Using gamification in your community can be a powerful incentive system that helps propel engagement, help new users onboard and let your community run more smoothly. It's the fun way of structuring your community, and rewarding its members.
Gamification, as the name suggests, is the process of applying game-like progression and challenges to non-gaming products and platforms.
Imagine a Zelda game. You start out as a young boy, Link, who needs to save the world from evil. At the get-go, your character is rather basic, and the game’s first mission holds your hand as you learn the controls. They heap praise and are very forgiving on mistakes. As you progress, say beating your first boss, you’ll receive more substantial rewards in the form of upgrades, special status, and more. As they introduce new concepts, they follow a similar pattern. At first, it’s easy, falling is forgiven, and small successes are praised, from there more difficult challenges are presented, and the reward curve becomes steeper.
People expect your online communities to be useful and fun. It's not surprising that community managers and product marketers are looking for ways to engage their customers, especially in the crucial first few days after signing up. Gamification provides a ‘fun’ path for your users to take and gets them up and running quickly. It also incentivizes power users to keep coming back.
For good reason, gamification has become a major part of many communities. Gaming communities will tie in games status to their communities. Support communities will use gamification and badging to show their experts, and reward those who help others. Branded communities will use contests and challenges to keep their community engagement.
This post will take you through the basics of gamification and some more advanced techniques to step up your efforts. Just quickly, gamifying your community will help with engagement but it has to feel natural and work within the context of your community.
The basics — Badges, ranking, custom profiles
Before you set out to gamify your community, create a plan with a path. What are the first actions you need new members to take? Here are some examples: - Set up your profile, add a photo - Connect with social networks, other services - Create your first post - Commenting on an existing thread
The key is to understand why someone joined your community. If they’re looking for support, onboard them to their first post, give them guidelines, and reward them when they get their first question.
Gather all the information. If your community provides you with analytics, research to understand what actions successful members take in the beginning.
Once you’ve figured out the steps you want community members to take, create a linear path. This should be slightly idealistic. What actions does someone take when they join, what comes next, how do they become power users. When you mapped the journey that your users take in your community, it’ll be easier to set up gamification to nudge them in the right direction.
Ranking & Badges
Create a ranking system for your users. Think of it as novice, advanced and expert. The ability to gain levels and rank should be quick at first, and then slow down. Again, think video games, your character levels up quickly in the beginning, and then slows down as you progress.
The ranking should have names that reflect your community. Have fun with it! Let’s say you’re creating a community of Seinfeld enthusiast. At the start, you’re George, and as you progress you level up, until eventually, you’re the namesake himself. My point, it needs to feel authentic to the community, and be a reflection of a status someone would want.
Tie the rankings into a reward system. If you have a higher rank, you get a custom avatar, a custom user profile, special CSS on comments, option to become a mod, etc… You want to tie the gamification ranks into a real perk. So many communities fall into the trap of keeping badges and ranks as superficial means.
Use a badge system to supplement your rankings. Badges can be given for different dimensions of your community. Very commonly they reflect status within the product itself. Say you’re an Adobe user, you may have badges for the different products in their suite that you're using. Or gaming communities gives badges for in-game competency with different character classes.
Level up your gamification
Badges and user rankings are obvious ways to gamify your community. There are also more specific ways to reward your community. Let's look at some other tactics to engage your community.
Challenge your community
Time-limited challenges as a way to drive community engagement. Give winners and participants special badges, or limited time rewards. Hearthstone, the freemium online collectible card game, does this well with specific card backs that are given every month to users who reach a certain rank. Once a card back is given, it will not come back again. This gives players an incentive to come back every month, and meet the minimum requirement.
Take your community offline
Assuming that it makes sense within the reach of your community, bring the gamification offline. Give users badges for showing up in person to community events. And have special swag on hand for your power users, plus other swag for regular ones. You could offer free invites to key industry events (or your own) to your best users. Announce at the beginning of the quarter/year that the person who correctly answers the most questions will be given two VIP tickets to an upcoming event.
Tie it back to your product
Reward your users with closed beta access, or discounts on products. Make it a challenge for the community. The top 5 people who ask the most popular question in a month can win a free upgrade to the Pro version.
Elevate the conversation
Create a special section of the community for pro users. Say you’re creating a learning community, have a Pros only section which lets power users speak at their level. Make it a reward, like a final dungeon in a game, only once you’ve hit a certain rank can you join these special sections. Progress bars help show users how close they are to achieving the next milestone.
If you’ve noticed that someone’s participation has been lagging, you can let them know via email or other communication that their status is at risk and that they should come back and continue to participate. Of course, don’t be heavy-handed, be fun and light about this. For example, send out a ‘we missed you email’ with a clear action to participate in a specific thread.
Creating a friendly and competitive environment in your community will be a huge help in achieving sustainable engagement. Make use of leaderboards to show off the most active users. Rank on dimensions like number of posts, number of answered questions, most active new members, etc… Think like an MMO, rankings are a powerful motivator for their most engaged players. Do the same for yours.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork
Gamification doesn't only need to apply to individuals. Issue community-wide challenges, create a special leaderboard (with progress bar), and get everyone in the community involved. When the challenge is met, reward the entire community. It could be community appreciation day were given special badges given to all those who participated. Take a page from Kickstarter. Create a ‘stretch goal’ for your community challenges, and offer something cool — Say an AMA with a product owner, or a special discount for all community members. Don’t just limit your gamification to individual users, attempt to use it to get the community to band together, and work as a team.
Drive KPIs with gamification
Your gamification efforts need to be aligned with the business goals of your community. At a high level, it’s to increase engagement. But there are other KPIs to consider, such as SEO, quality of content, product feedback, reducing tickets (support community), connecting with influencers, increasing sales. Depending on what you’re looking to achieve with your community, tie the gamification into your goals.
Let’s take an example, say you’re wanting to rank on certain keywords, seed your community with the questions that match the keywords, and award the people who answer these specific question with a special badge, discount code, or kudos.
In a support community, you may have noticed an increase in unanswered questions. Make a challenge for your community to try and answer 90% of open questions, and for those who participate, award them a specific designation, or create a draw and give away from free products/gift cards. Again, team challenges get everyone involved.
This is all just small incentives, right?
Yes and no. Overall, ranks, badges, and rewards will give members an extra incentive to participate and a path to follow. But all of this only works when both you and your community members are aligned. These are small rewards and tokens for small asks. You’re simply providing a bit of extra (and fun) motivation to nudge users in the right direction.
In fact, gamification in some contexts has been given a bad reputation. Uber has been known to be heavy handed with their driver scores, and pushes drivers to take ‘just one more ride’. Often drivers don’t realize that they are being nudged towards an action they might not otherwise have taken. Gamification shouldn't be used in nefarious ways.
Gamification is great for your community. 3 things to keep in mind: - Help new members progress down a safe, encouraging and fun path. - Get the community as a whole engaged in special events - Highlight and praise your power users
Gamification is not a panacea. It’s the extra bit that can increase your engagement numbers.
The most important aspect of gamification is that it needs to be fun and fit within the context of your community. If it’s generic or doesn’t make sense, users will be annoyed. The key word in gamification is game, don’t lose sight of that very simple idea.
Ready to take your gamification to the next level? Get in touch with us about building a community that drives engagement.
Former Canadian astronaut Dr. Robert Thirsk came to visit us at our semi-annual Ballistiq summit. Robert shared inspiration, anecdotes, and advice on how to work better as...
Cloudinary is a SaaS product that provides, true to the name, a cloud-based digital asset management system. It is intended for any size web platform that wants their...
Integrating Stripe with any framework can be done with relative ease, and Stripe provides great documentation for integration and testing. In this post, I will discuss...