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Social Outcasts: The Vital Importance of Understanding Social Media

Without question, we live in the age of Social Media. Every aspect of our lives seems to be broadcast on some form of online feed. Bad service in a store? Tweet it out before you get to the parking lot! Delicious meal in a restaurant? Instagram it before taking your first bite! Go absolutely anywhere, ever? Check in on Facebook the second you arrive!

Social Media is so very ingrained in our everyday existence that it consumes virtually every aspect of our lives. And while some of us take the whole notion of a social presence to further extremes than others, there is simply no question the impact it has on the entirety of society.

Like it or not, in today’s world, Social Media is critically important.

It should come as no surprise that the rampant rise of Social Media also changed the game when it comes to business marketing. Think about this – when we were kids, how did ads reach us? Television commercials, right? And those commercials were catered to what was on for that time slot – toy commercials during Saturday morning cartoons; Home supplies commercials during soap operas. Sure, it’s super cliché, and honestly stereotypical – but they aimed to appeal to the demographic they had in front of the screen. A generation or two before that, TV was still a newer concept – and ads were prominently  displayed in print on the pages of a newspaper. A very different means of promotion that evolved with the news of the world around it.

But times are ever changing. The advent of TV and even more so the internet took attention away from printed media. The evolution of the DVR that now sits in all of our living rooms basically rendered commercials non-existent and ineffectual in our day to day lives. In a sink or swim world there’s but one guarantee: Marketing is the shark that will never, ever drown.

So businesses naturally began to evolve. They had to. First it was just a few popping up here or there on Facebook or Twitter – but quickly thereafter a Social Media revolution began. I don’t think I even need to point out that today, literally every business we patronize has a solid Social Media presence. Be it your favorite restaurant, your trusty auto mechanic, your local gardener or even your favorite brand of toilet paper – make no mistake, they’ve got an account on every Social Media platform that you’ve heard of.

Social Media truly came to the forefront of our lives almost simultaneously as another industry evolved: Escape Games – a form of entertainment which in itself is heavily reliant on social interaction to make playing a success. It should be no surprise that the two worlds became a perfect pairing.

If you’ve played even one single escape game (of course you have!) you’re no stranger to checking the venue’s Facebook page later that day in hopes of finding your group photo. It’s simply become a service given that all (or at least all wise venues) deliver. In fact if you’re an escape game venue that isn’t posting team photos on Social Media, you’re simply doing it wrong. The thing is, that is far from where Social Media ends in our industry.

The truth is a venue’s social presence is almost as important in this day as the quality of its games.

As much as I’d like to pretend we live in a world where 100% of players read Escape Authority to learn about a venue prior to visiting, that’s obviously not the case. In fact I’d suggest as a brand, we cater far more to experienced players than newer ones – just as a matter of genre awareness. (If you don’t really know what an Escape Game IS yet, you’re not likely to seek out a social hub on which to discuss them.) To the contrary, those newer players, who make up a vast majority of any given venue’s business in ANY market, are far more likely to start in a world they’re already comfortable: Social Media.

In fact I’d suggest far more novice players begin their early Escape Game visits on the venue’s Facebook page than in the venue’s lobby.

So, what message is that Facebook page sending your potential new guests? Well – frankly that depends first on what those guests see when they click to you.

Let’s start with the worst case scenario: Superfluous Posts About Mismatched Results. Do you suppose it’s a coincidence that can be abbreviated to SPAM’R? Let’s be blunt – your guests are not clicking your social feed to learn about where the best fudge shop is in town, or answer questions about their favorite restaurant nearby; they’re clicking your feed to learn about your games, period. At best, this type of SPAM’R posting gives the impression to your guests that your venue cannot stand on its own as a worthwhile destination to visit, and instead must rely on other things in your local market to get you in the door. At worst – and in many cases – superfluous posting can instead DRIVE GUESTS TO THOSE OTHER BUSINESSES INSTEAD OF YOUR OWN, which, needless to say, is the exact opposite intended result.

But what if the SPAM’R posts could actually get worse? Would you believe me if I told you I’ve seen venues inadvertently post “around town” photos that CLEARLY display the marquee of their competition venues? And while I’m sure that other Escape Game around the corner will completely appreciate your guests going there instead after seeing a photo of their venue on your Facebook wall, I guarantee your own venue’s bottom line isn’t going to benefit from that.

So how does this happen? Well, typically it’s not actually the venue’s fault directly – at least on (digital) paper. Typically we find this to be the result of a venue hiring “a social media expert” to post on their behalf. Unfortunately these quote “experts” prove to be anything but, and actually end up providing far more of a detriment to the venue than a benefit. Think about it like this — how can a person sitting behind a desk, in some office, in some state other than your own answer guest questions or accurately represent your product? And what if I told you in most cases that “expert” has never even stepped foot inside your venue, and in many cases on top of that has not even played *any* Escape Game *anywhere* before?

How can you be an expert on how to represent a product that you know nothing about? You can’t. That’s how.

And here’s the thing – that statement isn’t my best approximation of what’s going on. I’ve spoken on behalf of clients directly to their “Social Media expert” companies before, and specifically asked if they’d ever played a Escape Game, anywhere. After a lot of marketing buzzwords and avoiding the answer, I finally pushed hard enough to get a simple yes or no – and that’s right folks, it was no.

Expert” companies like these prey on newer venues. You know, the venues who – with absolutely all due respect because this is not their fault – simply do not know any better yet because this is their first jaunt in the business world. The story always starts the same way – with a cold call. For those of you unfamiliar with the sales or marketing world, that’s an unsolicited call that you were not expecting or even necessarily wanting, with one express purpose: to explain to you why you simply cannot live another day without giving them your business. In many cases, it can be summed up with far less letters: a con job.

These companies are highly trained at one thing: manipulation. They know exactly what buzzwords to use to sound relevant to your specific needs, and you can be damn sure they’re going to use each and every one of them to create doubt in your own mind until they lock you into a lengthy contract which, by the way, you’ll be paying in full up front. Sorry, no refunds.

Some of these “expert” companies do even further potential damage to your business and brand by removing links to your actual, official company website URLs and directing all of your guests to their shell-sites which, I’m sorry, but can only be described as half-assed at best. These sites literally become speedbumps for your guests who have clicked to you online in hopes of finding simple, common, reasonable information such as your operating hours, prices or game themes – none of which they’ll find on the “expert” shell-site.

Instead, those guests are then thrust into an uninvited game of Business Where’s Waldo?, where they have to find the hidden link to your actual site amid a bunch of empty buzzwords that actually tell them nothing about your business.

Seeing the scenario from the outside looking in, I’m sure most of you would agree that there are several flags that raise serious concern about their quality and credibility. But here’s the thing – life is always easier from the outside, right? Getting conned by a company like this isn’t a sign of your lack of intelligence, but rather your desire to have what’s best for your business. None of us – not you, not meno one – is an expert at everything. And there’s no shame in that. The sign of a truly smart individual is one who will bring onto their team others who possess the skillsets which they themselves lack – making that team as a whole even stronger.

This isn’t by any means a statement of “never hire an outside marketing company.” To the contrary – there are companies very well suited and very well experienced to do just that for your business – but do your homework and seek them out YOURSELF. If they cold call you, odds are good that they are never the right fit.

In the above scenario, the venue really is the good guy who was taken advantage of by the bad guy, but there are just as many examples where when it comes to Social Media, the venue is their own worst enemy. Remember how we mentioned far more novice players likely begin their early Escape Game visits on the venue’s Facebook page than in the venue’s lobby? What if that Facebook page is, in fact run by the venue, but with little to no care with regards to a professional presentation?

Say you clicked simultaneously on two different venue Facebook pages and compared the content. On one page, you find photos with professionally designed digital frame graphics, including the venue’s logo, the game’s logo and themed appropriately in such a way that it clearly fits within that game’s storyworld. On the second page, you find photos clearly edited together using juvenile filter graphics on an employee’s cellphone with no care or even understanding for the theme of the game – including the use of proper nomenclature with regard to its title – or branding of the venue.

As a potentially paying guest, which are you more likely to select? The polished, professional, in-theme presentation that hypes the game or the low-quality thrown-together presentation that seems more appropriate for a teenager’s slumber party?

The bigger problem in that scenario is that many of the venues doing it don’t recognize – or perhaps simply don’t care – how much damage they’re doing to their own branding. The attitude seems clearly to be “people are buying tickets so it doesn’t matter.” Except it absolutely matters. In the professional world, you always should strive to give an equally appropriate professional presentation with regards to your brand. It’s critically important. And guests absolutely notice.

There’s simply no acceptable justification for spending tens – or even hundreds – of thousands of dollars on creating a world class attraction and then not representing it with an equal amount of professional respect in your Social Media presence.

Building these games costs a lot of money, but posting about them online in the right way is free. All it takes is a little pride of ownership.

And the frightening truth is that as Social Media gains more and more of a front seat role in our lives, this type of willing negligence can scar the first impression of a venue permanently.

However, even with the right visual presentation, there’s still another way a venue can shoot themselves in the proverbial foot with regards to their Social Media presence: Posting too frequently. Facebook is a strange beast when it comes to posting, and to understand it can only truly be achieved with substantial research into just how that posting algorithm works. What you post on your venue’s wall will only, in fact, be distributed to a small percentage of the newsfeeds of fans who “like” your page. As that small percentage of fans engages those posts – by liking, sharing or commenting on them – the Facebook Machine decides that post is relevant and distributes it to another small percentage of your fans’ newsfeeds, and so on and so forth. But what happens if no one engages your posts?

Well, exactly the opposite. The Facebook Machine decides your posts are potential spam and stops distributing them to any of your fans newsfeeds at all. So – let’s think about this for a moment. There’s no dispute that posting team photos is a critical aspect of a given venue’s social feed, as it should be. However, if that venue posts each team’s photo one by one in real time as they’re taken, the Facebook Machine views them as individual posts. At the end of the day, a venue, as such, may have made literally dozens of different posts in the eyes of the Facebook Machine. Say none of them got any engagement – guess what? Facebook has just classified your page as potential spam and as such, it has stopped distributing your posts out to anyone’s newsfeeds at all.

Sure, anyone can still see your posts if they actively click to your page; nothing is getting deleted, per say. But active clicking isn’t what Social Media is about; it’s the organic exposure of seeing a friend like or comment, at which point you’ve now seen it, at which point others after you might now see it as well.

The easy solution here – and truthfully the only correct way to be posting team photos – is as a single batch at the end of each day. One single post that says your page has uploaded XX number of pictures stands a good chance of getting at least one “like” from someone in that batch.

This in turn tells the Facebook Machine your post is, in fact, engaging its audience, allowing that very audience to be expanded exponentially to additional newsfeeds.

And honestly, how many of us have unfollowed – or even unliked – venues we actually enjoy visiting just because our personal Facebook newsfeeds are nothing but photos of strangers playing their games all day long? I’m happy to see it once per day, because I want venues I support to be busy and successful – but every hour is a bit much to swallow, even for me.

So, as is such with life, there is clearly more ways to do the wrong thing than than the right – but the best news on this subject is doing the right thing is actually the easiest way to do it. Train your venue staff on the importance of your Social Media presence. Present your team photos professionally, and post them as an album collection only once per day. Only post about your own venue; not other business in your city – unless you have a partnership with that other business to mutually promote each other. Never forget that your guests are visiting your product *for* your product.  Use your Social Media feeds to promote things your guests will naturally want to talk about and share: new game announcements, calls for beta testing, contests and special discounts. Who isn’t going to pass on the news when they’ve come across a good deal? And lastly, encourage your guests while physically inside your venues to check in on social media. There’s no better promotional tool in all of Social Media than simply to have a friend see you’ve visited somewhere they’ve not heard of before.

At the end of the day, Social Media is an interesting creature, because it’s both extremely complex and extremely simplistic at the same time. There’s a whole lot of things you can do wrong that can hinder your social presence a great deal. Yet, to do it correctly is, in essence, to just use common sense and show the very pride of ownership you absolutely should already possess. It becomes a “just be yourself” situation. And just like your parents told the awkward kid deep within many years ago- people will like you for you. Don’t try too hard to be someone you are not.

Social Media is here to stay, and whether you like it or even understand it will not and cannot change its importance to our every day lives. Learn to embrace it, or just like newspapers and tv commercials, Social Media will render your venue obsolete just as quickly.

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