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Four Benefits of “Gamification” for Associations and Nonprofits

by | Apr 15, 2011 | Industry News & Trends

It’s easy to write off “gamification” as something your mature audience wouldn’t find value in. But when we break down what gamification is and how it can serve as an engagement tool for the members of your online community you’ll see the practical application behind it.

First, what gamification is not. It’s not a pricey piece of software that will have your members using their phones to gobble up dots on a screen in a maze that resembles your office (although, you can certainly do fun things like that with the help of a game developer). Gamification and gaming have left the arcade and are being used in less obvious ways than video games. As Amy Jo Kim, a veteran game designer, said at Web 2.0 in San Francisco, game-thinking is a more appealing term for the idea behind introducing game-like theories to non-game situations. Gamification is not a new concept.

The education sphere has been using the idea of leveling-up (acquiring a set of skills, mastering them, building on them and receiving a diploma for your efforts) forever. But gamification has become higher tech and much more addictive.

For instance, the location-based mobile platform, foursquare, incentivizes individuals to share their locations with others by offering points for check-ins and badges, sometimes even discounts for their efforts., an online community based around instilling a healthier lifestyle, allows users to spin a wheel for participation points upon logging in every day. Gamification is an engagement tool, not a video game, and works best when you have a forum in which to engage your members such as a private online community.

Applying gamification concepts to associations and nonprofits. Last week, I participated in the inaugural #asaetech Twitter chat.  Our topic, and one that brought out a lot of interesting concepts, was focused around what associations could learn from game designers. Most of us agreed that fun can be very motivating and encourage participation in greater numbers, including member referrals. But in what other ways can associations and nonprofits use gamification to engage members?

1. Awarding participation points. From reading emails, to logging in, to attending events, to contributing to a blog or comments, even referring others who later become members, associations can reward desired behavior in a number of ways. You can place different weights on the activity you wish to encourage. By creating an earning atmosphere, you indirectly encourage participation and give your members something to strive for. Implementing a badge system or leveling-up can reward them for their contributions. The other benefit in rewarding participation in this manner is that it allows your organization to show appreciation for lurkers as well as content creators. A lurker will never post to your blog or add content to a wiki-site but she will digest your content and possibly pass it along so acknowledging reading and logging-in can make super-users out of an often unappreciated contingent of your member community.

2. Creating and identifying a group of “Super-users.” Just as participation points create a differential between the active and inactive members of your community, reports can help you locate these users so that they can be tagged as such. Community reports can help you name your members with the most connections, top message senders, top photo contributors, top posters or top event attendees. Conferring designations like that on your super-users not only can be a source of pride and reward for your power users but also allows newbies to easily locate the veteran contributors/super-users in your online community.  Super-users keep your community buzzing so you want to ensure their happiness and return. Gamification can provide that satisfaction and drive further contributions. For example, if a member can achieve another level by simply receiving votes on his blog, he will be more apt to circulate requests for votes to his connections, driving more traffic and (possibly) increasing referrals. Crowd-sourcing also works in the same way where members will frequently encourage one another to vote on their ideas. This drives contributions and becomes a source of pride as the member watches her idea rise through the ranks.

3.  Tracking and rewarding completion activities. Another use of game-thinking for associations and nonprofits is visually encouraging your members to complete a project. This could be a member registration process or profile, getting started activities or management process. For instance, in our online communities we provide customers with a syte sensor (located on their executive dashboard) that tracks completion of vital community-forming activities/steps with a sliding bar indicator (similar to the profile completion indicator on LinkedIn). It not only represents a quick view of the percentage completed of community actions, it urges users to finish what they started through a visual representation of open tasks.

4. Motivating volunteers. Game-thinking can also be used to mobilize your membership. In using a category like top volunteer, you can incentivize your members to compete for the spot. This premise is the same thing that foursquare uses in conferring the term mayor on folks who check-in at a particular location more than anyone else. Members can be bumped out of the top spot by more active members. I wrote about volunteers and gamification in Quora.

Game-thinking fits in easily with member-based organizations and social media as the drivers are intrinsically social. Is gamification a trend or a fad? It’s difficult to say for sure but one thing we can count on is that once someone is engaged it is hard to return to a time before engagement and remember gamification need not be an expensive undertaking for associations and nonprofits. It need only be motivating and engaging to drive your members toward a closer connection with your organization.

How about some other ideas on the practical application of game-thinking?


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