Jeff Kirchick is the Universities and Schools Specialist for SCVNGR, a gaming platform about doing challenges at places. I first met Jeff at the CASE Social Media Conference in San Francisco where he was organizing a "trek" for the conference. It was the most fun I'd had participating in extra-curricular activities at a conference. I asked Jeff to talk a little about how SCVNGR uses the power of "the crowd and place."
What is SCVNGR? Can you tell us a little about it?
SCVNGR is a mobile game about going places, doing challenges, earning points, and unlocking rewards. You can play via SMS (text-message), or on our free apps for iPhone & Android.
SCVNGR exists in two major ways: as a casual game, and as a themed experience. In the casual game, you can go anywhere in the world and complete challenges or check-ins to earn points and rewards as part of an everyday, social, mobile experience with your friends.
You could also take part in a SCVNGR trek - some type of themed experience that guides you to a set of places where you have to complete specific challenges as part of the game. A good example might be a college orientation program: hundreds of students run around trying to finish the game first or earn more points. A more casual experience might be a game-based tour of the Smithsonian Museum. It varies!
What makes SCVNGR different from other geo-location applications like Foursquare or Facebook Places?
It is an interesting time to ask this question, as Facebook Places is now shifting from less of a "check-in" service, and more of a "attach your location to whatever you are doing on Facebook" type of service.
That being said, SCVNGR's core unit is the challenge, not the check-in. With that in mind, enterprise has a lot to gain by building its own content on SCVNGR. This concept of the "challenge" can be used to engage people.
So I look at SCVNGR as less of a consumer-based application like Foursquare, which has 10 million users, or Facebook, which has something north of 600 million. Instead, I see SCVNGR as more of an enterprise solution. We have 3,500 clients around the world ranging from 400 universities to Coca-Cola to The Black Eyed Peas. Institutions use SCVNGR to engage audiences. The audience uses something like Foursquare or Facebook, however, as part of their "social" experience, not an experience that is necessarily tied to "influence" or some type of engagement created by an institution.
How do you see SCVNGR impacting businesses?
We see it all the time in a number of different verticals - local businesses, national brands, universities, regional promotions, etc.
I think a cool case study though is how we have worked with Buffalo Wild Wings. We set up engaging challenges and rewards at all of their locations nation-wide. The timing coincided with the end of the NCAA basketball season and March Madness. They saw hundreds of thousands of patrons playing SCVNGR over that time span. What better thing to do while waiting for your food than taking pictures, answering questions, and laughing with your friends? Over a third of the patrons who played actually ended up playing again in that short time span, and BWW estimated many millions of social impressions generated from activity being posted to Facebook and Twitter. It rocked!
What are some of the cool things a business can do with SCVNGR?
If a business is large enough, it might consider some type of campaign across all of its locations, where it builds challenges and rewards at these locations and then markets the game aggressively to its consumers as something different, fun, and exciting to do during their next visit.
I think the trek functionality is pretty unique to SCVNGR too, though. Certain businesses (e.g., museums, universities, convention bureaus) could build a trek that guides people to different places and encourages people to experience those places in a dynamic way.
These two methods are all in keeping with what I mentioned previously: that SCVNGR can exist as a casual game, or as a more focused game. It allows for some flexible opportunities.
What kinds of things have you seen universities and schools doing with SCVNGR?
Well, I have seen quite a bit! Orientation is the most popular - it just makes sense that you can work SCVNGR into the orientation schedule as a fun way to get incoming students to see places, learn about those places, bond with new friends, and play with their cell phones. It is a perfect combination for them.
I have also seen schools use SCVNGR during their visit days as a unique way to experience a school, because every school wants to distinguish itself during the recruitment process. Some schools view SCVNGR as a good option for stealth visitors, or to engage prospective students after a campus tour by showcasing aspects of the university that were missed on the tour.
Less conventionally, I have seen college professors use SCVNGR, too. In Australia, a group of students used SCVNGR to act out storyboards they had created for a film class. I have the videos online. They are amazing. What an interesting concept.
How has the social media landscape changed with geo-location applications?
Actually, I don't think it really has. You might be surprised to hear that. I think what has changed is that people are becoming curious about it and rushing to try to do something with it. The most important thing that has come out of it, to be perfectly honest, is that it is helping to shift peoples' attention to mobile. Mobile is very important and it is going to dominate the discussion during the next decade. Geo-location apps are an aspect of mobile.
On a higher level, I think location will be a big part of that. Schools will want mobile apps that help students determine when and where the bus arrives; where the closest dining hall is; what other students at their metropolitan campus are looking to share a taxi nearby. I guess what I am saying is that this check-in stuff will end up being a fad. Location will be important, though. Just not in the way that we think about it now. Checking-in is a very elementary task. What we do with location moving forward will be much more complex and useful. It will provide utility to people. Checking in does not provide much utility to people. I think that's why Facebook stopped offering that.
I do not think SCVNGR is a "conventional" geo-location app. I hate when we are associated with that term, solely because people think about it so conventionally, and as a result, we get compared to apps with which we have very little in common.
What trends are you seeing in social media you think are interesting?
This might be because of the nature of my work, but I do think that mobile is quickly becoming an item of interest in social media. Everyone is going crazy over mobile. Location-based deals. Mobile payments. Check-ins. Everything is on the go.
We went from the handwritten letter, to the telephone, to e-mail, to Facebook, and now this. Basically, people want to get closer and closer to each other and with a broader audience all at once without necessarily meeting face-to-face. It is not that people are anti-social; it's actually the opposite phenomenon. As this occurs, mobile is the next step: it is the quicker and easier way for people to continue this trend.
How do applications like SCVNGR help businesses crowdsource their fans?
Excellent question. I think the answer, unfortunately, is kind of boring. Analytics. Any enterprise that builds on SCVNGR can get real-time results and content from the users who partake in their experiences. It is a fast way to learn about the audience, but also to recycle that content for future marketing efforts. SCVNGR is also so multi-faceted that it seems to provide solutions for many departments within an institution. At a university for example, I work with many schools who use SCVNGR for orientation, recruitment, retention, alumni activities, athletics, and more. They can kind of unite their constituents through SCVNGR under the same umbrella.
What advice or tips would you give to people who are interested in using geo-location applications like SCVNGR?
Understand them. There are too many people right now clamoring to twist and turn them and alter them into doing things they were not designed to do. You are better off not using a geo-social application at all, than using one, investing your time and/or money, and ending up looking like a failure.
Sometimes people reach out to me with the intention of using SCVNGR to do something that I think will fail, and I encourage them not to use it in the way they described. For example, sometimes people want to build a challenge about liking them on Facebook - an activity that should happen organically. This is poor game mechanics (a term for another day). It is also not particularly fun or exciting to "Like" someone on Facebook. They should therefore find another way to generate that interest; or, maybe they can use SCVNGR in a different way to try to generate that interest. Either way, they should try to use the tool properly.
Sometimes people surprise me though. That Australian film professor certainly did. A classic example I see though is people trying to use Foursquare to design scavenger hunts. Foursquare is great for a lot of things, but it was not designed for scavenger hunts. That's what SCVNGR is for. By the same token, SCVNGR is great at a lot of things, but it is not a decision-engine for where you should get your next hamburger. Foursquare is becoming pretty good at that.
So, understand geo-social applications before you use them. You are better off doing nothing than doing something that will fail.