If you’re a CMO there’s a decent chance somewhere along the line you built, or inherited, an online community. You’ve got 200/2,000/20,000 people milling around on some site, doing things. Reading articles, favoriting videos, posting comments, etc. A good portion of these “members” probably haven’t done much recently and you’re starting to wonder what the point of having this community it.
Recently you’ve probably been hearing more and more about something called gamification. Or maybe it was called Game Mechanics, or Game Theory, or Social Gaming or Social Rewards. It would be understandable if you were a little confused. Even the people working in the space seem to have a difference of opinion about the merits and validity of some of these terms. Gamification seems to be the least accepted by those involved in this area, see examples here and here, so let’s toss that aside for now. For the purposes of this article, let’s agree to use the term Game Mechanics. So, what do you need to know? Is it something you should be pulling into your community engagement strategy? If so, what are some first steps you should be taking? Here are 5 tips to get you started:
1. By a loose definition, Game Mechanics are already all around you.
You’ve probably got a LinkedIn account. Remember when you were first signing up and they kept telling you to do one more thing to complete your profile? They even told you what percentage of your profile was complete (Your profile is 85% complete, just link your Twitter account and you’ll be all set). Whenever you’re given encouragement or incentives to do just a little thing, that’s Game Mechanics at work. As you start to think about this in your daily activities, you’ll see how prevalent it is. So don’t think of this as some strange voodoo that only tech savvy people will want to engage with. You’ll be much more comfortable with the concept once you start to be aware of it and how it works on you.
2. Take a deeper dive by reading some books
I’d recommend to great books on this field:
Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal,PhD. She’s a world-renowned designer of alternate reality games — or, games that are designed to improve real lives and solve real problems. This TED Talk by McGonigal lays out some of her big picture thinking:
See what I did there? You’re a busy CMO, you don’t have time to read those books cover to cover, but you can probably bluff your way through a conversation on game mechanics now thanks to those videos. Actually, here watch one more. This presentation from Jesse Schell at the DICE2010 conference is very interesting as well:
3. Understand what you want to do
Like all of Social Media, you can do a lot of things with Game Mechanics. Before you go down this road, know what you want to do. What sort of behaviours are you trying to effect? Otherwise you’ll end up with a confusing experience for people. You want to have a clear understanding of your goals and the actions you want people to take. Remember though, what you want and what the members of your community want may not always align. Now it’s entirely possible that you’ll be conflicted about this and will need some help. Enter…
4. Work with the experts
If you watched the videos above you realize that this is pretty sophisticated stuff. You can’t just slap a badge on something, or give away points. Even this can be a tricky proposition though. Give a read to this post by Adrian Chan when he looked under the hood at the people who put together the game mechanics for the mobile social network game SCVNGR. Look around a bit and check out companies like Badgeville or Gamify.
5. Hire an in-house community manager
If you don’t already have this person, go get one. Engaging with people is a hands-on job, you need someone who is devoted to shaping and guiding your online community. This person will be monitoring community activity and is responsible for providing status reports (among other things). They need to have an intimate knowledge of the brand, the technology and the community. This is an in-house position even if you have an agency (that’s another thing they do, communicate with the agency).
Hopefully this is enough to get you started and asking your agency or internal team smart questions. If you are involved in this industry and you have things to add, I’d love your comments as well.