Emofication: Adding Emotion to Gamification

Two topics I’ve written about recently, gamification, and the need to focus on creating (or leveraging) emotion, got me thinking.  How can these two concepts be used in concert?  Is there a way to combine elements of the former with the latter? Before I go down this road, a brief disclaimer: I’m not a fan of the term ‘gamification‘ (and I’m not alone). However, for the purposes of this post I’ll use it just to keep things simple.

If the point of gamification (good gamification) is to drive certain behaviours or maintain motivations then the important question becomes what behaviors or motivations are we trying to drive and maintain?  Right now I think a lot of gamification is centered around button clicking.  Keep clicking to earn points, win badges or gain levels. On many levels this works.  As a marketer and someone who is interested in and aware of gamification it works on me. Check out my badge haul on Osnapz. But as the practice of gamification matures, badge fatigue is sure to set in.  How many (virtual, mostly worthless) stickers, pins and badges can one person earn before they say, “Aw, to hell with it.”? I feel like I’m getting very close to reaching that threshold.

That brings me to the second part of the puzzle – emotion. How can marketers tap into emotion as a way to bring stronger ties to gamification?  How can we create a sub-genre called emofication?*

If I was building a new social platform/tool/service the first thing I would do is allow users to login via Facebook connect. With access to that incredibly rich treasure trove of information I’d look to create rewards that have personal meaning for the user. Photos, jobs, schools, friends, interests (sports, movies, books, music…), birthdays – all of these could be used within a game model that would have a unique and personal connection for the user. Instead of a random music badge with an icon of a music note or instrument, what if the badge was a picture of your favorite band?  Sites often ask you to share with friends – why couldn’t that badge have a picture of one of your friends on it? Two small, simple ideas, but you see where I’m heading.  Rather than get the exact same badge as 10,000 other people, make them (semi-)customized.

I’ve just scratched the surface here, but I think it’s a concept worth exploring further. Maybe someone already has. If so, please let me know in the comments below.


*Yes, I’m sickened by that portmanteau as well. Let’s just call it a placeholder name for the concept and move on, ok?

Turntable.fm Gets Social Network Building Right

I’ve written about the challenges of social network building and the pitfalls of beta-testing recently, but I also want to highlight a site that I think is doing a lot of things right, and ultimately has the chance to carve out a really strong place in the social media universe. Turntable.fm has put together a really strong offering that hits on several elements of personal behavior and psychology. They definitely are getting the buzz going, with Kanye West coming on board as an investor. I’ve identified seven areas where the platform is hitting the right notes from a user perspective:


1. Tapping into a activity that people are genuinely passionate about

Music transcends all barriers. Age, sex, income, political leaning, religion, nationality – all those get thrown out the window with music. I really think this is a key element to why some sites thrive and others fail. The successful site taps into a passion that you have offline, and gives value to you around that passion. This blog post from Sysomos echoes this sentiment, noting the importance of emotional connections in social media success.


2. Let’s you share your passion

In various ways, Spotify, Pandora and Turntable.fm all let your share with your social graph. This is critical as music is (or at least can be) such a social activity. One aspect of Turntable.fm I really like is the email alerts letting you know when a DJ you have become a fan of is now playing. That’s a great prompt to get people on the site in a meaningful way. You’ve probably become a fan of one of your friends, so it’s natural that you’d want to jump on when they are on.


Last night a DJ saved my online music experience.

3. Great user interface

Where Turntable.fm really excels is in the user interface. Where Spotify, Pandora, iTunes and Google Music all act as a sort of radio, Turntable.fm is a club. Five DJs are set up at the back of the room with the rest of the people in the “room” acting as the audience. At any one time there are dozens of these rooms, playing different types of music. Setting of the look of Turntable.fm this way would be fine even without the DJs, but that’s really the secret sauce of the site…

4. Appealing to the inner-music snob in all of us

Let’s face it, you have great taste in music. Better than all your friends. You’ve always known you could be a DJ, traveling to France, New York, Ibiza, all the places where the cool kids hang out. But unless your last name is Ronson, Turntable.fm is as close as you’re probably going to get. The brilliant part is that you do get that nervous feeling right before your song is played. Will the crowd like it? Will I get kicked off the stage? There is a very simply plus/minus type meter that let’s you know how the crowd feels. If it starts drifting towards the negative, you can feel the sweat trickling down your back.

5. Music selection

Turntable.fm, rather than counting on you to have a massive library of club bangers, allows you to search for titles, artists or albums in the cloud. Just search and add to your playlist and you are ready to go. A great feature that let’s you grab your all-time favorites, or poach the latest from Lady Gaga with just a couple of mouse clicks.

6. Purchase, transfer and other business opportunities.

Like a song the DJ is playing? Turntable.fm connects you to Amazon, iTunes, Last.fm, Spotify and rdio. This recent Ad Age article talks about online social music platform business models,and the New York Egotist also hits on the brands (and agencies) that have rushed to Turntable.fm.

Earn a harder, better, faster, stronger avatar.

7. Good use of game mechanics

Of course, what online experience today would be complete without game mechanics? But rather than going badge-crazy, Turntable.fm has kept it low key and relevant. Yes, you can earn points, but not through random, mindless clicking. You have to play music (engage with the platform) that people like (engage with other users).  Right now those points allow you to earn access to increasingly sophisticated avatars.  Can you enjoy Turntable.fm without using the game mechanics at all? Sure, just enjoy the tunes. But for those with egos or a competitive streak, your itch gets scratched as well.


That’s a lot of things being done right.  All in all I think it bodes well for Turntable.fm to create a viable business model for the platform in the future.

CEO Interview: Brandon Evans of Crowdtap

The CEO interview series continues with Brandon Evans of Crowdtap. If you’re not familiar with Crowdtap, they describe themselves as “the network for Brand Influencer Communities. Crowdtap allows marketers to easily collaborate with and mobilize their targeted brand crowd of influential consumers for real-time research, collaboration or powerful word-of-mouth marketing.” I’ve been playing around with it and I think the concept is interesting, and more importantly I definitely see this as a platform more and more brands will turn to.


Rick Liebling: Tell me about Crowdtap, why should brands be paying attention?

Bradon Evans: Crowdtap is the network for Brand Influencer Communities. We enable brands to easily recruit, mobilize and market with their influential consumers. As marketers find it harder and harder to reach and more importantly impact consumers with traditional media, maintaining deep relationships with their best consumers and having a direct channel to them has become increasingly important. Over the past five years, including my previous work at social media agency Mr Youth, this topic has become top of mind for many leading marketers and will only continue to increase.


Rick Liebling: What sort of consumers are you looking for to participate within the Crowdtap community?

Bradon Evans: Crowdtap has a wide variety of members across demographics. What’s most important is that they enjoy participating with brands, provide meaningful feedback, share products authentically and effectively. We have a lot of measures in place to measure the quality of a member’s participation so the members that stick and can really get something out of the system are those with high quality scores enabling them to receive more opportunities.


Rick Liebling: Crowdtap utilizes a variety of game mechanics, what do you think is the key to properly using game mechanics?

Bradon Evans: The key is to really think a lot about what behaviors you want to promote and identify the best ways to reinforce those behaviors while not recognizing those trying to just “game” the system. We’ve also done a great job with really recognizing members positive behaviors in a meaningful way and making them feel valued by Crowdtap and the brands they participate with. We have a lot of new and exciting stuff upcoming around this.


Rick Liebling: What’s the advantage of Crowdtap over, say, BzzAgent?

Bradon Evans: We don’t really compare ourselves to BzzAgent as we are really a platform that is about ongoing advocacy and participation. BzzAgent focus on a single marketing activity (sampling) and operates on a project basis. We are focused on enabling brands to leverage their influential consumers across the full marketing lifecycle from helping to co-develop products and marketing to spreading the word online and off through a variety of different ways. We offer a social sampling action that brands can leverage and is heavily integrated with social networks but our platform really allows brands to continually engage and build advocacy with their crowd of influential consumers. We feel this is a critical ongoing channel that most brands are not properly leveraging currently.


Rick Liebling: What’s next for Crowdtap? What are you secretly working on that you’ll be unveiling soon?

Bradon Evans: Well, if it is a secret, I wouldn’t be able to say, would I? [Ed. Note – touche] But, what I can tease is that we have some really big things in the works. We have a lot of improvements in the works that will put brands even more front and center in our system and really building them deeper into the game. We also are working on some really interesting things around measurement and reporting so our customers really can visualize the impact that their crowd is making for their brand.



Social Network Marketing: 6 Things Social Sites Can Do To Keep Users Interested

As noted in my previous post, Five Tips for a Better Beta-Tester Strategy, I try to check out as many new platforms, tools and services as I can. The vast majority of the time the technology is good enough and the idea is good enough, but the enterprise ends up falling flat for me. I’ll play with it a little bit, explore the different elements, but ultimately I find myself pulling away and going back to other places on the web. In thinking about it further, I’ve come up with a check-list of six questions that go into determining if this is a place I should be spending my time:


1. Who’s there?

Just about every site let’s you connect with or invite your friends from Facebook, Twitter, etc. Great idea, makes sense. Or at least did make sense. But now I start to ask the question, “If s/he is my friend on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Foursquare, Quora and Facebook, why am I connecting with them here as well?”  There doesn’t seem to be any context, it’s just random friend tapping.  Sure, sites can benefit from the network effect, but the failure to add a layer of relevancy makes this a hollow exercise. Rather than trying to ramp up with volume, I’d rather see sites incorporate Klout or PeerIndex to say, “these are your friends from other social networks who are experts/influencers/interested in the topic that this site is all about.  Real world example: Why doesn’t GetGlue tell me “These are your Twitter friends who are really passionate about TV/Film/Books/Music.” That would end up making the GetGlue experience better because I’d either be following or inviting my existing friends who will actually use GetGlue.

2. How does it connect with my life online?

Every site allows me to push content to my Facebook or Twitter streams. But a good majority of the time I don’t want to do that. To paraphrase Jesse Eisenberg (as Mark Zuckerberg) “If I wanted to post on Facebook, I’d be on Facebook.”  Surely there must be other ways to connect your site to my online life. Many sites off widgets and badges (see examples on the right hand column of this blog), but that’s rather low end. I don’t have an answer here, but I’d love to see someone come up with something beyond the basics we see now.

Online and offline connect via the Speedo Pace Club

3. How does it connect with my life offline?

Here’s where Nike+ (and the new Speedo Pace Club) have done a great job. It’s not just about checking-in via a Location-Based Service, it’s about integrating what I do offline with an online experience. Also, it’s niche, but a passionate niche. I’m not going to see everyone of my Twitter friends in these, only the ones that are really into running or swimming or whatever. I think these type of sites have a real chance to grow and survive.

4. What’s in it for me?

So many of these young sites gin up the interaction with gamification, but have an incredibly small payoff.  How many digital badges and stickers am I going to collect? Why exactly do I want to be at the top of your leader board?  Foursquare works well here because I’ve received plenty of real world rewards for my efforts – free appetizers, 20% off merchandise, etc.  More sites need to figure out how they can reward their users in more tangible ways. I’m not going to run around telling all my friends they have to check out a site because they can earn a badge.

5. How are you connecting with me?

I get plenty of emails with news about the latest updates or metrics milestones from sites, but very few emails asking me about my user experience. I rarely get offers to speak with the engineers or developers or executive team (most of my CEO interviews come from my pro-active efforts). I wish more sites would show an interest in me. Surely there must be a way to search my online content and then communicate with me in a way that connects who I am with what your site is in a more meaningful way.

6. How are you surprising me?

Instead of another badge, how about something like, “For our first birthday, we teamed up with our friends at Ben & Jerry’s. Free ice cream for all our members, go print the coupon here!” That would be unexpected and quite welcome. I’m sure I could come up with a dozen ‘surprise and delights’ in about 30 minutes.  Give me a reason to keep coming back, make me want to know what might happen next because of my connection with you.

Bootstrapping an online venture is tough, I get that, but don’t forget to think about your potential user as much as you think about the offering itself.

Is Gamification The Right, Best Name?

Actually, yes, we do need some stinkin' badges.

When new ideas, theories, tactics and practices are created, it’s not always clear at first the value or purpose or direction they may go. Often many people are thinking along the same lines, independently, and refining the ideas. At some point, these ideas begin to coalesce around an overriding theme and a name emerges so that everyone can begin to understand each other when speaking about a topic. How does an idea get a name? It’s a good question and I don’t know if there is one answer. Why is crowdsourcing called crowdsourcing? Jeff Howe’s Wired article from 2006 seems to have been the inflection point that really launched the concept into the current mainstream (though the concept itself has been around quite a while).

Today the marketing buzz that used to surround crowdsourcing now surrounds another idea, and it’s one that is having a struggle with nomenclature – gamification (or one of many other names). I’m not a fan of the term gamification because to me it says, “let’s take something plain and ordinary and slap some psychological ploys and cheap incentives on top to juice our numbers.”  Game mechanics, game theory, social rewards… all these seem better to me.

I just read an interesting article from Peter Friedman called “A new name for gamification” in which he argues for the term maintainable motivation. He explains that it effectively exposes and expresses the intention of the designer to address a need often felt by both the purveyor and consumer: persistent engagement.

I think that’s a pretty solid way of thinking about it. At the end of the post, there is a video featuring Gabe Zichermann (check out his book, Game-based Marketing)

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I think this video, which is long but really engaging, shows the level of thinking that goes into this area. Now, that being said, Gabe seems pretty ok with the term gamification, so maybe I’m trying to make a distinction or argument where one doesn’t exist. I’d be interested in Gabe’s (and your) opinion on this. Is gamification a good term? Should it be called something else? Can it be called something else at this point?

Social Media’s Dirty Little 12-Letter Word



It’s the 2011 version of crowdsourcing, social media’s dirty little 13-letter word. As a concept crowdsourcing has a lot of really wonderful applications, but unfortunately, overzealous marketers and their “quick, let’s make a buck” agencies turned crowdsourcing into a generic catch-all that encompassed just about every possible consumer engagement. The talk about crowdsourcing has quieted down quite a bit recently, perhaps because the concept doesn’t have the same sizzle, or perhaps because a new term, gamification, has captured the interest of those fickle marketers.

The term itself has taken on the appearance of a perjorative to many involved in the field, with Margaret Robertson, Development Director of the UK firm Hide & Seek, saying, “…That problem being that gamification isn’t gamification at all. What we’re currently terming gamification is in fact the process of taking the thing that is least essential to games and representing it as the core of the experience. Points and badges have no closer a relationship to games than they do to websites and fitness apps and loyalty cards.”

Stolen from http://katebennet.wordpress.com/

She hits upon the thing that most people associate with gamification: badges. To many, slapping a badging system onto a platform equals gamification. And on some level that’s probably correct. Slapping badges on a site is as sloppy, weak effort in the same way that calling the practice of game mechanics and social rewards (much better terms) gamification is sloppy and weak.  But when you see the success that badges seem to have, many peole naturally gravitate in that direction.  Foursquare has badgesGowalla has pins and GetGlue has stickers. Rob Walker has a recent piece in Slate on Foursquare’s badge history. This approach to consumer engagement, providing simple rewards for otherwise unengaging tasks, has been dubbed, pouring chocolate on broccoli.

Recently, I’ve been working with Badgeville on a project for a client, and despite what their name suggests, they are about far more than badges. In working with them I’ve learned that badges are one of the least important aspects of game mechanics. It’s about understanding how people use a site, what they are doing and why. Tracking this can help us make a better user experience, not simply artificially gin up the fun factor to get people to do things they don’t really want to do.  I’m discovering that game mechanics is a lot of science, but also some art as well. Yes, it’s about providing rewards for behaviours, but understanding how, when and how much of a reward to provide is pretty tricky.

And here’s why having an understanding of user behaviour and motivation is so important:  Last week I spent about 30 minutes pounding away on GetGlue. I was typing in reviews, “liking” movies and music groups and checking in on multiple TV shows. I was doing this because once I earned my 20th sticker, GetGlue promised to send me physical copies of these digital stickers. Nerdcore FTW!  Now, I’m a reasonably intelligent guy and I work in the digital marketing industry, but obviously I’m not immune to this sort of thing. Game mechanics is clearly a powerful tool. For GetGlue, keeping me on the site is a win, that’s how they measure success and attract partners, with stats showing the stickiness of their site. Two problems though. First, I’ve pretty much maxed out my interest on GetGlue.  I pushed so hard for the reward that I now have GetGlue fatigue.  I have no real reason to continue, I got what I wanted from the site. They’re going to have to ‘change the game’ in a pretty compelling way in order to get me back on a regular basis.

Second, for most brands, just keeping you on the site, winning badges/pins/stickers isn’t enough, they need to turn a person’s online affinity into something more tangible (like in-store sales). That’s where simply throwing achievement badges at people falls short.

I’m a believer in game mechanics, anyone who’s played Cityville or other Zynga games, created a LinkedIn profile or used dozens of other sites obsessively probably will be too. But we’ve entered a dangerous time where game mechanics are being wielded indiscrimately. Many people are going to be sorely disappointed, not unlike when they tried their hand at crowdsourcing.