Guest Writers Online Poker Poker — 31 October 2010

Several months ago Yair emailed me about something I had written on Bill’s Poker Blog. We ended up exchanging a lot of insights and ideas though there were some key things that he and I had entirely different views on. It’s difficult for most online gaming personnel to exchange ideas and openly discuss certain topics because it’s such a hush-hush world.

When I heard through the grapevine that Yair had decided to move on from Playtech I popped him over an email and asked if he wanted to write a guest post on the site. I thought it would be interesting to hear someone other than myself rambling on about the industry :-)

Anyway, Yair agreed and so with the introductions out of the way . . .

Poker sites should have it so easy. Poker is a social game, and the whole world is moving towards social content and advertising. And yet a look at the social strategy of the large poker sites reveal an almost blind spot. Pokerstars are head of the pack (as always), but their efforts revolve around a very active Twitter account (linking to a poker league), and a handful of facebook pages. Full Tilt fall behind with twitter and facebook accounts which have an occasional tweet or post. All sites seem to do the minimum necessary, but don’t think outside the box, or create a real integration with social networks.

A successful poker social strategy is not about having twitter and facebook accounts (although they are crucial to have). It’s about making sure friends can play together and by themselves. It’s basically making sure the software and marketing bring home games online. Home games have retention factors online poker would kill to have. These days, when organic poker traffic is hard to come by, and the recreational players get eaten up too fast by the grind on the tables, sites should encourage friends to play together and without outside players should they want to (and no – the refer a friend programs are not even close). My friend list shouldn’t appear on a buddy list (which is a fish list for most players), but through the linking of my facebook account to my friends. The buddy list is in addition to that and should reflect my “online poker buddies”.

Using the social sphere for marketing is a given for companies large or small. A look at the brands which have shifted a considerable chunk of their marketing spend towards social marketing reveals startups as well as traditional blue chip companies utilizing the viral potential of the new internet. Ford decided to launch the new “Exporer” by announcing it on facebook, rather than the traditional car shows. Gap used foursquare (a leading geo-location service) in order to boost traffic during a one day sales event (with great success). Even the muppets are reviving their good ol’ days by releasing new videos on YouTube, which have brought them scores of views, and reminded the world of them.

So why is online poker so slow to adapt? Why do sites do the minimum necessary? Good questions. Sites spend millions on SEO, and yet do not divert any real marketing spend to social. One thing is for certain: in today’s world differentiation is rough. Every site gives you an option to play with celebs. What if I just want to play with my friends?

******

This is a guest blog by Yair Panet, an independent consultant to gaming companies, focusing of acquisition, retention, marketing and social strategies. Yair has filled several roles in the online poker industry, most recently head of poker for Playtech. You can follow Yair on Twitter here

Ship It Holla Ballas!

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Bill Rini has been working in the online poker industry since 2004. He was a product manager for poker at Full Tilt and was the poker room manager at PartyPoker. Currently, Bill is the Head of Online Poker for WSOP.   Bill has been blogging about online poker since 2003 and is considered one of the leading authorities on the online poker industry.   "I like What Bill Rini said in his blog" - Doyle Brunson   "In other news, we had Bill Rini write an absolutely home run blog." Daniel Negreanu   "Industry insider Bill Rini has one of the most popular blogs in poker, with thousands of subscribers and fans regularly coming back for his universally respected insight into the industry" - Barry Carter (News editor for PokerStrategy, Co-Author: The Mental Game of Poker)

(12) Readers Comments

  1. Pingback: Loyalty Programs — Bill's Poker Blog

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  4. Bill, this post hits it on the head for me. I am currently trying to be come a grinder at the low stakes, in an attempt to build my online bankroll by winning instead of feeding my habit.

    The idea of a home game is great. We sort of have that going at a two sites that I belong to. One is Railbirds.com and I am a member of the Poker Brats.

    The other is the original TwitterPokerTour.com group who play a points tourney every Thursday evening 9pm ET. They have anywhere from 40 to 90 players and many are regulars. This makes it a home game. They also have a ustream.tv feed going at the same time with guest interviews with pros from the ftp where we play.

    The online companies that can foster that type of environment in my opinion, will succeed in the future.

  5. Great post Yair. Great initiative Bill. I hope I can write something equally worthy as a guest…

    Instead of setting a record for lenghtiest comment, I’ve now published a post on the topic of online home games on infiteedgegaming.com. It links to this one obv.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  6. The reasoning of “liquidity fragmenting” is flawed. I know that I wouldn’t always just want to play with my friends. This would only be an option. I would still want to test my skills against the unknowns and swim with the sharks and go for the kill. This is like saying that if you play in home games you never need to go to a casino to play.

  7. I don’t think the liquidity fragmenting should be such a worry. Players likely to play poker on the network tables when no friend is online. If anything you are making sure they redeposit (to continue playing with their friends), something they might not do otherwise. I think protecting the recreational players is more important than ensuring sharks have a good table selection (a simplistic and cynical explanation of what “liquidity” means to many of the players).

  8. Why are Poker brands so sluggish in going social? Because they simply have no clue at all. They are focused on their KPIs and, yes, won’t think outside the box. They do what they (think they) know, and for the rest just take a shy peek at what the bigger competitors do. As for PS and FT they have no plan, but they have the dough to do something, which looks almost groundbreaking yet…

  9. I agree with Yair though I think for many poker rooms this simply isn’t an option. They don’t have enough liquidity to risk fragmenting it even further. But Stars and Tilt could definitely do it. Rush Poker is a great example. It could have fragmented Tilt’s liquidity but I think in the end it has helped it by bringing in more players.

  10. It has a lot to do with the sites fear of fragmenting the liquidity. I believe that on the long term this is crucial though. The player value of a recreational player will jump through the roof if he brings his mates to the site. The increased margin (no affiliate commission) can be used to incentivize the entire gang. Money is put back in their accounts, adding to the retention.

  11. Great post. I had this same idea a couple of years ago. I really just wanted to be able to play our home game online and was baffled why there were no sites that let you do this. So during a voluntary period between jobs I decided to make one: Bluff Avenue. It caters to the home game crowd with neat features like the 72 game, straddles, rabbit hunting, even dealer’s choice (though Hold’em and Omaha are the only options at the moment :). I’m pretty happy with what I was able to put together, but alas, being a programmer without a marketing budget or business plan, it’s basically just a side-hobby now.

    But anyway, I agree that it’s puzzling that no poker site has really tried any outside the box ideas along these lines. I *know* there is demand for it.

  12. This is exactly what I was thinking about. I want to play with my friends that happen to be geographically in different locations. It is not easy to get together to play poker. I went looking on all the pokersites I am registered with and not one offered me the ability to sit at a private table and just play with the people of my choosing without the worry of a shark looking for a killing to enter and ruin the atmosphere of a friendly game. I asked myself why this isn’t available and could not come up with any logical explanation.