Can (should) you apply gamification concepts in your online marketing?

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gamification chart
Game mechanics / game dynamics chart (BunchBall via restrictcontentpro.com);

Restrictontentpro.com has posted an intriguing article describing the advantages of “gamification” in online communication. Simply put, if you create some systems and processes to develop game-like competition, you’ll increase your engagement, return visits, and — we might assume — achieve your marketing goals.

What is gamification?

In simple terms, it refers to incorporating game-like elements such as points tracking, leaderboards, rewards, and achievement badges into your business. Since its first appearances in the early 2000s, this trend has exploded, becoming a dominant engagement strategy used by some of the biggest brands around – and it’s particularly useful for memberships.

Ok, but is gamification effective, or does it have unintended and unwelcome side-effects?

I’m living with a gamification exercise in the Google AdSense help support forum community.  For the past decade, I’ve been a Product Expert (formerly known as a Top Contributor) on this forum. It’s a voluntary responsibility relating to Google’s service that allows third-party publishers (like my business) to post AdWords ads on websites for a share of the advertising revenue.

Until recently, Google had an informal process to determine which forum visitors/users achieved the PE status, which offers some perks, the largest of which is an annual expense paid invitation to meet-ups and summits at Google HQ in Mountain View. (After a few of these events, I decided to allocate several thousand dollars in my personal investment accounts to Alphabet (GOOGL) shares — and, despite ups and downs, have enjoyed an investment return far greater than the income generated through AdSense.)

Under the new “Tailwind” community forum set-up, posters receive one point for each response, and 10 points for an “answer”. To qualify for “Gold” status, we need to maintain an answer volume of 1,000 points a year, which would mean (assuming none of our posts are marked up as answers) that we need to post slightly less than two observations a day on the forum.

Fair enough, I can do that — and will — because the annual visit to Google HQ has turned into quite a fun party and educational experience. But will people start playing games with the game to get the same level of status, and party invitations?

Google says it will still build controls into the system — people posting junk or offensive posts just to get the numbers won’t win the prize as staffers must still review everyone before they are accepted into the program’s higher ranks. So the gamification probably won’t hurt too much. (Unfortunately, in switching to the new forum set up, Google left out some really important functions in the old system — namely a process for Product Experts to easily escalate issues from the forum to Google staff, meaning we now have a real problem in doing the one thing where we have been most helpful — advising staff of serious issues and problems before they get out of hand, and helping forum visitors with issues that can only be handled at a staff level.)

That said, gamification concepts may be valuable for circumstances where your site/presence involves community or community-like elements; where you want to softly build and enhance on relationships with your audience, and where you are seeking feedback and engagement, so it could be a relevant tool for larger businesses wishing to engage more closely with employees/contractors, associations and community agencies, and retail-type businesses with a larger client market.

I think you’ll probably best leave this stuff to others, however, if your market is highly focused, technical and specialized. In that case, you are better to provide expert resources and thought-leading information, and then connect in more one-on-one relationships at conferences, symposiums and lunch-and-learn type events.

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