Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Facebook

With Gencon Indy in full swing, and my con jealousy meter in the red, I'm reminded that this is the year that social networking, really Facebook, has become actual social networking and not this aggregator of news about what we all had for dinner or links to your favorite Lady Gaga video (although that can be fun too). Before this year, Gencon was this thing that happened in the Midwest that only lunatic West Coast gamers attended. For the price of a week at Gencon, I could visit Paris or Rome. It was remote and only invaded my thoughts when it was apparent that the game industry had gone to ground for a week. It was more nuisance than anything else. Now it's omnipresent in my mind. I feel like I've missed out entirely. The photos and video reports are just amazing. How could I not be there? That's because of Facebook.

I put a lot of effort into Facebook, both personal and with the store, including shifting just about all of our marketing in that direction. It's a little scary to realize that the whole enterprise of Facebook is one big Beta test. You can't be sure some dweeb in his twenties won't suddenly decide to switch the whole thing around. It's very Internet 1.0 in that way, when browser support and new features could kill a website. Spendng actual money advertising on Facebook is not only a good idea for us, but it feels like a vote for the status quo. Here's some money, now don't move my cheese!

Facebook is also the single largest cost savings ever for my business, as we shift money away from traditional marketing. It's a "money or your life" situation. A business can continue to spend money on unsatisfactory, traditional media, or they can spend their time actually trying to connect with their customer base, engaging with them, and learning about how to satisfy their demands. It's a time consuming, ongoing project that can't be foisted onto the new kid in marketing. It's stupidly inexpensive compared to old media. In exchange for your time, you are directly rewarded for your understanding and effort.

Traditional marketing now feels like poking a bear in a dark cave with a stick. Will the bear wake up? It might depend on the size and shape of the stick. The bear might not be in his cave today. The bear might become offended or might be indifferent. You might not even know if you've poked the bear. Stupid stick. Inscrutable bear. Wretched dark cave. Meh.

So yeah, I am networking socially, which is pretty surprising from a serious introvert. For example, I've openly questioned the relevancy of trade shows, when the value was in new product identification (now done via Facebook) and the kind of networking you can only get over a beer (also a check in the Facebook column, sorry beer). I'm not discounting face to face meetings and building personal relationships, they're very important, I'm just saying that before I spend thousands of dollars on a junket, the trade show value proposition needs to be better defined. Speaking of poorly defined trade shows, this is also the week that retailers formed their own trade organization, the Professional Game Store Association, partly due to the gross irrelevancy to retailers of the GAMA trade organization. You can follow their goings on via Facebook, of course.

Facebook Advice for Game Stores
This is in the category of "what I do and why it works for me." The common Facebook marketing wisdom is that you need to connect with your base twice a day for maximum effect. There are better times of day than others, but generally, if you can find two things that will interest your fan base that's relevant to your fans (not always about your business), you'll be successful. The big question then is how?

The problem with game store customers are they're fragmented. Sure, comic customers might be divided into various categories, but they all like comics. However, a 40K player could care less about a new board game release. There is cross over, and from our marketing research, the majority of our Facebook fans cross over into two or more seemingly random categories. Still, with five distinct categories, even the average fan with two areas of interest will find a post irrelevant 60% of the time. What to do?

We discussed this at length. With two posts a day, you would need to cram two and a half "messages" into each post to be relevant to everyone. That won't do. It became clear that each post should be concise and that meant that two posts wasn't enough. My strategy is to post concise messages in bursts of multiple posts, ideally twice a day. The timing isn't exact, but I tend to store up ideas when possible for these bursts. My own Facebook stream scrolls off the page in only two hours, so although I don't want to be in a customers stream continuously, getting in during peak viewing times seems even more important. I'm also realizing that customers are visiting the page and commenting on older stories more often, something I rarely do.

So that's what works for me. We're at 838 fans, which is the fourth largest game store fan base in the world. Yeah for us! Our page is successful in calling customers to action, when necessary, but I also like to tell them about new releases, industry news, and occasional geek culture. As much as I want to target 100% of our base, it's inevitably about what I think is cool. I really want to share neat things and get feedback. That's often my only motivation.

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