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The Case for Gamification

Gamification is about applying game-thinking and game-dynamics to a non-game context, in order to gather results on specified actions. Put more simply, it’s about making participation on a site fun for your members.

The place you can start is with one simple question: what association activities do you want to encourage on your sites? Do you have a new mentor or volunteer program that you’d like members to get involved in? Are you trying to encourage lurkers to come out of the shadows and start contributing to conversations?

A myriad of industries use gamification to drum up participation, many of which you may have been a part of without even realizing. A few examples are airline rewards programs (“Just 100 more miles before you level up to Platinum Member!”), apps that “gamify” ordinary tasks to make them more fun to accomplish (Epic Win is an app where you gain points for accomplishing items on your To Do List), and even something as simple as “leveling up” from second to third grade. There was even a study done by a college professor who began rewarding his students with badges for completing their work, which he found to be a much stronger motivational force than the standard grading system, and improved work collaboration to boot.

Our evidence suggests gamification works. Here are three primary reasons why gamification is a vital element of online success:

  1. Members like recognition. The same way that badge ribbons are incredibly popular at in-person events, online badges, ribbons and other indicators of prestige are appreciated and sought after by many online participants. Feedback from many of Higher Logic clients supports this–members love profile ribbons.
  2. People are competitive by nature. Do some members admit to participating just to keep their names on the most active leaderboard? Sure. Does this diminish the quality of their contributions? We don’t think so. Just as any party needs conversationalists to draw quieter guests out of their shells, online communities, forums and social media outlets benefit from active members. If you don’t think this is true, do an experiment and remove the leaderboard—you will definitely hear about it from members insisting it be reinstated!
  3. Games build long-term engagement. Gamification features have a way of making participation sticky—what may start as a competitive thing, if members want to appear on the leaderboard, often turns into genuine engagement. Participation definitely has an element of habit to it, and when visiting on a daily basis becomes a habit, chances are that they’ll stick around for the long-term and become truly engaged and vested in discussions.

People have argued that gamification encourages participation in social media and online communities for the wrong reasons—reward and/or recognition—and that it negatively impacts quality. Also, gamification could lead to resentment among members, when only a select few have badges or high point scores, while others who contribute quality content go unrecognized.

We at Higher Logic disagree—if you have a community site, forum or even particularly active social media sites, consider incorporating some of these gamified elements for your members:

  • Use branded, virtual ribbons and badges to identify members who have “leveled up” on your community, on social media, or even at recent events or volunteering projects
  • Develop a rewards system to help members feel appreciated for their participation and show them their contributions are valuable. This also encourages them to contribute in the future
  • Host an “Ask an Expert” session with staff members or experts in the field that your association specializes in
  • Post “Question of the Month” polls where your members are gathering to get the opinions flowing

The Case for Gamification

Gamification is about applying game-thinking and game-dynamics to a non-game context, in order to gather results on specified actions. Put more simply, it’s about making participation on a site fun for your members.

The place you can start is with one simple question: what association activities do you want to encourage on your sites? Do you have a new mentor or volunteer program that you’d like members to get involved in? Are you trying to encourage lurkers to come out of the shadows and start contributing to conversations?

A myriad of industries use gamification to drum up participation, many of which you may have been a part of without even realizing. A few examples are airline rewards programs (“Just 100 more miles before you level up to Platinum Member!”), apps that “gamify” ordinary tasks to make them more fun to accomplish (Epic Win is an app where you gain points for accomplishing items on your To Do List), and even something as simple as “leveling up” from second to third grade. There was even a study done by a college professor who began rewarding his students with badges for completing their work, which he found to be a much stronger motivational force than the standard grading system, and improved work collaboration to boot.

Our evidence suggests gamification works. Here are three primary reasons why gamification is a vital element of online success:

  1. Members like recognition. The same way that badge ribbons are incredibly popular at in-person events, online badges, ribbons and other indicators of prestige are appreciated and sought after by many online participants. Feedback from many of Higher Logic clients supports this–members love profile ribbons.
  2. People are competitive by nature. Do some members admit to participating just to keep their names on the most active leaderboard? Sure. Does this diminish the quality of their contributions? We don’t think so. Just as any party needs conversationalists to draw quieter guests out of their shells, online communities, forums and social media outlets benefit from active members. If you don’t think this is true, do an experiment and remove the leaderboard—you will definitely hear about it from members insisting it be reinstated!
  3. Games build long-term engagement. Gamification features have a way of making participation sticky—what may start as a competitive thing, if members want to appear on the leaderboard, often turns into genuine engagement. Participation definitely has an element of habit to it, and when visiting on a daily basis becomes a habit, chances are that they’ll stick around for the long-term and become truly engaged and vested in discussions.

People have argued that gamification encourages participation in social media and online communities for the wrong reasons—reward and/or recognition—and that it negatively impacts quality. Also, gamification could lead to resentment among members, when only a select few have badges or high point scores, while others who contribute quality content go unrecognized.

We at Higher Logic disagree—if you have a community site, forum or even particularly active social media sites, consider incorporating some of these gamified elements for your members:

  • Use branded, virtual ribbons and badges to identify members who have “leveled up” on your community, on social media, or even at recent events or volunteering projects
  • Develop a rewards system to help members feel appreciated for their participation and show them their contributions are valuable. This also encourages them to contribute in the future
  • Host an “Ask an Expert” session with staff members or experts in the field that your association specializes in
  • Post “Question of the Month” polls where your members are gathering to get the opinions flowing

Caitlin McDonnell Struhs

Caitlin McDonnell Struhs is lead writer and content marketer for Higher Logic, an industry-leader in cloud-based community platforms for associations and nonprofits. She manages the marketing and sales content calendar while overseeing the content creation, editing and blogging for all marketing channels. Higher Logic includes over 25 million engaged members in more than 200,000 communities. Organizations worldwide use Higher Logic to bring like-minded people all together, by giving their community a home where they can meet, share ideas, answer questions and stay energized.