Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why I Left Empire Avenue

I just closed my Empire Avenue account.

First, I want to explain why I joined Empire Avenue to begin with. Within a 3 day period, I had 2 major companies ask if I could do Empire Avenue related work for them. I was not on EA myself. I believe in personally mastering something myself before I work with clients on it. And so, I spent the next 10 weeks or so learning how Empire Avenue worked.

Over these past 2+ months, I have learned a lot. Here are some of the good/bad points:

Empire Avenue as a Social Network

As a social network, Empire Avenue has been fantastic for me. I’ve met a lot of extremely bright people. I’ve made more genuine friends through Empire Avenue in 2 months than I have in over 2 ½ years on Twitter.

I’ve hired several people I connected with as a result of being on Empire Avenue.

I’ve gotten business as a result of being on Empire Avenue that has more than substantiated the time I invested in it.

Empire Avenue as a Measurement Tool

In an ideal world, share price, network scores and dividends paid would have some kind of correlation to actual “value” people are bringing to the world of social media.

The reality is that there is very little correlation. This is partly a flaw on the side of Empire Avenue itself, partly on the side of the networks measured.

I’ll explain a bit about how Empire Avenue works:

  • You buy shares in individuals/brands on Empire Avenue at their current market price. In return, you are paid daily dividends based on the number of shares you own and the “performance” of that stock.
  • Empire Avenue uses some mystery formula to assign activity earnings for each network. These activity earnings, in conjunction with some secret sauce, result in dividends paid to shareholders.
  • The networks Empire Avenue currently tracks are: Twitter, Facebook personal pages, Facebook pages, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube and Empire Avenue itself. In addition, up to 5 “blogs” are counted.
  • Empire Avenue will only count the top 5 networks towards activity earnings/dividends.
  • Every day, Empire Avenue pays out dividends during the 2 hour period starting at 4:15 AM EDT. Dividends are paid out on accounts based on sign-up date.
  • When dividends are paid out on an account, there is also an end of day adjustment to share price that takes place based on activity changes during the previous day versus previous days. An upwards adjustment will be reflected in green numbers. A negative adjustment will either be yellow or red.

Along the way, I have discovered a lot of flaws with Empire Avenue. The biggest ones are these:

  • The system rewards activity over engagement and responsiveness. The more you output, the higher your dividends. There is no quality standard for output.
  • Empire Avenue has activity earnings limits for each network. All of these limits can be reached without actual engagement or responsiveness. Some of the highest earning tickers on Empire Avenue show little or no engagement on their networks.
  • Empire Avenue “scoring” is reliant on being able to pull data from the various social networks’ APIs. I hear daily of people having issues with this. Connections need to be reset.This is not an EAv issue but one due to the networks being measured.
  • From a strictly gaming perspective, many people feel compelled to do things in order to produce higher dividends just to “win.”

I’ll give you an example of the impact: I normally have a really high engagement on Twitter. From day one, my Twitter mentions were not counted. Some days, I get as many as 2,000 mentions. The logical thing is to think this would have a significant impact on my dividends paid out. My mentions were fixed recently and it had zero impact on dividends. This is likely because without them being counted and other Twitter factors (my followers/friends, tweets and Twitter-based retweets), I was probably at the maximum activity level for Twitter. I really hate to admit this, but while my mentions weren’t being counted on EAv, I felt my desire to engage drop along with it. (As an aside: a bit of irony is that as I engaged less and less on Twitter, my Klout score increased.)

Conversely, the last week, I uploaded a bunch of pictures to Flickr – from the park across the street to me, pictures of my cats, to loads of scanned pictures. What happened? My dividends shot up just by increasing my output without increasing engagement.

My Conclusions

I’ve realized that Empire Avenue is 2 things:

  1. A superb tool with a great deal of potential for networking and keeping your personal/business brand in front of people. It is social network itself.
  2. It’s a game that rewards activity over engagement/interaction.

From a strictly gaming perspective, I’ve learned what I want to. I understand enough about how the gaming part of it works.

I’ve made a lot of solid friendships as a result of Empire Avenue. I’ve gotten to know some new people. I’ve gotten to better know some other people. From that perspective, I’ve won and it’s made every minute spent on the game worthwhile.

I have talked with a few trusted friends about how I was feeling about EA. Although it is just a game and it is virtual currency and not real money, I didn’t want to just let my share price nosedive and negatively impact people. I felt the best thing to do right now was to simply delete my EAv account and start over when I've gotten some work projects dealt with and after a long vacation.

I’ve played EA as a game. When I come back, I want to play it for strictly networking. I don’t want to make my success in EA about my share price, dividends paid or what my net wealth is. But I want it to be about real connections made with real people. If EA is a game based on rewarding activity level, so be it. But I want to measure my own success based on being the signal and not the noise.