You've probably heard the term gamification thrown around enthusiastically, but what exactly does it mean? There's more to it than simply sticking badges on profiles and creating leaderboards (although both of those tactics can be effective, at least in the short term.)
Gamification, as research firm Forrester defines it, is "the insertion of game dynamics and mechanics into non-game activities to drive a desired behavior." To be successful, businesses need to engage their communities in ways that match business goals, whether that's by increasing communication with employees and customers, reducing support costs, or promoting a greater sense of community and recognition.
Start with online communities
Online communities -- such as customer support communities -- are purpose-driven, compared to Facebook and similar groups, which are strictly relationship-driven.
Companies can have internal and/or external online communities and connect them together through bridging. An internal community -- such as a social Intranet -- is used by employees to collaborate and share information. External-facing communities are used by customers and partners as they purchase new products or get support for existing products. Gamification can be used effectively in both types of communities.
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The badging effect
Used effectively, gamification can motivate your workforce and customer base. Badging can help. Community managers can use badges to promote participation and reward top employees and customers for reaching specific goals. The chance to earn badges provides healthy encouragement for employees to work hard and helps customers feel appreciated.
For example, to get members engaged, Microsoft Dynamics awards every new member with a welcome badge for joining the community. This promotes participation and helps members feel involved in the community from the get-go. Members can continue to earn badges based on completing specific activities -- ranging from tiered badges to special badges for performing above and beyond expectations. All earned badges are displayed on a member's profile, with higher-value badges shown on customers' forum questions and blog articles to show credibility. Microsoft Dynamics also fuels the competitive spirit by allowing members to compare badges and rankings on leaderboards.
One of the first communities I ran was at a large software company in 2000. We immediately saw contributions spike when we added badges to recognize key achievements. Badges identified people as experts and gave them credibility. Even today, some of those same people still reference a badge or recognition on their resume.
Keep a running point count
Members enjoy collecting points in addition to badges. (Think about how effectively airlines and other travel services have used this concept.) Community managers can give members points for facilitating and participating in online conversations. This could decrease support costs as more members look to the community for help.
For example, Texas Instruments' internal community gives points to members who ask and answer questions, verify answers, connect with colleagues, and add new content. Members of the Texas Instruments community are placed in different levels and can climb the ladder by earning more points, starting as a prodigy and advancing to a guru.
Points, in turn, are used for building leaderboards, which can boost a member's reputation. Points can also be exchanged for discounts on products and services.
Communicate with community members
To encourage participation, community managers need to track and monitor members' activities and let them know where they stand. Texas Instruments sends emails to its members when they earn badges and alerts them on how many points they need to become a guru. It's also important for companies to recognize top users on leaderboards by acknowledging them at company events, for example. This helps keep top contributors motivated and encourages other members to reach for a higher status.
For gamification to be successful at your business, you must first understand its goals and build tactics around them. If your business wants to decrease support costs, for example, encourage members to post content and answer questions and reward them for doing so.
There are more advanced gamification concepts that can further benefit your business, but starting with the basics -- badging, points, and leaderboards -- will go a long way in keeping your employees and customers engaged.
Rob Howard is the founder and chief technology officer of Zimbra (formerly Telligent), where he oversees product development and the company's technology roadmap.
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