Motivation is a tricky thing. Running a successful business is all about motivating someone to do something that they otherwise wouldn’t do; buying a product, using a service, telling their friends to do the same. If motivation was a simple matter, every business would be enormously successful. As such, an enormous amount of time and energy is spent trying to discover what types of motivation really work.
No one really has all the answers, but a lot of people will tell you they do. They can tell you One Simple Trick that will lead to customers doing everything you could possibly want. Gamification is a common panacea to whatever motivation problems your business has. If you just press this patented Gamification Button, book a Gamification Seminar and wear this very important Gamification Hat all your troubles will be solved.
What Extrinsic Motivation Really Means for Communities
The truth is that gamification is neither a cure-all nor excessively complicated. It requires a basic, surface level understanding of different types of motivation. It’s not difficult, tedious science. You don’t need to go to a seminar. There are two types of motivation and reward that you should be concerned with; extrinsic motivation and intrinsic.
Intrinsic motivation is an inherent desire to perform an action. If you enjoy playing football, you have an intrinsic motivation to continue playing it. You are playing football to play football. The enjoyment of the game is an intrinsic reward
Extrinsic motivation is an external motivation to perform a task. If you don’t really care for football, but train because you want to win a trophy, you’re extrinsically motivated to continue. The trophy is the external reward.
Realistically, most people approach actions with a mix of motivations in mind. One can both enjoy football and hope to win a trophy by competing, or lift weights both for enjoyment and for the aesthetic results.
Most gamification focuses on providing extrinsic rewards for various actions that a new members would not be intrinsically motivated to do. An example is filling out their whole profile, or making a new discussion. You can also provide extrinsic motivation for behaviour that you want to encourage, such as points from other members for creating great content.
Why Focusing on Extrinsic Motivation is a Bad Idea
Extrinsic motivation becomes less effective over time. This is the reason that you’re not still trying to beat your high score on Donkey Kong. It’s important that the only reward for taking part in your community is not extrinsic. This is a sign that your community isn’t fun or rewarding if judged on its own merits, that members will not participate without a carrot dangled in front of them. They will eventually lose interest in your carrots altogether.
Instead, use extrinsic motivation to get people through the tricky early stages of community engagement. No one wants to be the first person to dance at a party, but if the first ten people to dance got a free drink I’d probably step up. If dancing isn’t fun though, after a few minutes I’m looking for my next free drink. Your role as the community creator in this tortured analogy is to ensure that the music is good enough that people want to continue because they like the other people that are dancing on the floor too, or really like the music.
Extrinsic Motivation is a Sign of Failing Community Strategy
Extrinsic motivation highlights the problem with many gamification strategies. Gamification can’t save a failing community, but it can highlight the problems with one. I’ve seen people recommend that you simply keep creating new games when members get bored of the old one. Advice like this is designed to sell you their expertise, and is functionally useless. You’re unlikely to be in the business of creating community games. The game is a means to an end, and the end is engagement. It shouldn’t be the focal point of the community itself. Make sure that by the time people get bored of whatever gamification has in place, they find your community an intrinsically rewarding place to spend time.