Empire Avenue, the social media exchange that allows you to buy and sell shares with just about anyone with a Twitter or Facebook account, almost entered the world under the name "Bond Street," but for the fact the URL was already reserved. How that early decision on metaphor influenced the unfolding of a site now populated with global brands and hundreds of social media's most aggressive oversharers is worth a little reflection.

One of the first blogs devoted to the site was "Empire Building," advancing the rhetorical framework that has driven site growth since public launch last summer. At its core, Empire Avenue is about buying and selling shares in social media entities, be they people, brands or blogs. But its layers of complexity have fueled furious on-site engagement by three types of people: social sharers, influencers and gamers. And each of these types is clearly empire building, through community, activism and networking, gaming, and a mix of these behaviors.

My Personal Empire

Here's a snapshot of how my personal empire has evolved over the past year:

  • I resurrected -- and upgraded -- a dormant Flickr account to connect to Empire, adding several hundred connections and a few thousand photos. One of the most interesting effects of this has been how my social media Luddite family members now tell me how much they enjoy seeing photos of my kids in their Yahoo! Mail home page.
  • I've added nearly 1,500 Twitter followers directly attributable to Empire, and after their initial fervor for the site -- and frequent achievement-oriented tweeting -- calms, these connections often remain strong. I've standing offers to crash at the homes of Empire members throughout the U.S., and have connected with scores of highly influential Twitter folk who I'd followed but never really interacted with on microblogging sites. PR Newswire remarked that Empire Avenue feels homey due to its smaller and less mature community, "like Twitter in 2009."
  • I've added hundreds of Facebook connections through Empire, and these good folks have tremendously aided my social activism and digital strategy consulting efforts. Empire communities flourish across multiple Facebook channels, including highly engaged groups, and a couple targeted calls to action can quickly reap me more Facebook fan page likes than a message to my 11,000 Twitter followers ever can. This is important, as Facebook requires a threshold of 25 likes before securing a custom page URL, a key precursor to a solid marketing push. Popular Empire members can get 25 likes for just about any page in as little as an hour, depending on time of day.
  • Empire began life in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I had a number of social connections with folks there due to some blogging I'd done about the thriving "YEG" community on Twitter, and I set as a one of my early goals in participation on the site securing a paid speaking gig in Edmonton to meet my friends in person. Last October, I spoke at "Beyond 2010," stayed an extra night with an Empire buddy, and met more connections from the site for an Empire meetup, breakfast and a tour of the Legislature.
  • I met my WordPress designer on Empire and regularly recommend him to others.
  • Another Empire friend quit the site but knew from my integrated activity there that my specialty is government and technology. Months later, she reached out for consulting help, and I will serve on the board of her new small business.
  • More than 2,500 people hold my shares on Empire, and I can count scores if not hundreds as friends. These include educators, marketers, scuba diving instructors, students, IT managers, photographers, authors, singers, and a range of folks from all walks of life and from dozens of countries around the world.

Empire Avenue is Ever Increasing in Value

Clearly, I've been a busy little empire builder. And I'm far from alone.

The small team that founded the site is wicked smart (one founder is on hiatus due to a Rhodes Scholarship. Really.). They realized two things from the get-go, and have continued to design around them: the content we create online has value, and only fellow humans can adequately price that value. Unlike most "influence" models on the social Web, Empire generates both algorithmic scoring and an aggregate "price" that takes into account what the site's tens of thousands of highly active members think is happening in the social media world.

Charlie Sheen, for example, caught fire on Empire long before any activity-based algorithms caught his temporary ascendance into social media stardom. Communities -- and active share buying -- coalesce around prominent site members, be they heros or anti-heroes. Empire CEO Duleepa Wijayawardhana has noted that he gets sold when people don't like a new feature on the site and bought when they do.

I know. I've done it.

Ultimately, social tools are what one makes of them. But Empire's robust integration of several top platforms makes it a logical part of multi-platform social campaigns by brands, activists and online influencers.

"Given that people increasingly use multiple platforms of social media … any messaging related to the social issue for which we seek to build support needs to be made available on as many sources as possible," writes cause-branding expert Simon Mainwaring in the inaugural edition of The Social Media Monthly. Empire facilitates engaging with other influencers around interests across platforms. It quickly shows who are the most prominent members around a topic through keyword searches and indexes (I keep plenty of members of the "Zombie Killing" index in my portfolio, just in case), and scores and ranks members related to their network value on YouTube, Facebook personal and fan pages, Flickr, Twitter, LinkedIn and an aggregate of five linked blogs.

Like many new entrants to Twitter, plenty of people dismiss Empire as confusing, worthless or a time-waster. For those who get it, though, this new world of social media empires continues to unfold and increase in value.

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