When you hear “gamification,” what comes to mind? Video games? Leveling-up? The latest Fortnite emote (a.k.a. the goofy dances you see everywhere)?
Valid responses, but lacking, especially in the community world. Instead, a term you should consider for gamification is opportunity.
TL;DR: Gamification in an online community is any use of game techniques in a non-game context. Community managers create competitions to engage members in a healthy “race” and incorporate scores, levels, and prizes, as extra motivation. Prizes can be intrinsic (recognition) or extrinsic rewards.
When you incorporate gamification (AKA recognition and reward, or whichever HR/leadership-friendly term your organization prefers) into your community strategy you can see the behaviors needed to drive change for your group, AND how to motivate members to accomplish the desired actions.
Let’s dive in.
What is gamification?
Simply put, gamification is organizing community tasks or activities (in this instance) into something resembling a game.
Community games are usually implemented through point systems, earning badges, things like that. Games are fun, and serve a greater purpose: behavior change. Remember, that’s the main purpose of community. And in this case, change is good — not scary. You just have to convince your members of that!
Meet the players
When you take the leap and add gamification to your community, you first need to determine your target audience. Don’t think too hard, there are only two categories here: customers and employees. And each has its own challenges.
Player 1: Customers
A customer-facing community seems like an easy win. The members use, and are familiar with, your products or services, so they want to interact with other users in the community, too, right? Yes and no.
Remember in the positive feedback loop post how customers are more likely to speak up when they’re unhappy? The same holds true here. Just because your community members are customers doesn’t mean you have a bunch of built-in cheerleaders. Instead, you’re combining your louder, squeaky-wheel (unhappy) members with the constant competition for members’ time and attention from the likes of social media, so you’ve got your work cut out for you!
Now we’re not saying customer communities should be avoided. Anything but! But you need to go into these situations with realistic expectations to avoid unnecessary struggles.
Player 2: Employees
The other side of the coin are the employee-based communities. Some members want to be there and are excited to participate, sure, but others have likely been volun-told to “have fun” participating in the community versus choosing to. So while an employee-based community might be active, it might not be engaged — yes, there is a difference.
Additional challenges of working with an employee community:
- Members consistently choose the path of least resistance (they go with what they know and are accustomed to) often over what’s best.
- Employee members look for proof of why they should adapt to something new, and how it will benefit them (remember to always express WIIFM – what’s in it for ‘me’ — when introducing something new to the community).
- The expectation for immediate recognition when achieving tasks within the community. Without it, you can expect an uphill battle to get members to willingly change their behavior.
OK, that’s a lot of challenges. But they can be overcome, right? Of course! And one of the best ways is by understanding your community members’ motivations
Motivators to get [your head] in the game
As you know, there are two types of motivators for community members: intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external). Gamification’s extrinsic motivators are driven by the “game” itself — there’s a task to complete before continuing.
What’s more interesting are the intrinsic motivators satisfied by community gamification:
- Feeling smart. When a member plays, they prove they grasp the concept while absorbing the information needed to change their behavior. Additionally, sharing this new info with others can help them feel they’re contributing something valuable to the conversation.
- Feeling successful. Who doesn’t love feeling like they’ve accomplished something? By successfully completing a task, members feel they’ve achieved something and “won” the game (let’s be honest, though, most community games don’t have a way to win). Added bonus: those who are competitive can see who their success is similar to and use that as an internal motivator.
- Feeling socially valued. When a person receives recognition for an accomplishment, they’re able to feel as though they’ve done something of merit that betters the community. Gamification allows for longer-form recognition through badges and accomplishments, which can tie into reputation (a much longer-term prize than something physical that will eventually wear out or lose value).
- Feeling purposeful. Everyone wants to feel what they’re doing matters, even in gamification. Show members their participation serves a larger purpose: add accomplishments to their profile; elevate “high scoring” members as subject matter experts for other players to turn to as they progress through activities; make them feel their effort is worth it.
Motivating your members, check. Let’s look at the pieces that make gamification work.
The pieces of the game
There are three things to remember when starting a gamification process:
- How the game works. Most community platforms come with some form of gamification functionality built-in, so no need to stress over the tech. Instead, focus on the parameters/rules around the game (believe it or not, rules are part of what makes the game fun). The game mechanics also need to detail how users advance or score points.
- Recognizing who’s got game. Remember the intrinsic motivator of feeling socially valued? That’s where this comes into play. Members want recognition for their accomplishments and bragging rights. Reputation mechanics showcase game rank and status in the larger community, like an old-school leaderboard on a pinball machine. Word of advice for community managers: Pay attention to those who are consistently on the leaderboard. They may be able to be turned into super users later, if they aren’t already.
- Tipping the hat. When you, as the community manager, digitally tip your hat to high-scoring members in the game, you’re using social mechanics. Publicly recognizing these players showcases the desired, high-value behavior AND individually recognizes those who have adopted it. Plus, who doesn’t love a pat on the back?
Feeling like you understand a bit more about gamification? Excellent. There’s one last thing you can’t do, and it’s really important: Don’t underestimate the power of data collection from games. After all, behavior data is important data.
Analyzing member behavior
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Your ultimate goal in community is for members to adopt a set of desired behaviors. To do that, you need to know how your members are doing in the game.
- Track and analyze behaviors that exist in your community
- Export data to customer analytics tools (or spreadsheet if you have a smaller community or tighter budget)
- Design and update the rules or goals of the game based on the results of the behavior occurring versus the desired ones
- Apply the rules to the user experience
- Track and analyze behaviors …
Remember, the front end of gameplay is just the visible part of your process. Data helps provide a better user experience for members playing the game. After all just like in the real world of gaming, updates should happen frequently based on what the data (and let’s be honest, the members, too) tells you is/isn’t working.
Gamification is an excellent community tool, and we’re excited to see what you do with it.