it’s balloonacy

World_s first internet balloon race.jpg

Orange are holding the “World’s First Internet Balloon Race”. Although, technically it sounds like the world’s first multi-site balloon race, as there was previous single-site race. Who knew internet balloon races were so popular?

Anyway, how do you have a multi-site balloon race on the internet? The answer is simple, and then slightly more complicated.

The simple bit
Pick a balloon shape at the site, give it a tag, and click submit.

That’s it, there is your special balloon all lined up and ready to float across the ether. Though, admittedly it’s looking a lot like everyone else’s balloons. Some avatar customization would’ve been cool here, but so far so good.

The twist
If you ever entered a one of those Sony email competitions to win a TV circa 2001, you may remember the simple bribe that guaranteed virality.

Once you submitted your email address, you were prompted to send it on to five more friends. For each friend that did the same, you got a bonus entry into the competition.

That simple twist provided you with a motivation to spend the extra few seconds of your life sending that email on. You’ve already spent that much of your life filling out the form, why not quintuple your chance to win by giving your friends the same chance to win as you? It was incredibly effective.

Now imagine that idea circa 2008 and using social media.

Poke has done just that for Orange, and the result is this: harass your friends via emails and widgets to give your balloon a power boost towards the finish line, and to also give you a shot at daily prizes.

It’s an old concept, taken brilliantly into the new era.

The up-shot
The promise of widgets for brands has been tantalizing: build widgets with your content, and get consumers to install them on their social media properties. Consumers give you free advertising, in addition to their own exposure and interaction with the widget. It’s a revolutionary concept.

The problem is actually getting people to install widgets. It has to be pretty compelling to get people to bother copying the code and entering it onto their page, and giving up some of their own personal media space to you.

Generally I’d advocate trying to provide valuable utility or entertainment via the widget as the key proposition. However as this example shows, it often might just be easier and more effective to simply bribe people.

The mechanic appeals directly to people’s self-interest, which is a pretty sure bet as they come. The result is likely to be a pretty tasty boost of user-generated traffic.

The bonus round
Poke have then taken the same logic and applied it to a second audience: site owners.

The proposition is simple. Install our widget, and you can be included in our balloon race course. You’ll promote our race, and we’ll drive you traffic. Win-win!

It’s a very clever approach. It’s also still a new form of new media bribery, but nothing different to the burgeoning number of affiliate programs out there. Everybody gets something out of the deal.

The future
The question is whether this type of social media contest is a one-off, or if it’ll set a template for activities in the future.

My gut feeling is this will succeed on the novelty factor, and people will get into it. I’m not sure it’ll work as well in the future. But just as the forward-on contest emails had their day, so will this. And it will surely be replaced by the next, even cleverer iteration.

But for the moment, I think it’s worth appreciating this as a cool innovation in the social media space. Now go boost my balloon!

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