Empire Avenue is a stock market where you can purchase shares in your favorite individual or corporate social media presences. I’m on the service with the ticker symbol IFROGGY.

My friend Damond Nollan has been riding the Empire Avenue wave. He’s a popular user and has dug in pretty deep. I asked him to write a guest post for me and he talked about how you can build community around Empire Avenue and further engage with the people you encounter on EA.

Empire Avenue (EA) is a relatively new social network built upon gamification. On the surface, the site is about buying and selling shares in people using eaves, EA’s virtual currency. However, if you look a little deeper, you may notice a lively community that actively engages both on and off site. In this article, we will explore the Empire Avenue community and learn from existing builders.

Where Are the Communities?

Though there are countless places where you can interact with other EA members, the majority of communities tend to be focused on two key platforms: Empire Avenue itself and Facebook.

Empire Avenue Communities

EA provides a number of ways to engage with others. Similar to Twitter and Facebook, EA offers the status update, private messaging and group messaging (this is called shareholder mail). However, the heart of EA is found in it’s communities.

Through the following three types of communities, Empire Avenue is helping people connect online:

  • City Communities: These communities are created by Empire Avenue to help bring people together by geographical locations. Topics may include special events, local news or issues pertaining to citizens in that area.
  • Personal Communities: These theme-based communities are created and managed by Empire Avenue members. Discussions are closely related to the theme of the group.
  • Interest Communities: These communities are created by Empire Avenue and focused on selected topics ranging from Exercise and Fitness to Photography.

In a recent blog articleAaron K. White, Empire Avenue’s Director of Digital Alchemy, explained the true purpose of the site. He wrote, ”Our game mechanics are merely a catalyst into something a bit deeper, more personal: the heart and soul of social media, if you will.” What is at the heart of social media? Answer: The Connection.

Facebook Communities

The “game mechanics” Aaron spoke of in his blog post are designed to keep you engaged both on and off site. Players are rewarded for their activity in other networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Flickr. In fact, the stronger your connections and interactions are on these platforms, the better your EA share price will be.

One way to strengthen your relationships with people on Facebook is to join a group. Using many of Facebook’s tools to stay connected is a great idea. Here are three very popular EA communities that actively engage within Facebook:

  • #SocialEmpire: The purpose of #SocialEmpire is to engage in discussions pertaining to social media theory, and the tips and tools that the pros use to better utilize their networks. (562 members)
  • [X] Bar – Where Everybody Knows Your Ticker: This group was established to offer help and assistance for free in regards to all the various Empire Avenue mechanics as well as further collaboration and communication for the overall social good. (625 members)
  • Team Zen: Team Zen is about playing for wealth. Some describe it as a “great stock tip community.” The spotlight is on scouting good newcomers and discussing all other aspects of the game. (755 members)

Empire Avenue Communities vs. Facebook Communities

At this point, some of you may ask the question, “Which one is better, Empire Avenue or Facebook?” I believe the answer rests with you and your personal tastes.

A long-time member of Empire Avenue and community leader in the [X] Bar, Adriel Hampton, pointed out that “the platform is more than half the battle.” When comparing Empire Avenue to Facebook, Adriel wrote, “Empire communities have always sucked due to UX issues. They have destroyed many a fine community builder in the process.” Although, this doesn’t mean Adriel has given up on EA’s community. In fact, he continues to write that his focus is “building up the in-Empire group and seeing if we can actually make it work.”

Pundit Commentator, an active member of Team Zen, describes her experience with EA’s community as ”a royal pain. Access and functionality is easier on Facebook.”

Libdrone, a strong player within Empire Avenue, recognizes the challenges with EA’s communities, but he also understands that users get ”points for posting.”

Note: Activity within Facebook groups is not currently being recorded; therefore, no points are rewarded.

From the comments shared with me, it is clear that Facebook groups are preferred over Empire Avenue communities. However, it should be noted that EA’s communities are still very active and the development team hopes to make it even better.

On June 21, 2011, Empire Avenue acknowledged on it’s blog that the communities needed attention. In response, the developers revealed a number of features users can expect to see in the near future. They are:

  • Thumbing up of posts
  • Favoriting of posts
  • Searching posts in a community
  • Subscribing to individual communities for notifications
  • New notification levels
  • Integration of communities with indexes
  • Community chats

Tips On Building Community

Now that we know where we can build Empire Avenue communities, let’s identify tips on actually building them.

Start with a Purpose

Frédéric Dénommé, the creator of Team Zen, has successfully grown his community both on Facebook and Empire Avenue. When asked how he was able to do it, he explained that the most important thing ”is that its purpose is clear. Other big communities vanished after a while [because they had] no clear purpose.”

Provide Value for Members

People seek membership in communities that provide value. Understand your members and seek to deliver on your purpose each and every day.

Benjamin Hale, member of Team Zen, writes, “Unless a community group has a high level of relevant value for a large enough number of EAve players, it’s dead before it ever even gets started.”

Gabriella Aime, member of Team Zen, describes the type of value she receives from the community. ”The people in this group have been more generous in sharing information, advice and encouragement than any other group I have belonged to.”

Welcome New Members

Members are the life blood of communities, the more active and engaging the community, the more value it creates.

Ryan J. Zeigler, community leader for #SocialEmpire, is open to new members, but doesn’t actively recruit. At 562 members, Ryan believes in a referral-based strategy that models the “MLM without the pyramid.”

On the other side, Frédéric reveals that his community’s growth on Facebook and Empire Avenue is the direct result of invitations. He writes, “I have invited like crazy in the past months – I systematically invite everyone I buy. We do get many requests in a day now that we’re “famous” but most of the entries are my invites.”

Engage Your Community

The long-term success of any community is engagement. A good community manager will find ways to get people talking and create meaningful activity.

Justice Mitchell, the creator of Advertising, Social & Integrated Marketing on Empire Avenue, shares a number of good engagement tips his blog. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Start question threads
  • Acknowledge good communication
  • Create themes and programs for discussion
  • Progressively survey your community to insure that your heading in the right direction
  • Evolve! Make sure that your content isn’t stuck at a dead end
  • Hold live events where everyone can meet one another in real time
  • Create podcasts/streams/videos for the group
  • Bring in outside authors, bloggers and spotlights
  • Do your best to respond to all comments

Promote Relationships, Not Spam

One of the biggest complaints about online communities is the amount of junk that bleeds into the stream. Many of us know this as “spam.” On Empire Avenue, it is more important to engage people and build a relationship then to seek a quick buy.

Caleb Storkey, an active member of Empire Avenue, addressed this very issue in a blog entitled, “Empire Avenue Spam v. Empire Avenue Engagement – Who Wins?” In the article, he makes the following argument, “Build you[r] social media relationships through lots of interaction, engagements and meaningful connection. It may take more time than spamming, won’t be quick, but the relationships and interactions established will be so much better as a result.”

Final Thought

Building communities on, or around the topic of, Empire Avenue is similar to building communities anywhere. For me, it has always been about the connection. Now, go out there and start building. Good luck!

Damond Nollan works in higher education as an IT Manager for Web Services and is the radio host of Room 3026 Live.