CMO Social Media Challenges: Community Building and Game Mechanics

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:

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Also try Game Frame by Aaron Dignan, CEO of Undercurrent.  Here’s a video he created to promote the book:

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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:

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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.

Empire Avenue: Suggested Reading Before You Jump In

Blue Horseshoe loves RICKL

Empire Avenue, the Social Media Stock Exchange Network blew up over the last few days, driven buy engagement from several social media players and the involvement of brands like Intel and Ford. I joined back in August of 2010, but hadn’t done much with my account recently. Maybe you’ve seen the #EAve hashtag on Twitter, or tweets like this and weren’t sure what’s going on:



So, yeah, another Social Network for you to spend time on. But before you roll your eyes, let me say this: They’ve done a very nice job incorporating social rewards and other game mechanics into Empire Avenue. It really is worth your time, even if you’re just checking it out for fun. So, go ahead and jump in, but first, take a look at these posts:


1. Rober Scoble talks to Empire Avenue founder Duleepa “Dups” Wijayawardhana (with video!)

2. Scott Monty breaks it all down in this terrific post.

3. The Influencier (@DougUpdates) has a primer on Empire Avenue chat etiquette.

4. Empire Avenue beta-tester Adriel Hampton has worked out the kinks and shares his findings.

5. Jeremiah Owyang looks at the opportunities and challenges for brands on Empire Avenue.

6. Another great interview with Dups, this time talking Game Layer with Esteban Contreras.

7. Here’s a breakdown from General Zod, one of the serious EA players.

Social Media Week: “Future of Mobile Gaming” DeBrief

It’s Social Media Week and last night I attended the Future of Mobile Gaming panel discussion that featured John Swords from, Nihal Mehta, Co-Founder of Buzzd, Peter DiBart, Creative Director at Edelman and Andy Ellwood Director of Business Development at Gowalla. The panel was led by Adam Broitman, also of It was a wide ranging discussion that touched on a variety of topics that really speaks to the wide open nature of both gaming and mobile.

Much of the early discussion focused on the overall trend of ‘gamification’ that seems to be permeating all of Social Media right now. This topic warrants its own (or several) posts, but a couple of points I’ll make here. First, on the issue of how this all got started. Swords mentioned it being a bit like Boy or Girl Scouts and I think there is some relevance there – more on that in a minute – but I also think there is a wider cultural element. My guess is that many of the developers working now grew up in the 90s and were the children of Soccer moms. These moms rewarded their children with micro-payments for just about everything they did. Good test score? Let’s get ice cream! Cleaned your room?  Here’s a cookie.  Having lunch at McDonalds? Happy Meal!

Game Mechanics - Taking over the world one achievement at a time.

Of course any time a trend catches fire you see saturation in the marketplace and, as Broitman pointed out during the discussion, not everyone really knows what they are doing, or why they are doing it. He warned that we’re going to see, “a lot of shitty gamification in the next year” as brands jump on this trend but do so in a ham-fisted way. This leads into my second point: Boy Scouts v. Brocoli.

When you’re in the Boy Scouts, you earn a badge as positive reinforcement for a goal accomplished – making a belt, going on a hike, doing charity work, etc. This is not unlike the achievements earned during video games. You do something positive within the context of an environment you choose to engage in and you are rewarded. This is the good kind of gamification.  People love playing games (or being in Boy Scouts), the reward just adds another level to the fun.  The other kind of gamification, and the one that was/is pervasive in many homes is of the “eat your broccoli and you can have dessert” variety.  This is a very short-term approach and ultimately isn’t going to yield results for brands. At some point, no matter how big the reward, people will stop eating your broccoli.  (Full disclosure: I like broccoli, but you get my point).  This gets to Broitman’s point I believe. Brands are going to try to to jam game mechanics into a situation where it doesn’t belong, just like they did with crowdsourcing and the results are going to be suboptimal.

Potential Winner: Companies like Badgeville, which offer white label Social Rewards and analytics platforms for web and mobile publishers, stand to gain greatly as brands realize that game mechanics are a science that requires real understanding beyond what a traditional (ad, digital, PR) agency may have.

This whole field is fascinating though and I’m looking forward to reading Aaron Dignan’s new book, Game Frame, which comes out March 8, 2011 for more on gamification.

Later in the discussion Ellwood shared some fascinating information on work that Gowalla recently did with Disney Parks (Disclosure: My agency, Coyne, also works with Disney, but not on this project).  Gowalla added dozens of check-ins throughout the part to add another layer of engagement for fans. The program served a variety of functions. Ellwood described how there are more than 1 million people who have annual passes to the Magic Kingdom. These people have seen and done everything there is to do at the park. For them, this added a new experience without Disney having to spend millions of dollars developing a new attraction.

The Gowalla ckeck-ins were also used to drive people to certain parts of the park. Ellwood explained how people checking in were given instructions to go to a TRON-themed arcade to receive special discounts or prizes. He mentioned how a similar system could be used to direct traffic flow within the park, sending people to empty restaurants when others are filling up.

Another aspect of the discussion revolved around console gaming and how that experience could be transferred to mobile gaming. While Swords argued that in many cases the console

Connecting console gaming and social rewards may be the next big play.

experience wouldn’t translate well (I agree) there is an area where I feel console and mobile could benefit each other quite well, social sharing of console game achievements. We recently purchased Kinect for the Xbos 360 (I highly recommend it) and Kinect Adventures is one of the games that comes with the system. I was amazed at how badge iconography was used, and immediately thought, “those look just like Foursquare badges,” more specifically, like Nerd Merit Badges. As I listened to the discussion it occurred to me that it would be great if I could could Foursquare or Gowalla recognition for my in-game achievements. So, if I killed 100 bad guys in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, I’d get a cool badge in Foursquare because my Xbox Live account and Foursquare account were connected. And just like when I become mayor somewhere, a tweet would be sent out alerting my friends of my in-game achievement. I would sign up for that in a minute, and I thin you’d see a massive new influx of people to the Foursquare or Gowalla platforms. I’ll be interested to see which of these two leading Location-based Services is first to make deals with Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo. When I asked Ellwood about this he agreed and said that it’s very likely we’ll see this soon.

Overall there was some terrific ideas put forth. Clearly, mobile gaming, in all its forms, is an area that is only going to grow. The most interesting part is that right now we don’t know exactly what’s going to take off. My hunch is that we’ll see developments we didn’t expect to see take off and push the field in whole new directions, but ultimately the win is going to be had by the players that can make mobile gaming social as well.