The Gamification of Online Communities

[Online] Golfstar, game update
Image by com2us

The online gaming industry has experienced tremendous success, currently estimated at $10.5 billion by the entertainment software industry. This incredible market share of consumer interest and revenue and runaway hits like Zenga’s Farmville have caused gaming best practices to spread to the larger web, and in particular online communities. Online content and community creators have noticed, and are seeking to gamify their efforts.

This process consists of integrating game components like badges, leaderboards, levels of difficulty, etc. into online communities, web site functions, and other aspects of non-game activity online. By gamifying online properties, organizations like the Huffington Post seek to offer some of the fun, challenging passion that online entertainment brings, and in turn, make their sites more compelling.

Gamifying boosts on site minutes, increases strength of community, and inspires more tangible outcomes. With intelligent calls to actions weaved into game elements, organizations can deliver more return on investment as well as strengthen loyalty. This can range from sales to bettering professional education programs.

Leaderboard

Two of 2010’s more compelling social web stories used gamification to strengthen their offering. Social fundraising hit Crowdrise has a leaderboard, contests, and point tabulations in addition to really funny copywriting on its site. The goal: Encourage more charitable acts. Influencer metric Klout uses gamification to make its badges and classification more fun, and encourage individuals to engage in better participatory tactics online.

Consider how the USA Network added gamification to its Psych TV network online. By adding game-like rewards to the program, NBCUniversal generated a 130 percent increase in page views for the network’s Psych show and a 40 percent increase in return visits.

Adam Singer recently wrote a great post about the need to balance social, email and SEO in a digital marketing program. Increasingly, bringing balance to a healthy online marketing program includes adding game elements to the mix.

Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, ” offered some advice to organizations considering adding game techniques at the Gamification Summit. She said, “If you’re trying to gamify something, you should be looking to turn [stakeholders] into super empowered helpful users. That’s what we become when we play a good game.”

Gamification is not easy, and requires knowledge of processes, research and best practices. There is a new boutique industry arising that serves organizations who want to add gamification elements and even games themselves to their online mix. For example, companies like Badgeville and Gamify can add game mechanics to a community.

Expect the continued trickle down effect of game elements into general online communications, and increased interest from online communicators about how to incorporate games and game technique into their repertoire. What do you think of gamification in online communities? Are you adding game elements to your online mix?

Strength of Community Supersedes Influence

Chasing Windmills
Image by Annie Siegal

With the current overfocus on influence metrics, companies and nonprofits are left to wonder at the digeratti’s navel gazing via participation scores. While influencers play a role in social media, for a company or nonprofit that role is ultimately very small. After the influencer “graces” everyone with their presence, the organization’s community remains. After a sales or advocacy campaign winds up, the community remains. When those initiatives are needed again, they require a strong community in place, openly receptive of such overtures. That’s why the most important metric should always be Strength of Community.

Direct ROI — i.e. sales, donations, tonality and other key performance indicators (KPIs) — also represents a critical measurement set. It can be easily measured using KPIs and a corresponding strategy (though often overlooked). Businesses want loyal customers who buy their stuff, and refer new clients. Nonprofits want donors. However, to get hard ROI organizations need a vibrant accepting community. The juxtaposition between strength of community and direct ROI cannot be underestimated.

Strength of community measures the health of an organization’s core social network. Core aspects of community strength cannot be measured in a quantifiable manner by an algorithm, for example members’ interest in taking responsibility for aspects of the community such as moderating a group. But there are plenty of activity metrics that can be quantified with a well integrated social graph; return visits, pull through visits to the main web site, repeated comments, performance and volume by demographic, recency and frequency of posts (hat tip: Paul Fabretti), repeated actions, advocacy outside of the community (Facebook, Twitter and individual blog posts), etc., etc.

Yet, there’s no real focus on developing social media based strength of community metrics. There’s a series of tools that can help like Facebook Insights, Google Analytics loyalty measures, AddThis Analytics, and a small group of emerging hybrid solutions like Badgeville. But without a robust enterprise tracking solution like Eloquoa, one is lost.

Instead the market is left with an increasing dearth of influencer metric solutions, catering to the PR 2.0 community and its need to qualify influencers. To be fair, some of the influencer metrics have community details to them such as total number of community members who like or retweet a post. At the same time they are woefully inadequate in providing a composite community picture.

Influence is being touted as the measurement set to understand social media, but of all the metrics, it’s the one that is least needed. In fact, the influencer conversation (read Shonali Burke’s discussion) is like watching Don Quixote chase windmills. That’s why Twitalyzer CEO Eric Peterson’s post discounting the use of influence metrics in personnel decisions was so refreshing.

facebook-insights-new.jpg
(Image from AllFacebook)

Instead of getting distracted by influence, focus on strength of community metrics. They mean more to an organization than any other social measurement solution out there. Strength of community is the fly wheel that drives desired business outcomes as defined by KPIs. An organization would much rather have a vibrant community of 150,000 members than a sexy influencer program that garners 50 unique blog mentions. This is the next frontier of social metrics.

The opportunity has not escaped some minds. Badgeville, a community rewards and analytics company, is building a new set of analytics to provide organizations a deeper view of how their community’s engagement behaviors. Communities can usually integrate Badgeville’s solution via an API within a week. In a conversation with Badgeville’s Adena DeMonte, she discussed how critical it was for an organization to measure individual community member actions, including a visit(s) a store, and whether or not purchases were made.

As organizations become more savvy about social properties and their corresponding role within the larger mission and strategy, it is only natural that they will want to focus on strength of community. Measurement solutions that provide diverse analyses of community actions across networks have their role in determining the health of an organization’s effort.