Imagine a time-pressed, stressed-out community manager, filled with enthusiasm but constrained by the familiar gamification playbook of points, badges, and leaderboards (it’s not a stretch to imagine!).
Nearly every online community platform incorporates some variation of this standard gamification approach. What’s more disheartening is that the platform provider’s implementation team will more often than not encourage you to activate it, offering pre-designed gamification rewards aimed mainly at welcoming new members.
It seems like such an easy decision. But beware of what looks easy.
The most usual result of activating out-of-the-box gamification is that it becomes a tired cliché rather than a potent engagement strategy.
Persisting with a default gamification deployment as you launch a new community is a likely path to failure. It becomes a cursed burden that you find yourself stuck with, all due to the fleeting decision made at launch.
If you’re eager to revolutionize your thoughts on gamification strategy and step beyond the standard options, then this is your cue. In this article, I’ll delve into gamification as a tailored solution, not a generic add-on. If you’re ready to defy “the defaults” and inject fresh excitement into your community, read on.
Broadening the Scope of Gamification
Online community gamification typically involves awarding points, badges, and leaderboards (or PBL’s for short), based on actions restricted to the community platform itself. Like 10 pieces of content and get the (not) coveted “Likable Liker” badge!
But today’s customers and stakeholders engage with brands across multiple channels, both online and offline. It’s in the interests of brands to foster these multi-channel engagements because each sort of digital channel encourages different types of interactions.
Gamification done right reflects this new multi-channel sophistication and should integrate smoothly with them, creating unique engagement and interaction opportunities.
Consider the potential of a gamification system that tracks and rewards activities on social media. Actions like content sharing, engaging in post discussions, writing blogs, or producing videos and podcasts about your organization’s offerings should be recognized and rewarded.
Depending upon your resources and the talents of your technical teams, you could achieve these cross-platform integrations using gamification platforms (such as Bunchball or Badgevill), custom API’s, a Blockchain-based solution with smart contracts, or integration tools like IFTTT or Zapier. If you must, you could even manually track and verify social media interactions, although that would be far less feasible over time.
Community-led challenges can transform enthusiastic members into a force of brand ambassadors, driving trending topics that elevate brand awareness, product adoption, and brand loyalty.
Gamification in live and virtual events offers another avenue for community engagement. It shifts attendee experiences from passive reception to active participation. Incorporating elements such as real-time quizzes, polls, and challenges can enhance engagement, create memorable experiences, and build community among attendees.
For instance, participants who scan a QR code at a live event to engage in a community poll could be rewarded with exclusive access, prizes, and public acknowledgment.
Virtual events have also greatly benefited from gamification. In settings devoid of physical interaction, gamification serves as a bridge, imparting a feeling of presence and participation. Leaderboards can track various event activities, and rewards can be linked to session attendance, Q&A participation, or social media involvement related to the event.
Referral programs are another area where gamification has been effectively implemented. Gamifying the referral process motivates members to become brand advocates, often involving rewards for each successful referral, possibly with a tiered system for sustained engagement.
In all these scenarios, positive interactions and engagements feed back into the community as a centralized record of accomplishments. As community members interact across platforms and events, their actions contribute to their profiles, and towards accumulating points, titles, and rewards.
Yet, there’s an important caveat. All of these gamification possibilities demand careful consideration of the community’s tone and member preferences. Implementing gamification in communities focused on serious topics like political action or critical health issues requires tact and precision to avoid trivializing the community’s purpose.
As we’ve explored how gamification enriches diverse digital platforms, let’s pivot to a new frontier that’s reshaping the future of engagement in online communities – the integration of the Blockchain and NFTs.
Emerging Technologies in Gamification: Blockchain, NFTs, AR/VR, and AI/LLMs
According to a 2023 article on Digiday, while blockchain and NFTs have experienced a rollercoaster of hype and skepticism, their potential remains untapped and ripe for innovation around loyalty and brand advocacy–and, I would add, for community gamification.
The landscape of gamification technology is evolving, with blockchain, NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), AR/VR (Augmented and Virtual Reality), and AI-powered LLMs (Large Language Models) showing great promise for personalization and rewarding experiences.
Consider how these new and converging technologies could impact your community gamification efforts.
Blockchain and NFTs
Yes, blockchain’s allure may have dulled, and NFTs have seen their share of hype and cynicism. But let’s not dismiss these technologies yet.
Blockchain technology was built upon and continues to offer security, transparency, and portability, making it a powerful foundation for a gamification system that can span various platforms. Imagine rewarding community members with unique blockchain-based NFT badges, introducing scarcity and the thrill of collection.
NFT badges could be traded or even further personalized, allowing members to exchange or evolve their earned badge images (automating, for instance, generative image AI DALL-E’s ability to ‘make it more’), and adding a dynamic layer to community engagement.
AR/VR in Gamification
Moving into the realm of AR/VR, we find more possibilities for immersive community experiences.
From scavenger hunts in virtual spaces to build team trust to role-playing exercises used, for example, to game out customer service or business scenarios, these technologies can transform how community members interact and learn. Picture checking in at a live event with AR or navigating a learning journey through a VR environment.
The potential for cooperative tasks and engaging challenges in these spaces can significantly amplify community engagement.
Lastly, AI and LLMs like ChatGPT open a new frontier in gamification. Their capabilities range from managing image and content creation challenges to facilitating personalized learning quests and trivia contests.
AI can curate experiences based on individual interests, making each interaction unique. Additionally, AI can partner in interactive storytelling, with outcomes leading to community rewards and recognition. This level of personalization and interaction is (quite literally) a game-changer, offering experiences that are tailored, dynamic, and deeply engaging.
“Yes, but…” Putting Advanced Gamification Strategies into Practice
What I’ve just described are possibilities, but they will require effort, imagination, budget, people, and organizational vision to make them a reality. How can these suggestions become practical for your organization right now?
Implementing sophisticated gamification strategies in online communities requires crafting a well-thought-out plan that resonates with your community and aligns with your organizational goals. Here are some thoughts about how to approach it.
Resist the Temptation of Default Options
As I mentioned at the start, default gamification features are incredibly tempting to use (I mean, really tempting!). If your leadership team knows about them, they may apply extra pressure and ask you to “just to turn it on and see what happens.” I can predict what will happen.
A collective yawn from your community members.
However, if you want to do something more advanced, that means you need to be prepared with a compelling alternative and a persuasive pitch for a more tailored approach. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur pitching for funding on your idea.
That means building a pitch and practicing it before putting it in front of a leadership team. That means making sure your pitch appeals to both logic and emotion. That means understanding and articulating what the payoff could look like and how you’ll measure the outcomes over time.
Separate Gamification Strategy from Community Program Budgeting
Treat gamification as a distinct strategy within your roadmap. Allocate a separate budget and avoid rushing it into your launch plan. Hasty implementation will assuredly lead to lackluster results; give it the attention and resources it deserves.
Ongoing Program, Not a One-Off Project
Allocate a budget for development and view gamification as a continuous program.
Members will almost certainly exhaust your challenges sooner than you think, or worse, disengage if you approach gamification as a one-off project. Regular updates and innovations are crucial.
Meaningful and Relevant Challenges
Align games, tasks, and challenges with meaningful accomplishments that reflect your members’ actual and relevant interests and your organizational objectives. Avoid the one-size-fits-all approach; tailor your gamification language and quests to mirror the tone and mindset of your community.
Strategize in Phases
Plan your gamification strategy in stages or releases. This phased approach keeps the content fresh and engaging, adhering to the ongoing program mindset.
Consider designing your gamification elements around different member personas and their stages in the member journey. This ensures that your gamification strategy is inclusive and appeals to a broad spectrum of your community. Gamification isn’t just about engaging your newcomers. A good gamification strategy has staying power and ongoing playability.
Implementing these steps requires a commitment to innovation and an understanding of your community’s unique dynamics. By treating gamification as a vital and evolving aspect of your community strategy, you create an engaging and dynamic environment that resonates with members and drives meaningful interactions.
Gamification is too often treated as an afterthought or add-on in online community building, relegated to the tired tropes of points, badges, and leaderboards. Yet agile-minded community professionals will recognize gamification’s immense, untapped potential to capture attention and drive meaningful engagement across platforms.
By choosing creativity over convenience, you can start to see gamification not as a static feature but an ever-evolving member engagement strategy. With thoughtful planning and strategic implementation, tailored gamification systems can facilitate compelling multi-channel experiences that resonate with community members and produce sustained participation.
Rather than settling for tepid engagement, it is time to invigorate your gamification as the powerful vehicle for community interaction that it was meant to be. Community builders who embrace this challenge will discover what their members have awaited all along – a chance to level up their experience.