A recent issue of Wired magazine highlighted a company creating "alternative reality games," or ARGs. If you missed the article, go back and read it .... it is a must read!
I feel this way because the piece gave me a glimpse at the edge of innovation where communities are using unique combinations of online and offline tools. It changed the way I will think about combining them forever!
ARG is a new kind of interactive story-telling-meets-treasure-hunt:
"These narratives unfold in fragments, in all sorts of media, from Web sites to phone calls to live events, and the audience pieces together the story from shards of information. The task is too complicated for any one person, but the Web enables a collective intelligence to emerge to assemble the pieces, solve the mysteries, and in the process, tell and retell the story online. The narrative is shaped – and ultimately owned – by the audience in ways that other forms of storytelling cannot match. No longer passive consumers, the players live out the story."
These types of games can be very effective because they offer a way to engage people in our over-communicated society, with a hint of mystery propelled totally by the viral nature of the game. There is no marketing here, just pure engagement!
So what should you do and how can you benefit?
Stop thinking about Web 2.0 tools in isolation. Don't do podcasting just to do podcasting. Yes, you need to understand the tactics, but they are a means to a much bigger end.
You can try to use all Web 2.0 tools on one site .... but that doesn't create a community! I know. I tried, and it's not pretty! Seriously, a community won't exist without user-generated content. And mastering all the Web 2.0 tools out there won't get you that content unless you find a way to build a community.
Building a community for community's sake isn't a good idea. I believe it is arrogant of marketers to think we need another community. Instead, find an existing community and give it the tools to deliver a rich online experience.
Finally, once you have the community built, explore how to truly engage your community, perhaps with an ARG. That may seem very B2C, but some sort of treasure hunt or other contest can get people inputting content and engage them beyond the typical community.
Paul Dunay is director of global field and interactive marketing for Bearing Point (www.bearingpoint.com).