Bikinis, Greed & Adrenaline: Secrets of Social Media’s Dark Underbelly | npENGAGE

Bikinis, Greed & Adrenaline: Secrets of Social Media’s Dark Underbelly

By on Apr 5, 2010


“Online gaming” was the reply when I cordially asked a man sitting near me at a conference what industry he represented. “Like World of Warcraft?” I asked. “No – these are online gambling sites” was his reply. He laughed when I said I worked with non-profits.

I can’t stop thinking about what happened next. Maybe it was morbid fascination, like rubber-necking alongside a car crash, but I was glued to the spot during a conference break while this guy openly explained his business model. He was gleeful because business was booming, because of Facebook.

Now I’m no fan of gambling (I’m clearly not his target market in more ways than one). But I asked a lot of questions because I’m always interested in what’s working & why. So even though this tale is somewhat sordid, I find important nuggets of human nature in it. Some lessons learned here could be put to use by the “forces of good.”

His is a 24/7 operation, staffed to coincide with the Western world’s evening pursuits of companionship & entertainment. Over 100 multi-lingual young women sit at desks, picking up lonely guys via social media. They each “act” perhaps 10 different outgoing, flirty, and fun online personalities at a time. Their objective is to get guys playing poker with them in free online tournaments. The end-goal is to get these guys hooked on online gambling.

The recruiter has a very actionable plea: her girlfriend is already at the virtual table with a partner, but the recruiter must “bring a friend” or she can’t join the game. Ultimately (by some magic I can’t follow), the “mark” is enticed into non-free poker games.

I don’t really understand whether it’s greed or adrenaline, or both, that keeps gamblers playing in the moment, but what keeps them coming back, especially if they parted with hard-earned money?  It’s all about the leader boards, evidently. The competitive rankings are sliced & diced every which way, so everyone can see their names in lights somehow, if they just keep playing. One of management’s toughest jobs is “to keep coming up with meaningful rankings.”

Turnover of staff is not a problem. Hired for general cheeriness and sociability, this firm employs a “mother-hen figure” to keep employees productive and focused on results. Wednesdays are poker classes. Fridays provide manicures and pedicures. The most productive employees each week win bikinis, plus beach photo-shoots to properly prime their Facebook profile pics.

Why am I blogging about this here, on a do-gooder blog?? I mean, doesn’t this scenario just drip with money-grubbing, deceptive, greedy people, using others as a means to their own ends? Do I retell this story just to make your skin crawl like mine?

No, I say we use what’s working to do what’s right. I’m sharing because I really hope you’ll steal any strategies you can, without any guilt whatsoever, and use them to make your work more successful. Here are some thoughts I took away, for anyone who wants to stack the deck against poverty & hunger, despair & disease.

  • While this is an example of deceptive peer-to-peer outreach, a business like this wouldn’t be booming if the audience for online engagement through social media weren’t there.  [If you had to list the 100 most social supporters you have, how would you identify that list? Check out Radian6 and HubSpot; did you know you can have an email list appended with twitter tags?]
  • This guy was attending an email marketing conference, so you can bet they had a multi-channel communication plan that didn’t stop at social media. I bet they use direct mail in their retention mix, too, since they pretty soon have their customers’ billing addresses.
  • Most nonprofits have a lot of evening events, but have you tried online outreach (that’s social and entertaining) in the evenings? [Many health groups host late-night support-group chats because they find caregivers just can’t participate in daylight hours.  There’s tremendous value in that companionship for sure.  Got a good example of such forums serving as cause-related entertainment, though? I can think of a few coworkers who aren’t morning people, but are quite entertaining. ; )]
  • Consider the good you could do with a small army of honest supporters, logging on and being social to bring people into a fun game for a real purpose, connected to your mission through a creative campaign.  [Online games are freely-available (over 50,000 people were playing the free games Microsoft makes available as I wrote this, and yes – poker is included). ]
  • How can you add the rankings/leader-board concept to any of your efforts? [Dynamic, competitive rankings are one of the powerful ways that the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life team fundraising events make such an impact for their fundraising.]
  • How do you reward supporters who bring family & friends into your circle? I’m not saying you need to have a swimwear collection, but then again, if your audience wants bikinis, why not?

By the way, this whole experience made me want to go make a donation to Gamblers Anonymous, but I couldn’t find a donation form on their website at ( Bummer, as my checkbook is currently AWOL.



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