B2B customers are driven to succeed, and that makes them adept at setting goals and celebrating great performance. They also tend to be busy people trying to meet tight deadlines and keep their hectic schedules organized. When they need help using your product or service, chances are they’ll make a beeline for your community forums and knowledge base in search of quick answers to their questions. After all, time is money, and they probably don’t have the time to call customer support or wait for a reply to an email.
When you hear the term ‘gamification’ in the context of B2B enterprises, you may think B2B customers don’t have time to play games. Well, gamification isn’t about idling away with the latest release of Angry Birds. It’s about using elements of game design in a non-game context to boost audience engagement. Today it’ one of the hottest topics in the world of marketing and online community-building, and it’s rapidly making its way into the B2B sector as well.
What’s all the Fuss About?
How many people have you heard saying they don’t like games? Sure, video games may not be for everyone, but most of us like some sort of games. From competitive sports to tabletop games to video games, all games have one thing in common – they encourage people to achieve a goal.
Many games use a point or achievement-based system to recognize smaller goals on the way to completion. As such, they encourage certain behaviors and motivate people to take action. It’s an innate characteristic of the human brain that we require motivation to achieve a goal.
...gamification has gone far beyond loyalty cards and rewards points. It’s now the number-one way to boost engagement with both employees and customers online.
Gamification may be a relatively new term (having first appeared in the context of online engagement back in 2008) but it’s certainly not just the latest gimmick. In fact, gamification in some form has been around since the late nineteenth century, when US company Sperry & Hutchinson began offering trading stamps to US retailers who would award them to loyal customers for discounts on specific items. The points-based rewards systems that many retailers use today follow a similar pattern.
Jump forward to 2018, and gamification has gone far beyond loyalty cards and rewards points. It’s now the number-one way to boost engagement with both employees and customers. It has become invaluable in marketing, team-building, onboarding, social community building, education and more. In fact, it’s all around us – from customer support forums to contact centers to online shops, as well as the software people use every day for work and play. Even if you’ve never played a video game, there’s a good chance you’ve had first-hand experience with the world of gamification.
How Does Gamification Work?
Gamification refers to the application of game-design features to non-game contexts, such as online forums, social networking or e-commerce. Today, gamification largely refers to the application of video game-design elements, such as achievement points and ranks or badges. It has often been said that video games are addictive, which is why many industries are taking design elements from them and applying them to other contexts where the main goal is to motivate and increase engagement.
It’s important to point out that community and gamification go hand in hand, since the former gives meaning to the latter.
Some people misinterpret gamification as the development of games for business use, but this is not the case. Gamification isn’t about building something from scratch. In fact, it’s just a feature that’s added on top of an existing platform to enhance the user experience. In the context of community forums, this may mean assigning ranks or badges to members based on how active they are or how many times their posts are upvoted.
You find a number of different game mechanics in online communities:
- Points are awarded to members based on participation or the number of upvotes their posts receive.
- Levels or ranks are assigned to members based on the number of points they collect, providing recognition for their achievements.
- Badges are associated with ranks to provide an immediately recognizable visual indicator of their status within the community.
- Leaderboards foster a competitive atmosphere whereby community members are motivated to participate constructively.
- Rewards, such as additional forum abilities, provide tangible incentives to users interested in more than just collecting points.
It’s important to point out that community and gamification go hand in hand, since the former gives meaning to the latter. After all, people are unlikely to feel motivated to collect points and rise through the ranks if there’s no one to recognize their achievements. A points system offers measurable evidence of a member’s role in the community and gives them an incentive to improve. Gamification simply capitalizes on the fact that people tend to be competitive by nature.
6 Things You Can Achieve with a B2B Community Gamification Strategy
Gamification may not sound like the most suitable match for the seriousness and professionalism of the typical B2B customer base. Yet rapidly changing consumer habits are driving transformation quickly, and there are few industry sectors free of modern technological innovation. In fact, the application of game-design elements is so commonplace today that most people expect it – especially millennials. Nevertheless, while it’s all well and good to you how gamification is the next big thing – let’s look at the benefits:
#1. Solve Complex Business Problems
If you don’t already have a solid peer-to-peer support infrastructure in place, chances are you’re investing more time and money on supporting customers than anything else. However, B2B customers tend to have large and complex problems that require quick solutions. After all, they’re relying on your product or service for the successful operation of their own businesses, and consequently, its profitability.
Solving complex B2B challenges often requires a group effort, hence the importance of community support and a knowledge base of information collated from past user experiences. Gamification provides an avenue for crowdsourcing information to provide immediate (and better) support to your customers. That’s because it motivates customers to participate in your forums by providing feedback, solutions to problems and advice to help other users get more out of your product or service.
#2. Enable Peer-to-Peer Moderation
It’s imperative that any community remain closely moderated and that spammers and trolls are dealt with promptly. Given that customers will be heading to your community expecting quality content, it’s important that you have a system for ranking and rating posts and replies accordingly. In other words, you’ll need to award maximum visibility to the most constructive posts while hiding or deleting lesser value content.
As a core tenet of any gamification strategy, the points-based system offers a highly effective way for users to rank content while providing recognition for the members who post the most valuable content. For example, points are often proportionate to the number of upvotes a post receives. The more upvotes a post receives, the higher up the page it appears. If it receives more downvotes, thus taking its rating below zero, the post may be greyed out or even flagged for deletion. While there’s no substitute for manual moderation, this gamified rating system greatly reduces moderator workload while keeping your forum clean of junk.
#3. Collect Valuable Customer Data
There isn’t a single digital activity that doesn’t generate data and gamification is no exception. The challenge lies in determining which data is important and how it maybe used – in this case, to improve the effectiveness of your community as a tool for support and marketing. Gamification solutions must be able to translate data into visual insights that you can act upon accordingly. At a minimum, the system will allow you to instantly identify the most valuable members of your community (i.e.: the ones with the highest number of upvotes on their posts).
Since gamification directly translates into engagement, the data generated will help you continuously improve the gamification strategy itself. For example, engagement metrics may indicate that members are less interested in gathering points and more interested in moving up the ranks and collecting new badges.
#4. Reward Your Most Valuable Members
Gamification isn’t just about collecting points, although points do typically serve as a foundation for the process. Ultimately, it’s about giving your members an incentive to participate constructively in your community by publicly recognizing their roles and the value of their posts. Most of the time, these rewards are superficial yet fun to collect nonetheless. Aside from points, the community may award ranks or badges. For example, the Autodesk Knowledge Network has 14 ranks ranging from ‘New Member’ to ‘Community Legend’. Furthermore, ranks are clearly displayed beside the user’s name when they post to give public recognition.
In many professional communities, such as those in the B2B sector, members are often interested in more tangible rewards, rather than just collecting superficial points and ranks. To that end, gamification may also be tied to more tangible rewards like additional forum privileges. Developer community Stack Overflow, for example, allows users with 125 points to vote down questions and answers that they don’t find useful, while collecting 20,000 points grants access to more editing and deletion features.
#5. Improve the User Onboarding Process
Internet users are rarely known for their patience, particularly when it comes to filling in profile information. Even then, getting new members engaged with the community is one of the biggest challenges of all. For example, unengaged users may take the time to open an account so they can post on your forums or access a gated online community, but chances are they won’t complete their profiles. Even if they do get around to it, onboarding them as active members of your community is quite another matter.
Gamification helps onboard new members by motivating them with things like progress bars and achievement points. For example, LinkedIn uses colored progress bars to encourage members to complete their profiles. As such, it ends up feeling less like a game and more like a goal-driven process with some fun added into the mix.
#6. Encourage Long-Term Participation
While gamification is a fun and engaging way to onboard new community members, it’s only the first step. The long-term goal is to keep them involved, since the health of your community will be greater when your most valuable users are entrenched. In other words, you want their ties to your community to be strong enough that contributing becomes a regular part of their routine. This is where things like goal states, achievements, high scores and leaderboards come in. Rather than focusing only on gamification for onboarding, you should implement a system that constantly motivates members to stay engaged.
The long-term goal is to keep them involved, since the health of your community will be greater when your most valuable users are entrenched.
Extrinsic motivation, powered by features like points and badges, are the foundations of any gamification strategy. But the last thing you want is to onboard people with the game only to have them grow bored with it later. That’s why you mustn’t run your community based on extrinsic motivation alone.
Although reaching goals is a fundamental element of any gamification strategy, it’s important to remember that they will eventually run dry. This is a common characteristic of many actual games, which is not something you want to replicate in your B2B community. To prevent this from happening, you must deploy gamification as a strategy to encourage lasting social bonds.
Just like the video games that inspire it, gamification strategies often end up having a limited shelf life. That’s because they’re implemented without long-term goals in mind or without prioritizing the necessity for building meaningful and lasting social connections.
There’s no doubt that it’s a valuable tool in community-building to the extent that many people now expect it. However, it’s not the be-all and end-all, and it’s not a substitute for manual community moderation and direct involvement from the brand behind it. Done right, however, gamification will improve your onboarding and ongoing engagement processes while helping you better identify the needs and habits of your customers.