of the tsunami in Japan, Zynga and its game players have once again demonstrated a leadership position that should serve as an inspiration to other brands.

In less than three weeks, Zynga players banded together to raise more than $3 million for Save the Children’s Japan Earthquake Tsunami Children in Emergency Fund, as well as Direct Relief International. In a short twelve hours after the deadly tsunami hit, an initiative was launched across 8 games to raise money for relief – with 2 games following suit. What this demonstrates is not just the ability of social games and virtual goods to be enlisted in the service of emergency relief, but their critical ability to respond and scale quickly to match the scale of a disaster. This can serve as a powerful tonic to donor fatigue and fundraising shortages in the face of a series of natural disasters.

Such fundraising efforts can also be tactical. In just 36 hours, Zynga players raised over $1 million – followed by a Twitter “flash fundraiser,” that leveraged a live SXSW Interactive event – rallying top celebrities, including Britney Spears, Ashton Kutcher and the Jonas Brothers, to tweet for the cause.  Adding more star power, Lady Gaga upped the ante donating $750,000 to the fundraising initiative with Save the Children through the sales of her Japan Prayer Bracelets.

The power of this approach is the marriage of the fun of social games with the contributions they generate through virtual goods. In the case of the tsunami relief effort, players had the opportunity to donate within games, or using a direct link, with 100 percent of the purchase price of these virtual items being donated to the fund. Here are some examples:

· Café World: Players could place Japanese inspired decorations in their Café to benefit the initiative.

· CityVille: Citizens could plant a limited edition sweet potato crop to feed their population and stock their restaurants.

· FrontierVille: Players could buy a limited edition Kobe cow to place in their frontier.

· FarmVille: Farmers could plant a limited edition daikon radish crop that never withers.

· FarmVille China: Farmers could purchase a medicinal herb.

· Mafia Wars: Players could purchase a limited edition Japanese Fan.

· Treasure Isle: Players could purchase a Shiba Inu to proudly display their support for Japan on their home island.

· Vamps: Players could purchase limited edition items within the game.

· Words With Friends: Players could donate directly by clicking on a Save the Children button inside the game.

· Zynga Poker: Fans going for a royal flush could donate by purchasing access to a VIP table.

· zBar: Players could donate directly by clicking on a Save the Children button inside the bar that sits across the top of their game on Facebook.

Such critical relief efforts are so simple to execute yet so powerful because they leverage gaming dynamics that then escalate the contributions to social causes. By making this possible, Zynga serves as a powerful example of a We First approach to business and social responsibility.

Such emergency relief efforts are merely the tip of the iceberg as the exponential growth and player appeal of gaming can be systemically linked fund-raising to improve the lives of millions in the real world. As the number of gamers explode around the world, as the amount spent on virtual goods increases, and as the importance of virtual currencies rises, the virtual world has the potential to become the most importance resource for rebuilding the real world.

Do you believe gaming should be used to deal with real world crises? What more do you think game makers could be doing?


Curation Nation: How to turn information overload to your advantage

April 11, 2011 Comments

There is an overwhelming amount of information available to us all on the web each day, not to mention what is shared with us by our family, friends, fans and followers.  This necessitates the need to filter through all that information and to decide for ourselves where to put our attention. As Stephen Rosenbaum outlines in his great new book, Curation Nation, this opportunity is even more important than that especially for brands.

Stephen Rosenbaum is spot on when he sees the role of curation as critical to the success of brands and businesses hoping to capture the attention of online consumers in the future. Not only is the amount of information we ingest everyday becoming unmanageable, but the Internet is quickly shifting towards the personalized web in which websites will be framed around our individual interests, values or concerns (as determined by our data captured in the past) as opposed to the current ‘one size fits all’ approach.

With this in mind, Curation Nation explains how a brand must curate the content offers its community in line with their shared values. That way the customer’s experience of the brand is both manageable and defined. Rosenbaum provides insights from leading thinkers in advertising, publishing, commerce and web technologies to detail the the art of effective curation. Without this skill, every brand runs the risk of being lost in a sea of noise created by the tireless stream of information pouring out from the web each day.

Do you believe brands effectively curate the information they share?  What techniques has your brand used to do this effectively?


Stephen Johnson: Building community using social technology

April 7, 2011 Comments


As part of We First thinking, I have championed the use of social technology to scale positive chnage. a shift in the way brands and their communities relate. I had the pleasure of speaking to Stephen Johnson at SXSW about exactly how they are using a community engine to do just that. Here’s some insights he shared

SM: Thanks, Stephen. Share with us a little about Community Engine, what it is and what its purpose is.

SJ:  Community Engine is a group of people that have amazing passion and commitment to shifting the way businesses engage with communities and how they can actually develop communities. Over the past three years invested a lot of dollars and smarts into developing our own social network platform, which we are in the process of mobilizing right now. Put simply, Community Engine believes that social technology can improve the human condition by enabling social or commercial transaction. It’s very exciting and was very serendipitous that I got involved with them. We share a lot of the same values. It’s very new and fresh and wonderful at the same time.

SM:  We were chatting earlier about the difference between social media 101 and social CRM and where you see the marketplace moving.  Can you talk a little bit about that?

SJ:  Sure. The world has changed quite significantly regarding innovation in the tech and social space. Every week something new and exciting emerges. There’s so much R&D happening and other great stuff that has pushed the whole social media 101 context away from the initial interactive space and taken commerce and communities to a whole new level of socialization. The commerce (in the context of the importance of the way friends and relationships) impacts productization (the sale of products and services around reviews).  You only have to look at something like TravelPod to understand the impact of that. Even further, look at the role of community and the way a community can impact a brand to foster and nurture communities of shared interest, to help them socialize their businesses, to help them innovate their products and services, to help them do really great stuff in the community related to their brand as well as the wider community—the social good part.

SM: What I find so interesting about your story is that you were an ad agency guy for a long time and you have now left the agency world. A lot of people have been watching this happen to more brand and agency people. Can you tell us a little about that journey?

SJ:  For many years I really struggled with the value system within agencies. I often felt that we were constantly trying to extract revenue out of stuff that didn’t need revenue extracted out of it. I made some wonderful friend and established some great relationships and worked on amazing projects, but it really came down to personal values in the end. The reason I launched Altitude was because I saw an opportunity to mobilize creative and strategic partnerships around the world for social change.

Essentially Altitud3 will evolve to become a social enterprise kick-starter in a similar vein to Techstars, the idea being that there are a lot of wonderful ideas and social media and technology gives us an amazing opportunity to collaborate. This is really about collaborative innovation to solve complex problems in the world.

What was happening in agencies was joining the dots. I’d be working with clients and start to seed ideas and fresh thinking into these clients (we’re talking big global corporations) and unfortunately, what was happening was that clients were saying that they did want to collaborate, but they didn’t like the agency values.

It became very hard for me. I found that my work in the space started to take me away from what I was truly passionate about. I have a community and I feel a sense of responsibility to maintain the integrity that flows through that because, ultimately, it’s all about relationships. Every good thing that has ever happened in my life, in my community, even being here [SXSW] has happened through relationships and we should never ignore the power of that.

There is still an agency project that I’m working on: a wonderful initiative called Engage360. It’s a project that I started on in my agency context, and I am still involved in that project, leading the strategy to create an advocacy frame around energy conservation in California homes. It’s a big goal. We want to try to reduce energy usage in California homes by 20% by 2020. We’re essentially creating a movement around it.

Thanks to stephen for his time and you can follow him on Twitter @huxley



Why our ability to believe precedes our capacity to achieve

April 5, 2011 2 Comments

Today I wanted to share with you a new book by Tim Sanders called Today We Are Rich.  I first heard about Tim when he wrote his New York Times bestselling book, Love is the Killer App.  Since then, I’ve …

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Why caring for your customers is good for business

April 3, 2011 2 Comments

I wanted to share with you an inspiring example of how a corporation is reaching out to its customers in a meaningful way. The brand in question is called Panera Cares Café. As you walk inside the store, everything looks …

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Valeria Maltoni: How brands talk to customers so they listen

March 30, 2011 0 Comments

httpv:// I recently had the pleasure of catching up with a blogger I greatly admire, Valerie Maltoni (@conversationage), and she shared some of her invaluable insights into effective social strategy and the art of conversation between brands and consumers. SM: …

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Is social media the web’s weapon against war

March 29, 2011 0 Comments

httpv:// At a time of so much unrest in the Arab world from Yemen, to Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, to Qatar, to Syria, to Bahrain, and to Libya, I wanted to share this short video by war photographer, James Nachtway. …

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Why storytelling and social media need each other to survive

March 27, 2011 17 Comments

As the business marketplace continues to integrate social technology, it’s tempting to say that the arrival of social media is as revolutionary as the digital revolution was ten years ago. It’s also tempting to think that social media agencies will …

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About Simon Mainwaring

We First training and consulting helps the world’s most innovative brands tell the story of the good work they do in ways that build their reputation, employee productivity, sales and social impact.

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