Pokemon Go: The Accidental Social Media Sensation

Pokemon Go has become a massive social online/offline experience without really trying to be.

It’s ironic that for all the investment Google poured into the Google+ social network, one of the world’s most valuable brands spun out a business responsible for one of the most exciting social media phenomenon since the launch of Facebook: Niantic Labs, creators of Ingress and Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is more than the most popular mobile game in U.S. history and a (pocket) monster revenue generator (in-application payments surpassed $268 million in just five weeks after release). The augmented reality game has become a massive social online/offline experience without really trying to be.

Although you can play Pokemon Go on your own, the game really thrives off teams of Pokemon trainers sharing the joy of capturing Pokemon, visiting PokéStops (real-world locations where trainers can collect XP, PokeBalls and other items to help in the game) and taking over Gyms (locations where trainers train their Pokemon, battle other teams and gain additional XP and coins). Consider the following:

Thousands of Pokemon Go trainers are gathering in cities ranging from New York to San Francisco in order to play organized sessions together. About 9,000 people gathered in San Francisco to play Pokemon Go–an event that originated as a Facebook event page. Thousands more have played the game around the world, including in cities such as Madrid.

The game has become a means for people to meet each other and form friendships, and even romantic relationships. Trainers are forming spontaneous communities offline and smaller networks of like-minded teammates. As writer Lauren Larson noted in GQ, “Pokemon Go is the dating app we deserve.” In fact, a Pokemon Go dating service has emerged to more formally match Pokemon Go trainers.

Pokemon Go is permeating other social networks. If you go on to Facebook and search for Pokemon Go groups, you’ll get a sense of what I’m talking about.

I just performed a casual search and I found groups of enthusiasts in places ranging from Pokemon Go Brew City in Milwaukee to Team Istinto in Rome. And on Aug. 14, if you happened to be in Baku, Azerbaijan, you could have participated in a Pokemon Go flash mob organized on Facebook. If you are interested, there is a Pokemon Go cosplay meetup occurring Aug. 26 at Konak Pizza & Grill in Chicago– just to name a few of the tons of Pokemon Go events being organized every day on the world’s largest social network.

As a sign of how pervasive Pokemon Go has become, Yelp added “PokéStop nearby” as a filter to help its community find businesses that also happen to be PokéStops. The addition of the filter is a huge change that has implications for the way businesses manage their location data. With this update, Yelp has outhustled every other network by integrating Pokemon Go into its user interface.

Yelp understands something that perhaps the other networks have been slow to appreciate: Pokemon Go is getting bigger and bigger, especially as the game continues to get rolled out around the world and businesses get savvier about working within the game’s mechanics to build their brands and drive online/offline revenue.

For instance, in Japan, McDonald’s recently became the first Pokemon Go sponsor, which entails 3,000 McDonald’s locations becoming Gyms–a hint of more branded relationships that Niantic will likely form with businesses that operate multiple locations.

I was in Japan when Pokemon Go launched there. The excitement was palpable and visible amid a sea of PokéStops and Gyms active at all hours of the night. The McDonald’s sponsorship is a great way to share that enthusiasm and benefit from higher visibility within the game.

Do a Google search for Pokemon Go, and you’ll find plenty of examples of businesses that experienced soaring foot traffic and sales by encouraging Pokemon Go trainers to play in their stores or by promoting themselves as PokéStops and Gyms, such as the case of an ice cream shop) in Washington that was saved by Pokemon Go. A multilocation brand such as Dairy Queen would be the perfect match for Pokemon Go.

Meanwhile, brick-and-mortar businesses can integrate Pokemon Go into their social media experiences in more organic ways, and multilocation businesses can do so at scale. To get you started, I have listed a few thought starters:

Update your location data: If your business is a PokéStop, take another look at your location data attributes, or the descriptive information that sets you apart from the competition when people discover your business via Google searches or discovery on networks such as Yelp. If you manage your location data well, you understand the importance of publishing accurate location data such as your business name, address and phone number on social networks ranging from Facebook to Yelp. If you are a PokéStop, make sure you share this attribute, too. When trainers use Yelp to find PokéStops nearby, help Yelp find you. When trainers on Facebook are doing manual searches for PokéStops and Gyms, you want your name to appear in the results. But you need to do some basic blocking and tackling first.

Manage your location pages on Facebook: Businesses don’t always invest good care and feeding into their location pages on Facebook. If you are one of those businesses, now is the time to pay more attention to managing your location pages. Not only is Facebook the world’s largest social media network, but, as my examples show, it’s a search and discovery tool for trainers seeking events and others who share their Pokemon Go passion. As noted, make sure that you note the fact that your business is a PokéStop or Gym if indeed you are. And work your location page to host events and advertise special offers for trainers. Facebook has morphed into PokémonBook. It’s time for you to adapt.

Get creative with content: Get your community involved on content-rich sites such as Instagram. For example, assuming you have an Instagram presence, you should encourage trainers to visit your location, post images of themselves and tag them. You can offer prizes to those who share the most interesting images. Millions of Instagrammers are already posting content with the #Pokémon or #PokémonGo hashtags without anyone asking them. Harness that energy to your benefit.

Niantic CEO John Hanke said recently that Niantic has developed only one-tenth of the features it is capable of rolling out, which suggests a constantly evolving experience that will create more opportunities for businesses to capitalize on the game’s popularity. Yelp certainly understands this reality. Do you?

Jay Hawkinson is a digital marketing professional with 20 years of sales, marketing and merchandising experience including organic search optimization, paid search advertising, local search, mobile and social media. Jay joined SIM Partners in 2006 as an equity partner and currently oversees mobile, social media and emerging technology as senior vice president of client success.