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How Gamification Turns Your Community Users into Super-Members

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We recently hosted an amazing expert panel-discussion about gamification innovation and online community engagement. Watch the webinar here or read the top takeaways from the discussion below.

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On 23 March 2021 Open Social hosted an amazing online panel-discussion about exciting new gamification trends and technologies and how they can help organizations turn their online community users into super-members.

The expert panel was moderated by Open Social Client Success Manager Jamila Kheil and included: Open Social Gamification extension Product Manager Moritz Arendt; founder of blockchain gamification startup THX Mieszko Czyzyk; Zach Hongola from the United Nations Development Programme’s SparkBlue community; and owner of the gamification consultancy Subatomic Melinda Jacobs.

You can watch the full webinar recording below: 

What are the common misconceptions and myths about gamification?

“Gamification doesn’t really exist,” Melinda Jacobs kicked off the panel-discussion with a surprising statement. But she had a point to make. “What I see it as is an observation that games are really good at creating engagement,” Melinda continued. Gamification is not simply throwing badges and point systems at a platform or online community and calling it ‘gamification’. Instead, it is about taking specific engagement mechanics found in games and applying them to your online community in a way that will help you reach a desired outcome or goal.

Gamification quote by Melinda Jacobs

Gamification is about “stimulating positive behaviour on a platform”, Moritz Arendt put it in another way. Drawing on his background in psychology Moritz perfectly captured the essence of gamification by adding:

“Gamification is really connected to this behavioural aspect of people and about triggering people”.

Badges, points, and leaderboards are merely tools used in gamification design. What gamification really is is system design for behavioural change.

How does gamification help create meaningful online communities engagement?

Early on in the discussion, Jamila Kheil asked the panel experts an interesting question: “What is the difference in applying monetary vs non-monetary gamification systems?”

This question led to a whole discussion of what is meant by ‘incentives’ and ‘engagement’.

Creating the right incentives

An incentive is what triggers a community member to take a desired action on your platform. One way of incentivizing people is through monetary rewards. You often find this in loyalty programs that give members coupons or discounts for engaging with a retailer or referring a friend to join a specific platform.

Miezsko Czyzyk, whose company THX uses blockchain technology, answered Jamila’s question by saying:

“Monetary incentives can be very powerful. Within the blockchain and the crypto movement the idea is to align economic outcomes with all the stakeholders and provide the right incentives on an economic level to achieve some goals.”

Open Social’s own online community Gamification extension is powered by THX. This extension is used by the UNDP community SparkBlue. But the UNDP doesn’t use monetary incentives for their members. This is because, as Zach states, “We’ve talked around the potential of a currency and the concept of impact as currency rather than giving it any monetary value”.

Gamification blog post UNDP Sparkblue

This approach perfectly reflects what Melinda also says:

“What you are trying to explain with a reward system is that: this behaviour is valuable”.

Even when you decide to attach monetary value to an action as an incentive, all you are really doing is saying that one specific action or behavior is more valuable than another. This is what incentives mean, whether the reward is a product discount or a badge that you can add to your profile inside of a platform.

What does engagement really mean?

When it comes to online communities, engagement is often described as the end goal of a gamification system. Organizations want more member engagement on their platforms.

Melinda, however, quickly problematized this by asking:

“What does engagement really mean at the end of the day? It’s not just about getting people active on your platform. What is it that you want them to actually be doing and what does that mean for them to be doing that activity?”

Engagement can mean different things for different organizations or communities: is it creating conversation between members? Is it sharing expertise? Is it creating user-generated content? Is it participating in events? Or is it signing up for volunteering opportunities?

For a gamification system to make sense you need to think about what engagement means to you, what is the behaviour you value, and how much do you value certain behaviours relative to others? As Moritz pointed out:

“A like is not a like. You can go really deep into defining what something is worth on your community.”

The power of gamification lies in that you can create a system in which you encourage specific behaviours or actions by assigning them more or less value using incentives. The first step is thus to think about what engagement means for your organization or online community.

What are some of the game-changing gamification innovations?

Traditionally gamification systems, as Miezsko explained, usually come in the form of a SaaS (Software as a Service) product. This means that your organization subscribes to a third-party software service that provides you with an app or platform to use. What THX does differently, and why Open Social has partnered with them, is that they offer a unique way to seamlessly integrate gamification systems with different platforms and online communities.

Integrating gamification using an API

An API, or Application Programming Interface, allows two systems to talk to one another behind the scenes. This allows for seamless integration. What makes THX’s technology so powerful is that it is not sold as a separate application or platform, but rather as an API through which you can fully integrate their gamification technology with your platform.

APIs means:

  • Quick integration
  • Cross-platform applicability
  • More accessibility

 

Powered by THX, Open Social’s Gamification extension thus lets organizations set up their own incentive system within their Open Social community platform. They can change what community actions or activities should be more or less valuable, and how to reward them, right inside their Open Social platform.

Blockchain makes gamification decentralized

Another unique technology THX is applying to gamification is blockchain technology. Miezsko explains the value of this:

“Blockchain is easy to use cross-platform. Blockchain is an open-legger. It’s like a spreadsheet that anyone can look into with different software tools. This means that you can apply it across different platforms. So it doesn’t lock you in. This gives a lot of possibilities.”

Gamification blog post Mieszko quote

An Open Social client like Greenpeace, for example, has a handful of independent communities each operating independently. However, by using a decentralized gamification system a member of one Greenpeace community can transfer to another community and the points they earned through the gamification system will easily transfer. This is because the gamification system is decentralized using blockchain technology. For organizations this means, as Moritz excitedly explained:

“You can have this open ledger system to transport it to different communities and to create a reputational system around it.”

Meaningful metrics is the real game-changer

During the discussion, Moritz emphasized that gamification innovations don’t have to be flashy to be impactful. Impactful innovation can also be found on the site-manager or community-manager dashboard. As Moritz stated:

“For me as a product manager for community software, the possibility of adding advanced management rights to a system is important: going beyond badges and recognition systems and looking into community behaviour.”

Creating engagement using incentives is only half of the story, Moritz explained. The other half is using gamification to understand your members’ behaviours, understanding why certain activities or incentives are more effective, and using this knowledge to grow your community. Creating metrics, tools and dashboards to help organizations understand member behaviour within a gamification system is where another rich space for technological innovation lies. Understanding how and why your incentives are driving engagement will allow you to refine your engagement strategy. As Moritz pointed out: “This is how you create super-members”.

Find out more about adding gamification to your online community here.

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