#9: Social Live Experiences: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement

Organizations blend technology, community and location to create immersive experiences that blur the boundaries between online and offline.

What are Social Live Experiences?

Social live experiences blend technology, community and location to create immersive experiences that blur the boundaries between online and offline.

Social Live Experiences

Source: pochacco20 on Flickr

The rise of social live experiences can be attributed to three broad trends. First, people are constantly live-streaming their experiences by posting updates, photos, videos and check-ins through location-aware smart phones and tablets, creating a dynamic stream of location-based content. Second, social networks are integrating online and offline experiences through features like single-click check-in and location-tagged content sharing on multiple networks (for instance: Instagram toFlickrFacebookTwitterTumblr and Foursquare). Third, social networks are opening up their APIs, including social graph and location data, so that others can build applications that connect people around locations.

As a result, people are seamlessly transitioning between online and offline events and connections, and organizations are creating real-time experiences that merge, even transcend, the physical and the virtual.

Consider the proliferation of location based social networks beyond Foursquare (video). Some entrepreneurs are using social network APIs to build location-based mashups (SonarBanjo (video), Highlight) and augmented reality apps (Google Glass (video), AcrossAir (video), Nokia City Lens (video)) that connect people and experiences around locations, often by highlighting “people and experiences near you”. Others are creating niche location-based real-time social networks around sharing rides (Waze (video)), public transport (Moovit (video)), runs (MapMyRun (video)), and dishes (FoodSpotting (video)), or completing challenges (SCVNGR (video)). These location-based social networks, along with the ubiquity of location data in popular social networks like Facebook and Twitter, have made it possible for organizations to create seamless social live experiences at scale.

Google Glass

The most visible examples of such experiences are large political, entertainment or sports events. Even as journalists and spectators at the venue share first-hand experiences with their networks through location-tagged status updates, check-ins, blog posts, photos, videos, and live-streams (UStreamLiveStreamVycloneGoogle Hangouts), a larger group of people join the conversations by sharing, commenting on, remixing and curating this content (Storify (video)), checking in to live television broadcasts (GetGlueGoMisoViggle), and contributing original analysis and opinions on blogs and video blogs. While all major public events, all over the world, are becoming live social experiences on their own, event organizers, social networks and media organizations are increasingly creating social curation platforms to act as hubs that connect people and content around such events (IHeartRadio’s Twitter TrackerGrammy LiveCNN/ Facebook U.S. Presidential InaugurationOccupyStreams).

Conference and expo organizers are also using social media to transform events into live social experiences, amplify their impact beyond the venue, and connect attendees to create a community. Some organizers are even creating custom mobile apps to help event attendees network, share content and stay in touch (SXSW Social / SXSW Go (video), Mobile World ConferenceBlogWorld & New Media ExpoRio+20 Corporate Sustainability ForumAmazon re:inventGuardian Changing Media SummitNY Craft Beer Week). Other organizers are creating private networks to live-stream the event to extend their reach to a wider community of subscribers (TED Live).


Finally, public spaces are using technology, including QR codes, to enhance the experience for visitors by adding a virtual layer. New York’s Central Park transformed the park into an interactive game board for its World Park campaign with QR code clues and content all over the park. Sweden’s Gothenburg city created a Tram Sightseeing App (video) to help visitors get a geo-tagged guided tour at the price of a tram ticket. Several museums and institutions in Amsterdam use the Museum App to create QR code enabled interactive guided tours of cultural locations in the city. New Delhi’s Turquoise Cottage bar used QR code admittance stamps to share time-sensitive updates with patrons throughout their Christmas Eve celebrations. The Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra created a unique concert with musicians spread all over the city, and the music being synced in real time online. However, many of these initiatives haven’t fully integrated social sharing and community building into the experience yet.

Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra

Some of these initiatives have had significant scale. For instance, 2 million Facebook status updates were published onCNN.com/live during the U.S. Presidential Inauguration in 2009 and 3 million photos have been uploaded to Foodspotting. The scale and success of these initiatives show that the boundaries between online and offline experiences have blurred beyond recognition and all experiences are likely to become both social and live.

How do Social Live Experiences work?

Social live experiences are spread over a vast and varied territory which has overlaps with other frontiers of engagement we have covered before, including social curationcollective intelligence and transmedia storytelling. However, all social live experience platforms and programs have three common characteristics: a hybrid physical-virtual experience, real-time tracking plus social sharing, and value creation through the physical-virtual interplay.

Social live experiences are often set in a specific physical space, like a park, museum, stadium, hotel, restaurant, or store, but they can also take place out in the streets. Sometimes, the primary aim is to engage the people present at the venue, or in a specific city (SXSW Go); sometimes, a secondary aim is to use social media amplification to attract more people at the venue (Hamburg Philharmonic Orchestra); sometimes, especially with large broadcast events, the aim is primarily to use social media to amplify the on-site experience to engage audiences who are not physically present (Grammy Live).

Real-time tracking and social sharing are integral elements in social live experiences. People can do real-time tracking automatically through location-aware smart phones (Waze) and sensor-enabled devices (Nike Fuel Band), or manually through social media updates and check-ins (FoodSpotting). These data streams and updates are then aggregated and displayed on maps (IHeartRadio’s Twitter Tracker) and, sometimes, streams (Storify) to enable social sharing. Social sharing is usually manual, enabled by social sign-ins, one-click sharing and linked social accounts, but it can also happen automatically, by automatic posting of runs or rides on social networks (Nike Fuel Band), or automatic alerts on people and experiences near you (Highlight).

Finally, social live experiences are so compelling because they create unique value through the interplay between the physical and the virtual. Sometimes, this value lies in increased intelligence about our own behavior (Nike Fuel Band), our own network, our city (Waze) or country (CNN/ Facebook U.S. Presidential Inauguration), or the entire world (FoodSpotting). Sometimes, this value lies in serendipitous discovery of people (Highlight) and experiences (SXSW Go) near us. Sometimes, this value lies in more meaningful connections with friends in our network (Google Glass), or strangers who share similar interests (OccupyStreams).

Social Live Experiences for Brands

The easiest way for brands to create live social experiences is to make it easy for people who are already participating in offline brand events to share their experiences on social media. Many brands are already using sophisticated social, mobile and geo-local technologies to create memorable experiences, then creating viral videos based on these experiences (T-Mobile Angry Birds LiveMercedes Key To Viano). Some brands are designing these experiences so that sharing the experience with friends is intrinsic to enjoying the experience itself. For instance, Unilever created the Share Happy interactive vending machines that uses facial recognition technology to measure smiles, rewards big smiles with free ice cream, and encourages users to share their smiles on Facebook. Goertz created an interactive virtual shoe fitting display that enabled users to try out any shoe from the catalog and share photos with their Facebook friends to ask for their opinions. Coca-Cola used RFID enabled wristbands to encourage teenage visitors at a Coca Cola theme park to seamlessly tag and share photos on Facebook. Anthon Berg used iPads in store to give away free chocolate to people who committed to do small acts of generosity for friends and family members.

Coca-Cola Village

Some live social experiences go from online to offline back to online. Some brands are tracking online conversations to find opportunities to engage in real-time, real-life random acts of kindness, which encourage the delighted recipients to talk about the experience online, creating valuable word of mouth. For instance, Orbit White in Israel gifted chewing gum hampers to people who checked in at cafes. KLM in Amsterdam surprised travelers who shared an update or check-in about their KLM flight with relevant gifts, based on their previous updates. Kleenex in Israel gifted a Kleenex Kit to people who shared a status update on Facebook about being sick. Kotex in Israel gifted a craft item to women influencers based on the items they had previously pinned on their own Pinterest boards.

KLM Surprise

Other brands have created activations that people kick start through online actions or submissions, but result in a compelling experience in a physical space. Coca-Cola reimagined their iconic Hilltop ad for the networked age by enabling people to share a coke with a stranger through their mobile phones, then capturing the receivers’ surprise as they received the Coke at specially designed vending machines all over the world. Ariel created a game where online influencers used a Facebook app to shoot paint at white designer clothes in a physical exhibit at Stockholm airport, then cleaned the clothes and gifted them to the influencers. Nike and Livestrong created a “chalkbot” that printed messages received from supporters on social media on streets all along the Tour de France route. C&A in Brazil asked fans to like clothes on their Facebook page, then displayed the like count on hangers inside the stores to help female shoppers make better shopping decisions.

Ariel Fashion Shoot

Many brands are also creating elaborate technology-enabled games, reality shows and treasure hunts that engage people both online and offline. Playground in Sweden asked shoppers at the hiking equipment store to support one of three fitness enthusiasts in a competition to stay awake for the longest time, and returned the money to the winner’s supporters. Mini Gateway created an iPhone app to invite Stockholm residents to catch and keep a virtual Mini, to win a real Mini Gateway. Jimmy Choo asked fans in New York to track its Foursquare check-ins to be the first to claim a pair of trainers at the check-in locations. Levi’s asked fans in Australia and New Zealand to track Twitter updates to be the first to claim a pair of Levi’s at the checked in locations. Nike invited London Nike+ users to claim a street by unlocking codes at phone booths and winning points by running through specific routes. Samsung rewarded fans for recording their walks, runs or rides during the London Olympics on the Samsung Hope Relay app by contributing to charities.

Nike Grid

Finally, the most progressive brands are creating devices and smart phone applications that enable consumers to use their products in a more meaningful way, by enhancing the product experience through sensor-enabled virtual self-tracking and community-sharing. For instance, Nike FuelBand (video) enables people to track their activities and workouts on the Nike+ community to analyze their own progress and compare or share their activity levels with their network. Volkswagen Smileage (video) enabled Volkswagen owners to track their drives, record memorable moments and share them with their networks. Stella Artois created an augmented reality bar guide to help people find and share bars that serve the brand.

Volkswagen Smileage

Social Live Experiences case studies

Throughout the year, we have tracked the conversations around a number of social live experiences and branded programs in our weekly insights reports and quarterly magazines; here are a few highlights.

Branded program: Anthon Berg Generous Store

Read the full case study on our blog or on Slideshare

In February 2012, chocolatier Anthon Berg set up a one-day pop up store in downtown Copenhagen, Denmark and invited people to pay for chocolate with good deeds, like “Serve breakfast in bed to your loved one,’ and ‘Help clean your friend’s house.’ To hold people to their promises, Anthon Berg staff provided iPads at check out and asked people to log on to Facebook and pledge the good deed on a friend’s Facebook wall.

Within 24 hours of the pop-up store event, 150,000 feeds were posted on the Anthon Berg Facebook page. This included the pledges people made while ‘purchasing’ the chocolates at the store, and follow up posts after they had carried out the good deeds, like this one:

Anthon Berg Facebook post

Source: youtu.be

With the Generous Store, Anthon Berg was able to increase its social reach and reinforce its brand promise – “You can never be too generous.” As Lana Markovic, a blogger at Branding Magazine, noted:

“Is there a better way of getting customers’ attention than by giving them free chocolates and at the same time getting them to make someone else happy? With this campaign, the Danish chocolatier managed to reinforce its leading statement – by inspiring people to be more generous the company has created a happier society, and the brand’s popularity has been reestablished.”

A video that documents the activation has received 118,000 views on YouTube.

Generous Store

Branded program: Hilltop Re-imagined for Coca-Cola

Read the full case study on our blog or on Slideshare

In 2011, Google partnered with Coca-Cola to re-create the iconic 1971 Hilltop TV commercial for a digital era, enabling people to “buy the world a Coke” in real time, using their mobile phones and Google technologies.

Mashable’s Todd Wasserman explains the process:

“Using the mobile app, a consumer in New York could buy a Coke for someone in Buenos Aires. In addition, that consumer could watch a video using Google Maps and Street View to see the can traveling across the globe. After the recipient gets the Coke from one of the custom vending machines, the sender can watch a video of the person’s surprised reaction and perhaps get a thank-you note, if the recipient chooses to do so. Later, the sender can pass on the video to friends on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.”

People could initiate the activation via a mobile app and interactive display ads on YouTube.

Project Re: Brief – Coca-Cola

Marketer Amanda Jennison commented that the campaign delivers on Coca-Cola’s brand promise of Open Happiness and inspires people to become brand advocates:

“Not only does this get fans involved through a mobile app, it also creates the mindset of wanting to share the happiness that a Coke evokes to a complete stranger. At Bates Creative, that’s why we think Coca-Cola is a brand that gets It. It’s all about inspiring your audience to become an active member for your brand.”

Google’s Jim Lecinski believes: the campaign demonstrates the creative potential of the digital medium for marketers:

“We started to think about how Web ads can move from being informative and transactional to delighting and engaging, stirring the soul and building a brand.”

Project Re:Brief – Coca-Cola has received widespread coverage and was awarded the inaugural Mobile Lions Grand Prix at Cannes in 2012.

The Future of Social Live Experiences

We believe that both location-aware smart-phones and sensor-enabled devices will become ubiquitous in the near future, and almost all physical events, experiences and spaces will become social live experiences.

We expect that many location-based social networks will add augmented reality features and many augmented reality apps will add social networking features, so the boundaries between the two will blur. We expect more niche location-based social networks and augmented reality apps to emerge around niche interests and activities like live music, street art, hiking, swimming, driving and cycling. We also expect branded versions of these networks and apps, primarily by product brands that want to extend their experience (Volkswagen SmileageNike+), but also by brands who wish to be seen as curators of popular culture (Stella Artois Le Bar Guide).

We expect all public or semi-public spaces like parks, stadiums, museums, and event venues to build the infrastructure — including Wi-Fi connectivity, NFC or QR code stations, live-streaming equipment and sensor networks — to enable social live experiences. Event app platforms like QuickMobile (video), EventMobi (video), CrowdCompass(video), Guidebook (video), DoubleDutch (video), GrupioConference Compass (video) and MuseumApp already enable event organizers to create custom smart phone apps. We expect them to increasingly become specialized around niches like conferences, music festivals, and public spaces. We expect organizations and brands to use these tools to design delightful experiences that encourage attendees to share updates and photos across their social networks, creating word of mouth and increasing the reach of the programs and events.

Finally, many brands have already integrated digital elements – like QR codes and touch screens – into their retail experiences. We expect more brands to transform their retail experiences into social live experiences, by encouraging shoppers to share messages or photos on their friends’ social networks to avail of discounts or shopping advice, bringing online reviews into the store to help shoppers make better shopping decisions, and creating in-store activations that people can participate in online.

* This is the ninth report from our upcoming People’s Insights Annual Report titled “Now & Next: Future of Engagement,” to be published as an interactive iPad app. The report will highlight the ten most important frontiers that will define the future of engagement for marketers, entrepreneurs and changemakers: CrowdfundingBehavior Change GamesCollaborative Social InnovationGrassroots Change MovementsCo-creation CommunitiesSocial CurationTransmedia Storytelling, Collective Intelligence, Social Live Experiences and Collaborative Consumption.

In each of these reports, we start by describing why they are important, how they work, and how brands might benefit from them; we then examine web platforms and brand programs that point to the future (that is already here); then finish by identifying some of the most important features of that future, with our recommendations on how to benefit from them.

Do subscribe to the People’s Lab email newsletter to receive each report and also an invite to download a free copy of the interactive iPad app.