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Pokémon Go’s not-so-hidden potential - for activism

Niantic and Nintendo’s augmented reality hit continues to take the world by storm, with Pokémon Go turning one month old on August 6. Since its initial launch in Australia, New Zealand and the US on this date, more than 280 000 mentions of #PokemonGo’s most popular characters have ignited social media, according to our social and news monitoring.

Since then, Pikachu, Charmander, Squirtle, Bulbasaur and friends have made up the bulk of buzz on the net. Observify data reveals everything from user generated hacks to tragicomic tales of preoccupied players injuring themselves. Entrepreneurship is no exception; wherever players grab rewards at Pokestops or fight it out at Pokémon Gyms - providing unprecedented foot traffic in droves - local proprietors are being urged left, right and centre to offer strategically branded incentives and giveaways in line with the craze. Banding together once strong enough means that players can defend their Gym in groups. As this may well be a local restaurant or landmark, the point-of-sale possibilities appear endless.

However, where Team Mystic, Team Valor and Team Instinct have made headlines, the conversation is now intertwined with current events. The Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office’s #PrayForSyria campaign was trending by July 21, depicting children in the war torn country holding character printouts. Although RFS has not released details of the images’ origins, each portrait is accompanied by a caption revealing the child’s location. Over the next 24 hours, artist Khaled Akil’s Pokémon Go/battleground mashups had gone viral. Pop culture/parody account, @Pokelife tweeted the #PrayForSyria pictures to its 224K followers, resulting in one of its most-shared posts at over 900 retweets (compared to its usual 300-500).

One of @PokeLife's most retweeted posts, on #PrayForSyria

Refugee-related Pokémon Go mentions indicate that despite claims of dumbed down slacktivism, social networks are home to genuine humanitarian perspectives. The most popular hashtags have evolved as #SavePokemon, #SaveThem and #PokemonInSyria.

Strategists suggest that small business owners offer lures - which attract Pokémon to a Pokestop for 30 minutes - creating a virtual guarantee of enthusiasts flocking to their premises. Why not make the most of #PokemonInSyria engagement too? Reserving a portion of any Go-related purchases for Syria aid initiatives could be a great starting point. Building your brand’s image by giving it a humanitarian voice also helps to bridge gaps with your community, from converting potential leads to nurturing return customers.

Who knows? Your hashtag might even start a fire.

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