Mar 14, 2012

Lessons for PR: Think like a Gamer

I wasn't the only one taking furious notes a the "Gamify & Socialize: Beyond the Buzzwords" session at SXSW featuring Bing Gordon, legendary gaming pioneer and prominent Silicon Valley VC.

“Every C-suite should have a gamer in it.  Gaming is the new MBA,” asserted Bing Gordon, video game pioneer, venture capitalist and Silicon Valley heavy hitter, during a live interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek reporter Brad Stone at South by Southwest last weekend.

At that moment, he was in danger of losing me.  You see, I am not a gamer, nor am I interested in video games.  My gaming career ended when I got my driver’s license at 16 and I ceased to hanging out at the mall, swilling Orange Julius and playing Ms. Pac Man.  (For those doing the math, I’m in my 40’s.  Let’s leave it at that.)   To be blunt, I don’t “get” gaming, the gaming culture or the gaming mindset.

Within a few minutes, however, Bing had my rapt attention, as he outlined the characteristics of the generation that has grown up gaming, and how the gaming mindset bleeds over into real life, and translates into business success.

“People who grew up playing games think differently,” Bing noted.  “They find the edges.  They aren’t afraid of losing.  They find the edges and they open doors.  And they expect continuous improvement.”

Gamers have also cultivated a culture of independent learning, according to Bing.

“We’re moving from an age of learning by listening to one of learning by doing,” he said.  “Gamers don’t read manuals.  If you tell me you read the manual, I know you’re over 30.”

Within his discussion were some great lessons for communicators, especially those who still aren’t well versed or comfortable in social media.  Here are the key lessons:

  • Experiment.  High-scoring, serious gamers dive into a new game and immediately lose.  They do again, and again – a perfect analogy for the principal of “failing fast” we’ve all heard discussed.  But there’s something else going on.  As they lose, gamers learn.  They are, in Bing’s words, “finding the edges.”  If they see a door, they open it to see what’s there. Experimentation is part of their DNA.   If you (like me) didn’t grow up gaming, it’s probably not part of your genetic code.  If that’s the case, cultivate your inner experimenter.  You won’t learn anything if you don’t dive in, and learning social media is the perfect opportunity.  Get thee on to Twitter and Pinterest, and get going! You’re not going to break anything.
  • Learn by doing.  Within the last week, friends have asked me if I would 1) send them instructions for uploading photos to Tumblr using a mobile phone and 2) sit down with them and teach them Twitter.  Fact is, both are very easy (the instructions provided by the companies are extremely brief and very simple. But there’s something holding my friends back from just doing it themselves.  Learning is an important skill.  If you tend to hang back and await instruction, make a point of learning something independently. You’ll see how easy the world has become – and you’ll learn more by figuring out things yourself.  Building the ability to learn independently is crucial if you want to keep pace with your audiences.
  • Expect continuous improvement.  Gamers are always “leveling up” – moving on to higher levels within the game.  They constantly get better and better, breezing through lower levels that were once a struggle.  In short, they expect to learn and improve, continually.  None of us should be happy with stasis.   If we’re not thinking and evolving – and if we’re not experimenting and learning – we’re not going to continually improve ourselves, the outcomes generated by our departments.

I left the session with an entirely re-configured impression of the gamer set, and Bing’s advice really rang true.  I’m not going to rush out and start gaming but I am taking the principles outlined by Bing to heart, and I encourage my PR brethren to do the same.   Why?  Today’s connected environment demands agile communicators. Collectively, we need to outpace our audiences, evaluating and tapping into new networks and technologies before they’re widely adopted, leaving us behind and struggling to catch up.

Related reading:  the session with Bing has sparked some interesting media coverage with lots of different angles.  Here’s a selection of other session recaps:

What Gaming Should Teach IT Leaders

Structuring your Business like a World of Warcraft Guild

 Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media, and is the author of the free ebook Unlocking Social Media for PR, a great resource for those who still haven’t found their comfort level with social media.

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