ROLES: community, social & event management
TEAM SIZE: 7*
PERIOD: summer of 2016
HIGHLIGHT: bringing 15,000 people to the Zoo of Antwerp to hunt Pokémon
(* I did this project with 7 of my friends who are also social media & community managers. But I took the lead in this project because I was the first of our group who was approached by the media (and consequently became the go-to person) and because I still had a lot of vacation days/free time left.)
"Hi, my name is Vincent Buyssens and you probably wonder how I ended up here"
These were pretty much my thoughts when I saw television stations & newspapers referring to me as a 'Pokémon Go Consultant' during the Pokémon Go hype of the summer of 2016.
Okay, okay, I'll admit I wasn't really that surprised since I specifically asked them to use the words 'Pokémon Go Consultant', but it was still pretty cool.
But again, how did I end up here?
It all started around July of that year when the Pokémon Go hype was still in its initial stages, but on the verge of exploding. Although the game wasn't released in Belgium yet, social media was buzzing with footage of ridiculously big Pokémon Go gatherings taking place all around the globe. I had seen many hypes, but nothing like this. This was something different.
The unique nature of this hype coupled with imminent release of the game in Belgium prompted me & six friends into creating the Pokémon Go België Facebook page which quickly became the biggest and most influential Pokémon Go fan page in Belgium.
The biggest because we simply were the first Facebook page dedicated to Pokémon Go in Belgium causing us to show on the top of the search results on Facebook.
The most influential because the page was managed by seven social media managers who grew up with Pokémon. Killer combo, yo!
the first pokéhunts
When the media first started reporting about Pokémon Go, it was quite clear they were genuinely curious about this phenomenon and were looking for someone to explain this hype to the layman.
That was my cue, so I used my personal branding chops to present myself as a Pokémon trainer and managed to get myself interviewed by Belgium's second largest news station. Not as Vincent Buyssens, community manager of ANTWERP. POWERED BY CREATIVES., but as Vincent Buyssens, the virtual Pokémon trainer. From this moment onward I was the go-to person for all things Pokémon Go related.
Things really started to get fun when the game was officially released in Belgium on July 16th and the player base grew exponentially in size making Pokémon Go meetups suddenly a lot more interesting.
Coincidentally, the release of the game coincided with the Pokéhunt in Antwerp's Stadspark organized by the Belgian game- and tech blog Geekster which was a nice opportunity for us to mobilize our followers.
A few hundred Pokéhunters showed up, many Pokémon were caught and some beautiful prices were given away. The first Pokéhunt was a success!
For those unfamiliar with Pokémon Go: the game uses geographical data to distribute Pokémon around the real world and in order to catch these Pokémon you need to walk to where they're located and tap your phone once you're in range of the Pokémon. Important to know is the distribution and location of the Pokémon is controlled by the developers and cannot be influenced by the players.
However, Pokémon can be lured to a specific location through activating an in-game item aptly named lures. These lures can only be activated at Pokéstops, which are important spots in the game virtually anchored to landmarks & other important buildings in the real world.
These lures were the foundation of our Pokéhunts because they made it very easy to bring large crowds of people together.
The media attention got many people taking notice and a few days after our first Pokéhunt I was approached by Nico Volckeryck of UNIZO Antwerpen, an organization supporting local entrepreneurs, who asked us to organize a Pokéhunt in Antwerp's hottest shopping street: the Kammenstraat.
For this Pokéhunt we managed to bring a massive 1000 people together. Partially due to the media attention we received beforehand, but also because it took place in Antwerp's most famous shopping street.
The birth of the Pokémon Go Consultant
Shortly after this second successful Pokéhunt we started receiving inquiries from people all over the country who had seen what we had managed to do in Antwerp and wanted us to organize similar Pokéhunts for their city or business.
My personal branding instincts started to kick in again and after a few minutes of pondering I came up with my new title: Pokémon Go Consultant.
Under this moniker I started advising people, ranging from entrepreneurs to even local politicians, on how they could use Pokémon Go hype to boost their business.
While some Pokéhunts were more successful than others due to the uneven distribution of Pokémon, it was cool to see more traditional entrepreneurs embracing this hype to boost their business.
And all thanks to my Pokémon Go Consultancy!
"Hold up just right there, Vincent! Pokémon Go Consultant? Is that even a thing?"
Not really, but despite the fact the title was made up, the advice I provided to people was definitely real and useful.
Which brings me to the main point I wanted to make with this Pokémon Go Consultancy adventure: I take every challenge seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously.
Throughout this entire Pokémon Go adventure I helped everyone who asked for advice to the best of my ability, while in the process testing and improving my social media, community, personal branding & digital marketing skills. None of us earned money from it, but we learned a lot from it.
Yet, at no point during this adventure I took myself too serious or felt better than other marketers. But not everyone saw this though and some people even got angry that the media kept featuring me with my Pokémon Go Consultancy shtick.
Since I always stayed in my role during interviews and Pokéhunts, I could totally see why some people would think I took this thing way too serious. But I never took it personally.
Although the summer was filled with hundreds of successful Pokémon Go events, the Pokémon Go hype reached its definitive apex in the first week of August when the Royal Zoological Society of Antwerp asked us to help them organize a Pokémon hunt in the Zoo of Antwerp.
As it happened the Zoo wasn't only inhabited by real animals, but also by quite a lot of Pokémon. And to give Pokéhunters a chance to catch these Pokémon, the Zoo organized a Pokéhunt on Friday August 5, aptly called Pokémon Zoo. They did this after-hours so it wouldn't interfere with their daily operations or potentially annoy visitors.
Since we had another Pokéhunt taking place in Brussels on Wednesday, we could only start communicating about Pokémon Zoo on Thursday, which gave us little more than a day to mobilize our followers.
By giving away gadgets through silly contests on our Facebookpage (the last person who replies to this post gets a power bank) and communicating in tandem with the team of the Zoo, we quickly went viral and managed to get 15,000 Pokémon Go-aficionados to the Zoo of Antwerp.
What made this Pokéhunt even cooler is that the Zoo used this opportunity to raise money for endangered species. In less than two hours they managed to raise over 12.000 euros all of which went directly to their animal preservation fund.
To give an idea what Pokémon Zoo was like, here's some footage from that day:
After this extremely successful Pokéhunt we received even more inquiries than before and we actually came close to organizing another big Pokéhunt.
But eventually all good things must come to an end and this was no different with the Pokémon Go hype.
The reason why we stopped organizing Pokéhunts after Pokémon Zoo was actually due to several practical reasons which the local police kindly reminded me of. In fact, an officer called me shortly after Pokémon Zoo to explain some practical aspects we were obliged to follow if we organized an event in the public space. One of those obligatory things, he said was the requirement to have 1 steward for every 10 people attending an event in the public space.
This meant that we had to find hundreds of volunteers who wanted to help us out during the events. I'm sure we would've been able to find these volunteers, but since all of us were doing this in our spare time we simply didn't have the time to properly organize this.
Additionally, if something would happen, like an accident or a terrorist attack, I would be personally liable. While I don't mind taking responsibilities for my actions, I didn't really feel comfortable carrying this type of burden. Moreover, any event had to be requested and approved weeks beforehand which kinda went against the spontaneous nature of our events.
In retrospect I obviously should have thought about this beforehand, but the hype made things move so fast that I didn't really get the chance to think about this.
Having to end my Pokémon Go adventure so abruptly made me a bit sad, but I ultimately took solace in the fact that we were lucky to end it on a high note. We succeed in bringing a record-amount of 15, 000 people to Pokémon Zoo and for more than to months we managed to unite thousands of people through a shared passion.
And on a personal level I was also very happy and proud I got the opportunity to use my social media & community management skills in such a unique context.
Unique because Pokémon Go really was a hype so special that I don't see its success being replicated by anything else anytime soon. Not that we won't be seeing other hypes popping up, but what made Pokémon Go so unique was its combination of nostalgia and creative use of the world's most ubiquitous piece of technology: the smartphone.
Give a generation of digital natives an easy way to relive their ultimate childhood dream, catching Pokémon, and you have what they call a perfect storm.
I don't know what the future holds or what the next big thing is going to be, but since I am very perceptive with these sort of things I'm sure I'll be one of the fist to notice when a soft breeze on the internet is about to turn into a violent hypestorm.