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Time Magnets: Louis XIV, Social Strategy, and Games

Was Louis XIV a party animal? Or master social strategist?

Louis XIV, France's famous Sun King that ruled during much of the 17th century knew how to throw a great party. He kept his ministers and courtiers entertained with a constant string of formal rituals, festivals and entertainment. These included elaborate daily etiquette ceremonies such as Louis's rising in the morning, and retiring to bed that nobles had to compete against each other to participate in order to receive symbols of rank and status. Louis wisely pursued such measures to keep his ministers and the aristocracy so busy that they would have no energy—or time—to plot against him.

Social Status and Game Layering

From a distance such rituals appear petty or silly—a ceremony for the King's morning routine? Yet, historians may look back at social networking etiquette today ("What? No thank you for my RT? No follow-back?") and say the same thing. Look at anyone today meticulously pursuing in FourSquare check-ins, competing for virtual badges (aka "air"), and collecting friends and followers like stamps, and the rituals of the French court don't seem so far-fetched. Throughout the ages, we humans have prioritized adhering to social norms and seeking symbols of status.

Louis required his subjects to be constantly present in his court and would note absences as a mark of shame. Compare this to the guilt people feel when they don't act upon their friends request for help in FarmVille, or the weekly e-mails we receive from Facebook or LinkedIn reminding us that we haven't logged on in a while and have pending friend invitations and unanswered e-mail messages.

Why Leave When You Are Comfortable and Entertained?

Louis moved his court from bustling Paris to the sprawling and elegant palace of Versailles further isolating his court from access to outside power bases. Compare this with virtual walls that surround users of communities like Facebook, and Apple. Although the goal is commercial power, not political power, the strategy and the ultimate motivation is the same.

By making it pleasant to spend time within the confines of their community, it is possible to keep a watchful eye on user behaviors in order to provide the next fun activity so customers are less likely to defect and devote energies elsewhere. With a constant stream of entertaining games, social shopping, movies, and even college degree programs springing up on sites like Facebook, the more time people spend on the site the better because more time is more money.

With a finite amount of customer attention and discretionary income to go around this has resulted in competitive time wars between companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google that wouldn't traditionally be considered competitors. I have written about it here.

Gamification: An Ultimate Time Magnet

Louis XIV was famous for his lavish parties, elegant surroundings, and court rituals; he was also the longest reigning monarch in Europe. Although most people complain of a lack of time, consider the endless hours users spend addicted to social networks and games. People willingly give their time and attention when it is fun or involves social status; it was true in the 17th century and it is also true today. Gamification and social status symbols are the ultimate time magnets. Is it any wonder that businesses are jumping on the bandwagon?

Library Journal says Adrian Ott is, "revolutionizing marketing by adding the concept of time." She is the award-winning author of The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy which was named a Best Business Book 2010 by Library Journal and by Small Business Trends. She is also CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. and a frequent keynote speaker. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge.