Gamification — One Angle to Consider with Social Media Campaigns

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At least once a month, something comes up that reminds me of the power of applying the lens of gamification to campaign planning. While slightly off topic for this blog (I’ll touch on measurement towards the end), it’s something that continues to rattle around in my skull, so I might as well work those thoughts out in a post.

The Basics

A fairly succinct explanation of what game mechanics is can be found in a paper published last October by Bunchball, a gamification platform provider:

At its root, gamification applies the mechanics of gaming to nongame activities to change people’s behavior. When used in a business context, gamification is the process of integrating game dynamics (and game mechanics) into a website, business service, online community, content portal, or marketing campaign in order to drive participation and engagement.
The overall goal of gamification is to engage with consumers and get them to participate, share and interact in some activity or community. A particularly compelling, dynamic, and sustained gamification experience can be used to accomplish a variety of business goals.

The key here — and this is actually the biggest detriment of the term itself — is that “gamification” is not simply “playing games.” All too often, I have conversations with people who immediately think XBox, Playstation, Kinect, Farmville, or any number of other “traditional games” when the topic of gamification comes up. That’s an entirely appropriate starting point, but it’s by no means the whole story.

Gamification is about using human nature’s inherent interest in being engaged with others, being rewarded, achieving goals, and, yes, having some fun in the process.

A Recent (and Simple) Example

During a #measureX trip to New Orleans, one of the other people on the trip mentioned that she had been doing a lot of travelling lately, and she tries to fly American Airlines, because they have good flights to most of the places she goes, including cheap business class flights Australia, and she is close to reaching the Gold Level of their Frequent Flier Program. Frequent flier programs are an example of gamification applied for the direct benefit of the brand, allowing travelers to earn points towards different levels, at which they are awarded with different perks. These programs don’t directly drive engagement with other consumers, but that’s another key to gamification — it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal.

And an Even More Recent #measure Example

Even the elusive @AnalyticsFTW has indulged in some gamification of late, with an infographic-creating contest to win a pass toeMetrics in NYC, <shamelessplug>where I will be speaking on Twitter analytics </shamelessplug>. It’s simply a matter of offering a prize (a valuable one, in this case), and then letting the #measure community spread the word, with entrants being challenged to come up with something original and amusing. On the one hand, it’s a “simple contest,” but it’s a simple contest that:

  • Forces all potential entrants to actually stop and think about the value of eMetrics
  • Requires an investment of time and energy to illustrate that value in a clever way (which causes them to thinkmore about the value of eMetrics)
  • Generates marketing collateral for the event that others will come and look at (user-generate content, baby! Not a single designer finger on the paid eMetrics team was lifted to generate the material)

It’s brilliant, really.

An Entirely Different (and More Involved) Example

I was tapped/volunteered to teach a “Microsoft Excel Tips & Tricks” brown bag lunch at work a couple of months ago. It was content that I knew attendees would get value out of…but with a title that didn’t exactly have a “Cowboys & Aliens”-type mystique that would be a natural attendance draw (and, while personable enough, I’m not exactly the office equivalent of Daniel Craig or Harrison Ford).

I applied some game mechanics to promote the event by distributing a series of cards around our various offices (physical cards as well as digital versions to our remote locations):

The cards led to a video (PowerPoint with low-fi voiceover) with details as to the “game,” which required participants to do a little searching and a little collaboration with another office before posting “the answer” on the wall of a Facebook group.

Here’s what I hoped to achieve:

  • Engage as many employees as possible just enough with the type of content that I would be presenting that they would have an opportunity to pause and think, “Hmmm… I might actually get something useful out of this”
  • Extend that engagement beyond our main office in Columbus to our satellite offices and remote workers
  • Find out if I could apply game mechanics without consulting a gamification expert and achieve good results

My KPI for the effort was pretty simple: a “healthy turnout” at the brown bag. I had a handful of additional measures in place:

  • Whether or not anyone actually managed to complete the challenge and, if so, how long it took for that to happen
  • The number of clicks on the link/QR code link driving to the YouTube video
  • The number of views of the video
  • The number of people who walked by my desk and either chuckled or shook their head

In the end, we had a full room for the brown bag. KPI achieved!

We’re over 300 employees now, and my other measures played out as follows: 159 clicks on the link, 131 video views, and a half-dozen people who chuckled and shook their heads as they walked by my desk. Not bad.

Most surprisingly, though, was how quickly and to what extent people got into the activity. I launched on a Wednesday evening after almost everyone was gone for the day. At 8:29 AM on Thursday morning…9 seconds apart…two people (from two different offices, and they’d both colluded with the same person in a third office) posted the winning answer on the Facebook group’s wall. Considering that I was a little concerned that the whole thing would be a total dud, I certainly didn’t expect to have winners before 8:30 AM on the first day!

Different from “Games”

So, gamification is not simply “playing games.” It’s using the aspects of human nature that make playing games fun and engaging…and then leveraging those to drive interest and engagement around a brand, a product, an event, or something else. It’s an utterly intriguing concept, and it’s not hard to spot examples of marketers putting these ideas to good use.

Another paper/presentation on the subject published late last year by Resource Interactive has some additional good nuggets on the topic:

Game On: Gaming Mechanics

View more presentations from Resource Interactive


Measuring the Results

Any marketing initiative should be measured. Campaigns that rely heavily on game mechanics are easier to measure than a lot of always-on social media activities (a Twitter feed, a Facebook page, etc.). That is, they’re easier to measure if there is a clear objective for the effort, and if that objective is something that gamification is good at supporting: driving engagement and/or driving awareness (and education) through word-of-mouth. Meaningful KPIs may include:

  • The number of people exposed to the campaign
  • The number of people who participated in the game mechanics aspects of the game
  • The number of people who reached a certain level of engagement with the campaign

Now, this sets me up for the criticism, “Well, yeah, but did it drive business results.” In some cases, CTAs can be embedded in the game that can lead to conversions that can be measured as results. But, there is, admittedly, some requirement that the entire campaign has been designed with a logical link to business value. For instance, for a low-awareness brand targeted at a niche audience, then a campaign that grows awareness across a community that represents that niche, and that does so at a relatively low cost will often be a no-brainer when compared with low-engagement paid media.

Benchmarks will seldom be available for these types of campaigns. Get over it! If you’re developing a compelling campaign, it’s going to need some degree of originality, which means there won’t be a sea of comparable campaigns at your fingertips for benchmarking. That makes establishing targets a bit scary. Set a target anyway. Think through what would be acceptable and what would be clearly awesome based on other, more traditional ways you could have chosen to invest those same dollars. More often than not, if it’s a well-designed game-mechanics-applied campaign, you will know whether you are on to a good idea early in the planning, and you will be very pleasantly surprised by the results.

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