What I learned by becoming a Pokémon trainer for a week

I have just survived a week of the latest cultural phenomenon – Pokémon Go. It started innocently enough – with a US iTunes account and a couple of free hours on a Monday evening. Since I wanted to meet a few more players, I decided to create an event for the following Friday. Something simple – let’s meet at the Congress Square in Ljubljana to mingle. It exploded almost immediately. On the first day, 300 people indicated on Facebook that they would come. By the end of the week, this number rose to 750 with 2000+ interested.

Lesson 1: Facebook is still a great viral machine

Organising events is a lot like a horror movie. You never go alone into the woods. In this case Alja Isakovic co-hosted the event and provided the much-needed sanity check. As a consequence, we had a Facebook Event that looked official (correct style of announcement, good graphics, sane venue and time). But most importantly, it was about something that everyone was hearing about, but was still hard to get in Slovenia. With the basics in place, we just had to share it to our personal Facebook networks. This exposed the event to enough people that we got noticed by existing Facebook Pokémon Go communities. A couple of cross-promotion partnerships later, we 10x our reach. More importantly, we reached the right people – early Pokémon Go adopters.

InterviewLesson 2: Journalists like a positive, feel-good story

Within a few hours of creating the event, we also got contacted by journalists. In my experience, once the first journalist gets in touch, others soon follow. Alja and I cleared our schedule for the next day and started explaining the game. The aspect that I liked the most is that we didn’t focus on the actual game content too much. We rather talked about the social and urban aspects of it. As it stands right now, the game itself is a pure antithesis of modern society. It encourages you to go out and explore the world around you, mingling with other players, and working together on the same goals. This explained the context for the global interest and makes it easier for journalists to explain it to the general audience. At some point, Alja also suggested that we need better titles. It was a light, summer-time story, so picking Pokémon trainer made complete sense. It’s just silly enough that it brings smile to people’s faces. It will also give me an opportunity to measure its reach and how long people will remember it.

Lesson 3: Letting it go

Pokémon Go is big at the moment and it’s going to have a huge following for months and years ahead. But high level of required engagement and battery drain on phones will be deal breakers for the general public. This will reduce the audience to the younger generation that will actually play the game. Discuss all the stats, trade Pokémon (once thats available) and battle each other. This will be a community of interest that needs enthusiastic leaders that will help them teach and organise follow-up events. I’m happy that many of them them came to the event in person and I’m sure they’ll figure out how to collaborate.

Conclusions

Facebook on its own is enough to get you traction, but you still need traditional media to get legitimacy and wider reach.

When 750 people on Facebook say they are going, 20% of that number will actually come (~150), as seen in our case. Still a huge success, just don’t plan your food budget based on that.

Just relax and go with the flow. Not everything has to have an immediate business value or a long term goal.

Thanks to Tamara Muhic, for proof-reading draft of this post.