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Can gamification help your company?

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What I find truly interesting about online games is the psychology behind them. What makes them attractive? Why do people spend so much time playing them? How can games like FarmVille on Facebook attract millions of participants? Is it just for fun or to achieve some goal or notoriety?

People are very goal oriented. According to Michael Bernoff, a noted mindset expert, most people set goals for themselves that unfortunately very few believe they successfully reach. Gamification, a recent and rapidly growing approach, builds upon these goals by creating incentives that encourage communication, collaboration, sales or whatever criteria a company sets up in order for people to obtain rewards and reach goals.

By utilizing a goal-based system with incentives, employees become more active and responsive. In many gamification applications, for example, points are earned by posting new discussions on various social media platforms or responding to existing posts with comments or additional posts. In short, people are rewarded for their activities.

This raises an interesting question: “If I have a job and I’m already working very hard, why do I need incentives?” The answer is that you don’t need these incentives, but having them within the framework of a gamification implementation might make you work a little harder or be more focused – particularly if the reward is a vacation, a night out or some attractive offering. It could also possibly include receiving feedback, some notoriety or maybe just be fun. It all depends on how it’s structured.

Consider the incentive of frequent flier miles. Many people use credit cards through which they accrue frequent flier miles or cash back rewards. In fact, there is a whole series of recent commercials on television that denote the satisfaction of cardholders who receive different percentages of cash-back rewards depending on their purchases.

Applying this same approach to business and the digital world is more difficult. They are much more complex and can’t just be reduced to the purchase and reward model. Instead, it must engage the corporate culture and prioritize those areas of importance to the company. But the principles of gamification remain the same: utilizing game mechanics, it offers points, badges, awards, accolades and the like to its participants. This in part is the theory behind Foursquare and similarly popular reward-based websites.

Savannah Now, an online newspaper, implemented gamification in a 30-day period. Its goal was to get readers to read content other than the main articles. It used gamification to reward readers for reading these inside articles. After implementing their campaign, the newspaper reported that “registered readers were actually twice as likely to return to the site within the month and were three times as likely to perform actions like watching videos and sharing content.”

A nine-week gamification campaign for Buffalo Wild Wings generated “100 million social media impressions on Facebook and Twitter.”

Gamification by itself is not a standalone strategy. It requires careful planning and the construction of a strategy designed to work with the internal processes of a company, particularly if it’s directed at the employees of the company.

Conversely, it can also be directed externally toward a company’s audience as in the case of Buffalo Wild Wings and Savannah Now. In either case, it must have clearly defined goals that encourage and reward participation. It’s particularly well suited to work in conjunction with social media.

It’s too early to determine the long-term effects of gamification. Short-term results have been extremely positive but there is the real possibility that people will rapidly tire of these types of programs. Yet, given the strong short-term results of numerous gamification campaigns and its application to all sizes of companies, the number of companies using gamification is expected to rapidly increase in the near future.

Bruce Newman is president of wwWebevents.com, a division of The Productivity Institute L.L.C. in Carmel. He is a social media guru and a specialist on webinar creation and promotion. Newman is currently completing a comprehensive webinar training course, The Complete Webinar Training Course – Everything you need to know to create and promote highly successful webinars, which will soon be available. He can be reached at bnewman@prodinst.com.

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