When Gamification is Good for Social Business

Just like the early days of social business, gamification is having its own share of successes and failures. Businesses who bet on gamification early are willing to experiment and jump ahead of the curve. Like all things, there are and will be good and bad implementations of gamification. As someone who bets on both social business and gamification, I thought to provide my reaction to those who are quick to say gamification is bad for social business and describe how it can be used for good in promoting the cause of social business.

Let's start with the bad and how to correct it. I agree with Greg Lowe's argument in his most recent blog post that a one dimensional gamification system is easy for participants to game (i.e., abuse the system) and loses its value to social business. That's what happens when game mechanics are applied in one-size-fits-all manner to social software. The other issue, as Greg points out, is when the system is set up to reward quantity, not quality. This can be easily corrected by adding rules to rewards that limit abuse of activity (i.e, rate limiting) and focus on quality. For example, reward only when a post earns a 4 or 5-star rating or is voted up by a colleague.

Gamification is also bad when it is used out of context or changes the intended context of an experience. Points and leaderboards are two concepts almost everyone understands about gamification, but these mechanics alone do not always make sense for the business objective an organization is trying to drive. I disagree that leaderboards can be applied to just about anything. Applying points to all behaviors and then visualizing points through a leaderboard will drive participants to do whatever it takes to make it to the top of the leaderboard. This is interesting for a few days or maybe weeks until the majority of participants realize they have no chance of making the top of the leaderboard and interest in the program wanes. Is this effective for driving quality contributions (i.e., knowledge sharing) to community? Not really. Plus, game mechanics that reinforce a competitive environment like leaderboards are not going to foster building a more social, collaborative workplace.

Implementing points and leaderboards as a way to rank users make the reward the objective. Using gamification as the reward ("incentive") is what people consider bad about gamification. My colleague Tony Ventrice distinguishes between using rewards as an objective and using rewards to motivate an objective.

"A reward can either be an objective, or it can be a measurement of an objective. The difference is subtle, but hugely important. This solution [badge as measurement of objective] works under the assumption that the customer or employee already finds some value in the tasks they are performing; there is a reason why they interact with the product or service in the first place. Gamification then becomes a measurement of the pre-existing intrinsic reward, to put it another way, a means of visualizing their story of growth."

Source: http://blog.badgeville.com/2012/06/11/are-extrinsic-rewards-dangerous/

Let's consider Tony's description of a reward as a unit to measure personal growth. For example, popular sites like LinkedIn, FitBit and Nike+ all use progress bars to illustrate how far or close you are to achieving a goal. Imagine a progress bar that illustrates how many steps remain to accomplish your weekly goal. In the example below, the tasks widget informs the user that he or she has completed 80% of the tasks to reach the weekly goal. Here, game mechanics are utilized to provide visual feedback on progress meeting goals.

Instead of waiting until the end of the year review, employees receive instant feedback on weekly performance, which gives them the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments to achieving their long-term career goals. Good gamification is helping users track behaviors and goals they inherently value. When applied correctly, it forces you to break large objectives into smaller, bite-sized objectives that are more easily grasped and achieved. Hence, employees are rewarded for making small steps that bring them closer to achieving their ultimate goal. This is positive behavior management. This is what good gamification does and why I argue it's good for social business.

Social business is a vision for transforming organizations to be more open and cooperative for competitive advantage in the digital age. Business strategy and technology thought leader John Hagel presents his theory that business transformation in the information age starts withsmall moves, smartly made that lead to a cascade of change. Behavior change guru Dr. BJ Fogg states the key to long-term behavior change is takingbaby stepsThe common thread to successful and lasting change is the small steps that are made towards an ultimate goal. As we've learned over the years, social business transformation does not happen overnight. If we break down the larger social business initiative into smaller steps that apply to the behaviors of the individual employee, we start to map a clearer path for how we get from the current state to the desired state. As I mentioned above, game mechanics can visualize an employee's progress making the small steps required to produce the larger business outcome. The key is in the design that aligns the employee narrative with the corporate narrative.

One of our customers CA Technologies applies game mechanics to recognize employee, customer and partner knowledge sharing on a particular topic through a badge on the community member's profile. The social business strategy is to encourage more CA constituents to share their expertise within the online community to grow the collective intelligence. The more questions members answer about a particular topic, the more status (visualized as a profile badge) they earn as experts on that particular topic. Volunteering knowledge receives recognition in the form of reputation that is surfaced on their online profile, and the perception is that there is something personal to gain. Therefore, the story for personal growth for employees, customers and partners is aligned with the story of their growth with CA Technologies.

The emergence of social software into the enterprise has provided employees with the ability to share, but not necessarily the right motivation to share. Proper motivation for the 90-95% of lurkers to share is what has been missing. At the end of the day, employees want to be recognized for their contributions to the workplace. Reputation and status is a powerful intrinsic motivator for people to share information. Game mechanics designed to recognize knowledge sharing with reputation and status combined with social software that enables knowledge sharing is a winning combination for social business.

Special thanks to Tony Ventrice and Paul Hearing for their help with this blog post.

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