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Recently I was fortunate enough to be invited onto a podcast with the Digital & Social Media Leadership Forum to talk about the impact of gamification in online communities. You can access the 15 minute recording here.


Through different client engagements with Social Edge, I've come across a variety of perceptions on gamification. I truly feel that gamification can support and amplify the success of online communities, and I thought the podcast would be a great opportunity to share my experiences. Equally important is the flip side of misunderstandings/common pitfalls of the field. When thinking about the term itself, gamification comes across to some as non-work related or not important activity. In reality the term refers to game-like mechanics being used to teach and engage users through mechanics like instant feedback and transparency to drive desired  strategic behaviours.


Designers of social software systems have long employed aspects of gamification to encourage repeat usage, increase contributions, and establish user reputations. For anyone that has ever played a game, from freeze-tag to Candy Crush, you will be familiar with the idea of being rewarded. Things like points, extra lives, upgrades or successfully freeze-tagging all your friends, all let you know you are playing the game correctly. As you progress you become more proficient at games, leveling up until you eventually complete the game (or until no one wants to play freeze tag with you anymore). All the while, the game tracks and reports what you are doing well, what you have completed, what you still have to complete and so on.


When implemented successfully gamification can help to:


  • Teach - onboarding users into new systems and ways of working reduces training time and increases time to valuable participation
  • Motivate & Engage - tapping into intrinsic & extrinsic motivators results in increased participation and repeating activities/user retention
  • Reward - successfully understanding your audience and rewarding them in ways they care about creates engagement and ownership in the community
  • Measure - understanding the objectives for your community


Turning on badges, points and levels is only the beginning; gamification will not become self aware (that's pretty much Skynet and that scenario did not end well for anyone). So diligence on reviewing strategy is definitely required, and key to success. Also, look at the elements that you believe will make your community valuable to your organization; think about how can you get your audience to that definition of success as quickly as possible. Then think about the techniques available with gamification and how it can help you engage your audience so both you and your audience can ultimately succeed.


Gamification should be a tool to measure and evaluate the success of online communities. The next time you think your audience isn't familiar with gamification, just remember we've been gaming all of our lives and they just need the right environment to get back in the game.