Gamification of Communities
As technology continues to evolve, so do the roles of online communities and their users. Communities now serve as sources for customers to discover, explore, purchase, and engage with brands, as well as a place for employees to collaborate and share information.
Online communities, such as Jive, Yammer, SharePoint, Lithium, and Zimbra (formerly Telligent) are virtual communities whose members interact with each other primarily via the Internet. These communities can act as information sources where members post, comment, and collaborate, taking three different forms. They can primarily serve to facilitate private communication within organizations, engage customers with a brand, or provide an interaction between brand and customer. Typically, there are different types of people who visit online communities, categorized by level of interaction and the nature of that interaction.
Community Architect - The Community Architect is the person, or persons, who start the online community, establishing goals for the community, purpose, and the tools to use. These people may be the same as the Online Community Manager.
Online Community Manager - The online community manager is the person or persons who manage their specific community. What this means is that the community manager has reign over every aspect of the community, from enforcing rules and encouraging social norms to assisting new members in getting involved and growing the community, The manager serves the roles of a role model, enforcer, and brand advocate, creating original content, advertising the community, identifying trends in the community and steering them accordingly, and interacting with members. Since every community is different, the specifics of this role may vary.
Professional Member - These members are paid to contribute comments to the community so that there appears to be activity throughout it. Often, this is based upon the idea that if outside members see an active community, they may be more motivated to participate. In some cases, paid members can also come from external communities and spread links or content of their own to draw new members back to their own network.
Power User - Power users are those pushing for new discussions, publicize the community, provide feedback to the community managers, and act as community managers themselves, while still being regular users. These users typically makes up about 1% of overall users.
Active Lurker - With the spreading integration of social media, the "Lurker" role has been split into the categories of Active and Passive. The vast majority of users will be Lurkers. Typically, for every one post a power users makes, 90 lurkers will consume that content without contributing anything in return, with nine users will fall into another category. Active lurkers consume content and share that content to their own personal networks and external communities.
Passive Lurker - Passive lurkers return to a community to consume content, discussions, and advice without contributing or sharing any of it.
Time passes differently on the internet, more quickly. With different social dynamics, it is important to understand the social roles and dynamics of the community and its users. Some of the archetypal roles above are also described by Amy Jo Kim, who proposes a "membership life-cycle." These are the five trajectories amongst an online community:
- Peripheral (Lurker) - Outside, unstructured participation
- Inbound (Novice) - Newcomer is invested in the community and headed towards full participation
- Insider (Regular) - Fully committed community participant
- Boundary (Leader) - Sustains membership participation and brokers interactions
- Outbound (Elder) - Process of leaving community due to new relationships, positions, outlooks.
"Too often, IT provides the latest and greatest SharePoint release only to watch many users turn their backs on the solution."  One of the biggest challenges for the implementation of an online community in business is adoption by employees. This happens primarily because of two reasons: 1) It's non-routine (prefer using other tools, such as email), and 2) Don't like the experience. Unfortunately, many resources go into the creation and maintenance of these collaborative technologies, without much usage.
One of the greatest advantages to using an online community in business is the ability to foster collaboration and information sharing. However, this is only possible if employees are participating in the community. Gamification can target both of the main dissuaders to using an online community. By targeting and rewarding activities like logging in, completing a training course, commenting on a forum, and sharing information, those activities are no longer a disengaging experience. Furthermore, this allows for information gathering. For example, if one receives a badge, publicly displayed, after completing a course, then that user not only feels good about mastering the course, but others can also see who is an expert in a field and go to them for answers. With this increased usage, the non-routine behavior will slowly habitualize and become routine.
Online communities are now an opportunity for brands to engage with customers and increase brand loyalty. With a community, a customer can build a reputation and social status by collecting points and achievements for participating and interacting with one's brand and message. After accumulating that status and collection of achievements, it's harder for one to give it up and leave a brand, especially after developing a relationship with the brand. This type of increased participation starts a cycle of getting people to return. Exposing customers to new content after each visit makes it more attractive to return, while returning to the same information decreases the likelihood and need to return. A constantly evolving site begets more visits, which in turn begets further evolution.
Kim Celestre, Sr. Analyst at Forrester Research, Inc., describes a new era of perpetual communities, where online communities engage in ongoing interaction with customers rather than merely providing a quick drive-by of information. This new era stresses the importance of participation by employees and customers; customers feel valued and engaged when contributing to communities and participating in brand-to-member and member-to-member interaction. Yet, lack of interaction and activity continues to cost communities potential growth. Gamification can identify behaviors that increase engagement, such as commenting or posting, target factors that motivate those behaviors, and reward those behaviors with leaderboards, badges, and statuses. This encourages people to return, share ideas, and influence others to do the same. This also allows for data gathering to gauge user experience and optimize that experience over time. Not only does this ignite a cycle of increasing motivation to complete actions with rewards that further increase motivation, but it also benefits the company and the community with higher quality content.
Forums are a key way for customer-to-customer interaction. However, it is also an opportunity for brand-to-customer interaction. This lets customers know that they are being heard, adds validity to the forum, and makes an anonymous brand more personal. Rewarding users, both employees and customers, for commenting, voting, asking, and answering questions is a great way to increase engagement, answer questions, and allow higher quality content to flourish.
Blogs and Social Media
While a blog may merely be one intern posting every couple of days, a blog is still an opportunity to engage existing customers and convert other readers into customers. Those reading the blog and leaving their thoughts in the comments may have questions or uncertainties that need clarifying. Gamification can help prevent customers from going ignored in the comments section, or worse, encounter sloppy responses that turn customers away. For example, while an employee may receive 2 points per comment reply, a gamification strategy may be to make a comment's up-vote worth 3 points, enticing the employee to contribute more than a vapid comment.
- Forrester "SharePoint Enters Its Awkward Teen Years" by Koplowitz and Rymer, Feb 2013