“Gamification” is a hot, hip term right now, conjuring up images of Facebook games that may be a valuable tool for monetizing the social Web. However, for B2B marketers or customer relationship professionals, the badge concept -- of rewarding loyalty, community contribution and then recognizing it and promoting it within a group or across the wider Web -- is something we can apply directly to many of our organizations and customer engagement strategies.
Recently, in an article on CFO.com, David Rosenbaum used the phrase “Gamification. Sounds silly. Isn't.” -- which neatly sums up where gamification sits in the consciousness of the C-suite right now.
Badges are everywhere
Like many of the good practices and techniques that are being embraced in the social Web, gamification is nothing new. This kind of audience engagement has been with us for decades and is proven to have a serious positive business impact on a brand’s relationships with its customers. As a platform, the social Web elevates these practices to a much broader audience.
For example, Rosenbaum refers to a 50's salesman hitting targets and making it to the 'millionaires club' that entitled him to a gold watch, which in his community (of fellow sales guys) was a badge that recognized his contribution and displayed his expertise. The benefit for the organization is obviously more sales, and a sales force eager to touch new customers.
Engage any business traveler in conversation on the subject of airline loyalty and you'll find another business that has been "gamifying" its business for decades. The timing of flights, the hubs they use, the tags on their luggage that allow them early privileged access to the airplane are all part of the game. The benefit to the airline is loyalty.
Feeding social Web content
A great contemporary Web example that takes us closer to the subject of providing customer service is online discussion boards. Standard functionality of these platforms rank contributors, granting them a title or badges as they contribute by posting questions and answers, establishing and promoting the credibility of the contributor.
The benefit to the organization hosting the discussion is that it encourages contribution, feeding the discussion group the lifeblood of content -- and the more credible the contributors appear to be, the more incentivized the audience feels to come back, to listen to the advice and to join the community.
Finding expertise outside the organization chart
This feeds into our professional relationships, as our businesses interactions -- both internally and externally -- are increasingly knowledge-centere. The value of people in solving our request or problem is not always described by their position on an organization chart. Badges can help us find our organizations’ knowledge workers.
People have always bestowed informal badges of expertise onto their colleagues. For example, fixing the coffee machine may be a badge that has been given to a particular colleague through his actions, as recognized by a social group.
Our business cards and resumes have their badges, from letters after your name to professional groups of which we are members.
LinkedIn as the social resume has its own badges. People aspire to reach the "500+" tag of contacts and join groups, to collect professional association credibility to their online resume. It's subtle, but you can describe this collection of badges as gamification.
Badges enable us to find our audience
With the backdrop of increasing privacy concerns and legislation, this self-selection of badges provides communicators and marketers with a fantastic opportunity to understand the interests and aspirations of their audience and then to segment them.
Facebook and Foursquare do this in an overt way as people check in or "like" products, places and services.
In a sense, Twitter also has a badge system, in that people are encouraged to use hashtags to add metadata to their tweets (like #cms for content management systems). Analysis of these hashtags combined with other keywords and profile information are enabling services like Klout -- and we follow to identify people with subjects, or badges. Klout also enables community members to recommend people as having Klout in these subjects through a currency called K’s.
These services encourage people to ensure that their public profile accurately reflects their interests and expertise –- or the interests and expertise they want the social Web to know them for. Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter (through Klout) are therefore creating orderly directories of people grouped around these badges -- an interest, product, brand, place, business or subject matter expertise.
Filtering out the noise
One of the difficulties with social media and including it into a customer service, engagement or marketing strategy is its sheer amount. Badges enable us to pinpoint the valuable voices out there and lend credibility to the feedback we learn through listening to social media.
If a well-known, senior member of this community (who has a badge) has a strong opinion of a product or service, this will be valuable to the manufacturer or the vendor that sells it.
An incentive to segment
In the context of gamification we may say badges, but in a marketing sense we can say segments -- segments of our audience that have told us what they like, where they like to go, what they are interested in and what they are good at. These become segments of our audience that we can address.
Setting goals, providing currency (like Klout/Empire Avenue) and adding badges to profiles are all incentives we provide for the audience to self-select, to tell us about the segment of our audience they want to be associated with.
Enabling relevant customer engagement
How does gamification help us engage with our customers?
It gives us another dimension to being relevant. If we are finding or talking to a new customer, we can look to the segments as a place to start the conversation. If we are addressing an existing customer, it helps us sharpen our services and products by providing a credibility metric to the feedback we get.