Welcome to the wonderful world of social networking! Sometimes it feels like keeping all of our social networking sites up to date could be a full time job, for love of god. My roles with BodogBrand.com and CalvinAyre.com certainly require some extensive social media love, so why not introduce another one into the mix? Now that I fully understand the value, I have decided to add PokerNations.com to my social media list, and I’m here to tell you why.
I sat down with Anthony Martino, President of the two month old PokerNations.com, to find out more about him and the social networking site he has built for the poker enthusiast community. With already over 7,000 unique visitors per month from over 100 difference countries, it appears that Anthony has done his research. Check out my interview with Anthony to find out what PokerNations.com is all about and why the poker industry needs it. You will also learn how PokerNations is able to remain completely industry neutral, why the future of the social networking space lies in targeted sites, how Anthony is like the “poor man’s Tom” from Myspace, and how you can win the 2010 Poker Nations WSOP Vegas experience. Enjoy!
RL: How did you come up with the idea for PokerNations? How long did it take for this idea to finally come into fruition?
AM: A few years back the thought popped into my head “why hasn’t anyone created a Myspace for poker players?”. After some searching online, I found out that it had already been done, but no one was succeeding at it. So I began to analyze entrants in the market and see what they were doing right and wrong. Then I built my own plan and approached people in the industry to partner up with on the project.
RL: Who is behind PokerNations? Why do you choose to have partners as opposed to employees?
AM: One of my partners is professional player, author and poker coach Eric “Rizen” Lynch. Another US-based partner is Joe T. In Canada we have Janet S and Steven B. In the UK we have Ian R and in Spain Moises A.
I choose partners instead of employees because Partners have a financial interest in the success of the project. An employee who gets a paycheck and benefits isn’t going to necessarily be as passionate about the project as a partner who believes in the success enough that they’re willing to work completely on profit sharing alone. One of our competitors in this market received a million dollars in funding for their project, but they’re also dragged down by employee salaries and benefits. Our operation runs lean with little overhead because we aren’t being drained by these costs.
RL: Do you consider yourself an affiliate? Why or why not?
AM: While some of my partners operate on their own in the affiliate world, PokerNations LLC is completely industry neutral. We do not operate as an affiliate, or share in the revenue of other companies. Our goal was to make sure our network was open for all brands, products and services to be represented, without our company having an agenda or bias for or against any one of them. This allows us to present the greatest possible resources to the players. It also allows us to expend our resources promoting our brand and building the community, rather than trying to push 3-5 of our best converting rooms.
So instead of focusing our efforts on pushing other peoples brands, we can build our network and provide a resource for the industry to utilize their marketing departments to promote their brands.
RL: Explain your revenue model. What types of companies and organizations should advertise on Poker Nations?
AM: Because we do not operate as an affiliate, our revenue is generated through advertising. At this time we’ve only been open a few months, but we’re seeing over 7,000 unique visitors/month from 100 countries. Anyone who has a product or service that would appeal to our demographic would benefit from advertising. The way we look at it, there’s more to poker than just online poker. So there’s no reason why land-based casinos, gambling supply companies, etc. wouldn’t benefit from promoting to our members. There’s also synergies with our demographic and services outside of poker. So casinos, sportsbooks, racetracks and even bingo would be welcome to advertise.
And we believe it can go a step further than that. Our members have interests outside of gaming. There’s no reason why companies like BMW, Rolex, Sony, etc. wouldn’t benefit from promoting their brands to our demographic as well, there’s a whole lifestyle that appeals to poker players.
But our initial goal with the network is not to concern ourselves with revenue generation. Right now we’re focused on building the community, the traffic and the content. As those pieces fall into place, the revenue will follow.
RL: Explain how PokerNations has the ability to foster a tight-knit poker community.
AM: At the outset of our beta-testing we populated the network with poker players we knew from other communities for years. This includes putting some of them into positions as moderators, as well as community team members also (CT members don’t have moderation powers, but are there to greet newcomers to the site, welcome them with profile comments, add them as friends and help answer questions about how to use the site and where to find things).
Our community is made up of players that are tired of the childish behavior that takes place in other online poker communities. At PokerNations, if you’re new to the game or don’t have a ton of knowledge on correct strategy, you won’t be picked on for it. In other communities if you post in the strategy or bad beat sections, you are immediately set upon by trolls who call you an idiot, donkey or retard. That is just horrible for the growth of our industry. You wind up:
1. Discouraging people from participating in discussions for fear of being attacked
2. Potentially “broom” those members from your community, never to return
So at our core we have an active and friendly community that leads by example, to help retrain people who are used to less friendly sites, as well as ensure newcomers feel comfortable participating in the discussions.
RL: How does your community differ from other poker communities such as twoplustwo?
AM: 2+2 is absolutely massive in our industry on the forum front. But in the grand scheme of the poker playing demographic, they are puny. They have a few hundred thousand accounts (obviously not all active anymore, and certainly not all active concurrently). But there are millions of poker fans across the globe.
They’re not player or industry friendly. For poker fans who visit their site, they come upon 75 separate forum categories, which is just overwhelming to the newcomer. Members insulting one another reduces their ability to capture and retain new members as active content creators, and certainly doesn’t help them appeal to the growing female demographic that is interested in poker.
And of course, obviously 2+2 is a forum, while our network offers more than that. We have built-in member profiles, friends lists, blogs, photo albums, video galleries, and even a poker chips reward system and site giveaways. We also have built-in Twitter functionality, so members can update their status on our network and instantly update their Twitter accounts, as well as view their friends feeds from Twitter directly within our site.
RL: How is PokerNations different than Facebook and MySpace? Why should people choose Poker Nations when there are so many social media choices out there?
AM: People aren’t using Myspace as much as they once did, choosing Facebook and Twitter more often to interact with their friends. But the future of the social networking space is in targeted sites. Communities built around Harley enthusiasts, or poker fans. When you’re on a network like Myspace or Facebook, everyone there has different interests. When you build a community around a commonly shared interest, you’re going to get a lot more member interactions and quality content creation.
When I first joined Facebook I was excited because it was connecting me with old friends I hadn’t seen in years. But after the appeal of that wore off, I realized that the network was mostly fostering low-value member interactions. I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand all the applications. They’re just time-wasters that don’t build relationships between members or produce quality content on the network. No, I don’t want to throw snowballs at you, poke you or join your pirate ship crew, leave me alone!
Our network strives to encourage quality content and member interactions that actually have meaning, rather than just being time wasters.
RL: Who is your target audience? How do you attract these types of people? How do you get the word out about Poker Nations?
AM: What’s great about poker is that it appeals to such a large demographic. Young and old, male and female. To attract the older crowd we need to ensure that our network is easy to understand and use, as they aren’t always tech-savvy. Plus we need to ensure that our community is friendly and welcoming, so we appeal to those of a more mature age and also to the female demographic. To appeal to the younger crowd we must ensure that we provide the tech features they crave, such as integration with other forms of social media so it’s easy for them to access and communicate with their friends directly from our platform.
RL: What is your role within the Poker Nations community exactly? How do you spend most of your time?
AM: As President of the company I have a lot on my plate. From overseeing the technology direction, creating promotions, interacting with industry members and of course the community of players as well. My main focus is on user engagement and retention practices. I’m essentially the “poor mans Tom” from Myspace. When you join PokerNations I become your first friend, and you immediately receive a private message from me welcoming you to the community and providing some direction on what you should do first.
I’m on the front-lines, interacting with the members, welcoming newcomers and participating in forum and blog discussions. I love poker, enjoy talking strategy and industry news & gossip, and really enjoy the growing community we have that come from so many different backgrounds.
RL: How do you help foster productive and friendly relationships between Poker Nations members? Do you have moderators? Who are they?
AM: We lead by example. Our core membership already know one another and interact in a manner that is conducive to network growth and participation. So we ensure that new members to our network see the right way to interact with one another. We have moderators in place who handle forum moderation only, and community team members who welcome new members and help them with questions. Admins (partners in the company) are also actively involved in the community, and handle moderation of other site content (blogs, photos, bannings, etc).
The mods and CT members are all volunteers, and all folks we’ve known for years from other communities that have shown themselves to be friendly, knowledgeable and huge poker fans.
RL: You have some fantastic giveaways and freerolls for Poker Nations members. Tell me about some of your promotions such as the unique WSOP package that you have available for 2010.
AM: People love to win things, it gives them an adrenaline rush. So we built in a poker chips rewards system to our network. Almost any activity you perform will earn you poker chips (add friends, write a blog, upload photos, etc). Then, instead of spending these in a store to buy something, you can use them to enter random giveaways on our network.
We have already had a number of great sponsors who put up poker books, clothing, jewelry, sunglasses, software, etc. for our members to win. It’s a win-win because we provide our members with added value for using our network through these giveaways, and the prize sponsors receive the exposure for their products, brands and services.
Just recently we awarded a $3,500 package to the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, the winner will be on her way to the Bahamas in early January 2010, and we’re very excited for her. Our big promotion is the 2010 PokerNations Vegas Experience. The winner gets entry into a $1500 WSOP event plus a super-satellite for a Main Event seat. In addition, they’ll stay in a private home in Vegas with myself and “Rizen”, and receive private poker coaching plus $1,000 in cash!
We see so many companies that offer up a seat into the Main Event, but what good is that? Most players don’t have the skill or experience to succeed in a deepstacked multi-day tournament. So essentially it’s like handing them a lottery ticket and wishing them good luck. I’d rather teach someone to fish, than give them a one-day meal ticket. So we’re very big on providing training elements in with our larger promotions.
RL: What is an “official profile badge” and why do you offer this feature?
AM: When someone is on Myspace or Facebook, they may find their favorite pro or poker room and it may be an imposter or an affiliate. We wanted to avoid this type of occurrence on our network. We believe in protecting someones name or brand from copycats and leeches. So we provide an Official Badge on profiles that we’ve confirmed the authenticity of. This assures our members they’re interacting with the real person or company behind that account.
RL: Tell me about your plans for the future. What improvements and new features does Poker Nations have in store over the coming months?
AM: Currently we’re on a white-label solution for our platform. But we’re working towards a completely customized solution for release by Q3 of 2010 that will allow us to provide more features and respond to network issues much more efficiently. I can’t go into too many details on the features because of outside competition, but suffice to say we have big plans for enhancing existing features and adding new ones.
RL: Do you think poker will become regulated in the United States? Why or why not?
AM: I do think it will happen eventually. There’s just too much money involved for the government and big business to not step in and claim their piece of the pie.
RL: Describe your background in poker. When did you start playing? What types of games do you play? Do you consider yourself a professional poker player?
AM: I grew up in an Italian household, so gambling was pretty commonplace. Games like 5-card draw and 7-card stud are what I was weened on. Then hold em hit the scene and I learned that. Then I picked up games like Omaha hi/lo, Razz, 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball and Badugi.
In Dec of 2005 I consider myself semi-pro, as I was supplementing my income with poker and using PokerTracker software to keep tabs of my results. By Sep 2006 I was losing money going into my “real” job each day, so I left to focus on poker. Of course, two months later the UIGEA hit, and my bread and butter site (Party Poker) was yanked from US players, so I had to adjust and play on other sites.
Now I’m more focused on the business aspect of the industry, so I’m not playing enough to consider myself in the professional category anymore. My main focus had been on mixed-rotation fixed-limit cash games (i.e. HORSE tables, etc). But now I’m getting more into developing my NL Hold Em tournament game. It’s fun and a nice break from the grind of cash games.
RL: What professional poker players do you admire and why?
AM: Guys like Eli Elezra. He plays crazy aggressive on High Stakes Poker (the tv show on GSN) because he doesn’t need to win. The guy has businesses outside of poker that bring money in, so he can play more for the competition and challenge of the game. I really admire that and would love to be able to play 10K buyin tournaments like they’re penny ante games.
RL: What is your opinion on rakeback- do you think it’s a good or bad? Why?
AM: Since I’m coming from the player side I’m a fan of rakeback. I’ve been using rakeback since 2004 and I think that as time goes on there will be more problems for operators who either don’t offer it at all or only provide it if you signed up through the right kind of affiliate. Once a player becomes aware they missed out, it creates some anger towards your brand if they aren’t given a way to get in on the rakeback. So there definitely needs to be some thought from the client-side on how to effectively handle these sorts of things.
RL: What do you think lies in the future for the major social networks such as Twitter, facebook, myspace? Do you think they will continue to be the powerhouses that they are today?
AM: It’s doubtful. Eventually they’ll become complacent and something new and innovative will come along that steals market share from them. Plus, people will grow tired of the low-value member interactions (i.e. I don’t care about throwing snowballs at people, I don’t care that you’re eating eggs right now, etc).
There’s little “meat” in their content, and I firmly believe that mini-social networks, targeted niche sites, are the future of the marketplace.