Calculating hard ROI from social media sites continues to frustrate businesses, as evidenced by the latest hand-wringing over Empire Avenue, the social media exchange site that hit the big time over the past month, with positive coverage from tech and social media luminaries such as Altimeter’s Jeremiah Owyang, RackSpace’s Robert Scoble, Ford’s Scott Monty and entrepreneur Chris Pirillo.
Ford has launched several of its brands on the site, and Nokia, AT&T, the WWF, Jane Fonda and other brands and celebrities are beginning to flock to the site, which provides rich analytics for social media plus a market “game” that allows members to buy and sell shares in anyone with an open Twitter account.
But wait. Does Empire Avenue have business value?
It’s not a simple question, and of course it depends on your business. Before I go on to my personal experience using the site for a year, let me mention a few examples of others using the site for business goals.
Certainly, I have a more positive impression of both Ford and AT&T after interacting with them on Empire Avenue. These two brands, along with Nokia, have been notable for their level of engagement with Empire Avenue’s active user base.
GirlfriendSocial, a women-only social network, has certainly boosted its profile through intense participation in the site for just a week, and recording artist Peter Hollens got tens of thousands of impressions for his version of Poor Wayfaring Stranger – including a Scoble tweet – through interactions on the site. PR Newswire’s Victoria Harres wrote that EAv feels like Twitter in 2008, before that network got too big to easily connect and build beneficial relationships.
In addition, the first person or business in a particular sector to actively engage on Empire Avenue leaves a significant impression. Robert Rogers, a Miami-based attorney, sticks out as “BIZCOUNSEL” on the site. Dive instructor Darcy Kieran of Montreal has also built a significant following, and I expect to take lessons from him the first time I’m in that area.
Bloggers, too, see new levels of exposure, as I know from personal experience. I hired Oscar Gonzalez to do my WordPress site after meeting him on EAv. IT manager Damond Nollan has created a Google spreadsheet for EAv members to network through posting their contacts and business offerings.
As a social media advisor for governments, I’ve seen direct personal business benefit from my time invested on Empire Avenue. Going in, I set a goal of getting a paid speaking engagement in Edmonton, Alberta, the home city of Empire Avenue. In October 2010, I met that goal with a panel gig at the Beyond 2010 Conference, where I met many friends from EAv, crashed on a cot at the home of a buddy from the site, and had breakfast with others active on the site. Earlier this year, I began consulting with a civic tech startup whose CEO I’d met on Empire Avenue. Even though she’d left the site a few months earlier, she knew my specialties from the site and looked me up when she needed advice.
Above these two paid opportunities, the small, tight networks that savvy EAv play engenders is invaluable for a social media strategist.
I’ve recently launched two initiatives with San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, sffireapp.org and letsdoitsf.org, and my EAv network helped me get the requisite number of fans for custom Facebook URLs in less than 24 hours. My 10,000 followers on Twitter can’t even do that without much greater effort on my part.
I encourage businesses to check out Empire Avenue, and it’s pretty clear from the activity there that there are also plenty of experienced players ready to ably virtually manage corporate presences on the site.
Adriel Hampton is chief organizer for NationBuilder, a platform-as-a-service offering for organizations, co-founder and producer of the Gov 2.0 Radio podcast, and president of the San Francisco Technology Democrats. He is a professional speaker and advises governments, politicians, NGOs and businesses on social media and technology innovation. His Empire Avenue ticker is ADRIEL.