Simply put, gamification is the act of making a game, or more accurately, a competition out of something that isn’t inherently competitive. It has been used in education, the workforce, and notably in online communities.
When done properly, gamifying your online community can incentivize your members to participate, increase engagement, and overall lead to a more active community.
It’s Already Here
Social media is one of the largest online communities around. Facebook, Twitter, etc. They’re all large communities and there’s a lot of gamification going on.
At its heart, is the idea of making a competition among members by awarding or otherwise noting an achieved level or status. In social media, we most often look at followers, likes, favorites, or shares to determine our level.
Gamification increases drive and engagement among the followers or users of an online community, even one as large as Twitter. We’re driven by acquiring more likes, follows, shares, etc. This drives us to the platform to post and share content more frequently in the hopes of building our following and thusly expanding our reach.
In Smaller Communities
Not every community is as large as the multi-million member followings of social media giants, however. Smaller communities such as company or organizational forums are often working with a much smaller membership group.
Most often, smaller communities such as forums make excellent use of gamification by assigning ranks or badges based on the activity level of the user.
Badges: Badges, such as the ones above, assign a visual representation to a level that has been achieved by a member. Since badges are tied into accomplishments or activity level, they are something a user aspires to attain and has to earn. At the same time, it identifies that user to their peers as someone who has achieved a certain level of knowledge or achievement and is a credible source for such information.
Rank/Title: Serving a similar purpose, rank and/or title assigns a unique “nickname” to a user when they have achieved a certain level of activity. Newcomers to a forum will often start with a “newbie” or “newcomer” designation. At a certain number of posts, they might be called “Up and Coming Poster,” and once they’ve established themselves, “Superstar,” “Post Ninja,” “Community Guru,” etc. In most cases you can assign as many possible titles as you would like and customize them to meet the needs of your community.
Both badge and title have been used by a countless number of small and large communities alike. The Huffington
Post, for example uses both methods to award its community members with the titles of:
- Super-user: Are members who comment and share Huffpost stories.
- Networkers: Are members who collect a lot of followers and fans.
- Moderators: Are members who flag inappropriate or offensive comments for review/deletion.
The publishing giant achieves two things by doing this.
- They reward their most active supporters with titles and recognition. While Superusers and Networkers are not paid employees, they achieve these ranks through active, voluntary promotion of Huffpost content.
- Moderators have the ability to delete inappropriate or offensive content. On a large platform such as The Huffington Post, which posts hundreds of news items, the need to keep content clean and friendly is important. Moderators are super fans who are empowered with the ability to make those decisions and keep their content clean and free of hateful or offensive rhetoric. While Huffpost no doubt has on-staff content moderators, this makes their job a lot easier.
There is a Method
Gamification works, but not simply by throwing a few pictures or silly titles into the software. It is part of a concerted strategy to increase engagement and activity among your community members. Because of this, there are a few kind factors to keep in mind:
- User-Participation: It is important to involve the customer/community member in the process. Consider how Reddit utilizes a voting system where members vote “up” or “down” whether a topic or comment is worthy of attention. Or Facebook’s new reactions options:
In both cases, the members react to content and decides whether it is in the best interest of the community. In Reddit’s case, topics deemed unworthy are voted down and less likely to be seen while worthy topics are voted up and therefore more visible. In the case of Facebook, their algorithm will curate content based on your reactions. If you “like” something you are more likely to see content like that in your newsfeed. Reacting negatively (“sad,” or “angry”) makes content such as that less likely to appear.
- Incentive: You should create a system that offers a low threshold for an initial reward, title, or rank, or better yet: something just for joining. The goal is to incentivize individuals to move up in the rankings so adding additional bonuses to your community for achieving these levels is important as well. Whether that’s bestowing a rank, being granted access to new features, VIP access, discounts if you’re an e-commerce site, etc.
- Reward Behavior: Gamification, much like a video game or a certain experiment with a bell and a dog, should reward the behaviors and activities you want to encourage, and discourage the behaviors you don’t. Consider a peer-review model such as we discussed with Facebook and Reddit. Allowing community members to vote on the worthiness of content and weighing those ratings against less worthy posts not only motivates users to engage in meaningful ways, it rewards those actions and favors them over others.
It's Already in Our Blood
Competition is something that resonates with everyone. As such, gamification is not going away. The desire to compete and achieve is an innately human response, even if it’s in a small way. Ultimately, gamification offers an opportunity to effectively recognize, incentivize, and reward members who help make your community the vibrant, engaging place you want it to be.