Gamification is Everywhere — But What Is It?

As a general rule, humans want to interact and compete with others.  I had a conversation last week about “gamification” and how to incorporate it into user communities.  From my previous experience with communities, I am aware of gamifiation and from my use of many popular social sites, I am an active gamification participant.  But I wanted to learn more about the theory behind gamification and game mechanics — and how best to apply it from a community and marketing perspective.

According to Wikipedia, “gamification is the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage users.”  Gamification expert Gabe Zichermann says that “gamification is the new loyalty”.  And at the 2011 Games for Change Festival, former Vice President Al Gore said that “games are the new normal”.

The term and use of gamification has literally exploded in the last 15 months.  Before August 2010, the term rarely appeared in the Google search timeline.  Starting in January 2011, it’s popularity has remained very high including 2 big spikes in January and August.

Google Search Timeline for "Gamification"

At the Gamification Summit, research data from M2 Research was discussed that pegs the current gamification market at $100 million — and the market is estimated to grow to $2.8 billion by 2016.  That is why gamification is on the front burner for many organizations and money is flowing into gamification initiatives and projects.

Even without actively playing games, many of the more popular websites and destinations today are already gamified.  And most of us are participating in or paying attention to these public displays of loyalty and success.  For example, Twitter publicly displays the number of tweets, followers and following for each Twitter user.  Personally, I tend to disregard any Twitter user who has less than 500 tweets or followers and use that as my ‘minimum’ for determining if someone is worthy of my trust or who does not get what Twitter is all about.

Tom Humbarger Twitter Stats As Of 10/18/2011

Other public displays of loyalty occur in Facebook which shows the number of likes or fans that a company or brand website has received, and also adds an item in a user’s news stream when they like or follow a company.  Many blogs or newsites display the number of views and shares for each piece of content which helps users to see how popular something is and whether it is worth reading.

Social Media Today Post Stats Shows # of Reads and Shares

Other sites are all about competing with your friends and when you join those sites, you explicitly participate in their game.  Foursquare tracks the number of places I have checked into and displays which badges I have earned.  Every time I check into a venue on Foursquare, a notification is sent to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as to all of my Foursquare friends.  Foursquare also has a leaderboard that tracks my weekly progress against my friends’ progress.

Tom Humbarger Stats on Foursquare

So, why do people play games?  Bunchball, one of the new leaders in the gamification space, pulled together the following graphic in their Gamification 101 whitepaper .  This simple table matches up game mechanics (points, levels, challenges, etc.) with human desires for game play.  Each of the mechanics match a primary human desire, but most of the mechanics also impact other areas of human desire.

Building Blocks of Gamification from Bunchball

In the following video (45 minutes in total, but well worth it), Gabe Zichermann of Gamification Co discusses the history of loyalty systems and how game theory needs to be incorporated into websites to motivate customer engagement and loyalty.

Gabe’s key points include:

  • movitation drives engagement
  • 5 measures of engagement – recency, frequency, duration, virality, ratings
  • fun sells
  • loyalty used to be private, but in a virtual economy loyalty decisions are public
  • game designers have figured out what motivates players
  • Richard Bartles studied MUD player types in the late 1990’s and came up with 4 types of players: killers, achievers, socializers and explorers which demonstrates the need to know your audience
  • the flow zone is the state between anxiety and boredom
  • games cannot be ‘too easy’ as they need friction to be fun
  • people want status, access, power and/or free stuff
  • status, access and power should be preferred by marketers as it is difficult to value virtual rewards
  • serendepity is bad, design is good

Stephen Anderson gave the presentation at SxSW this Spring titled “Long after the Thrill: Sustaining Passionate Users”.  Stephen’s presentation discusses how to get users to stay in love with software applications by making them more gamelike.

And in another recent presentation, Margaret Wallace, CEO of Playmatics, talks about how gamification is changing the world.

In any case, gamification is here to stay.  Anyone less than 40 has grown up playing video games and have become accustomed to “gamelike” interactions.  And as the number of marketing messages continue to inundate the typical customer, using gamification to engage customers and build loyalty will separate the winning companies from the also-rans over the next few years.

To learn more about gamification, here are some additional resources on the topic:


Tweets From @tomhumbarger for Week Ending July 23 2010

This blog post is an experiment on creating a blog post from the best of my weekly Twitter Tweets posted @tomhumbarger.

Why The Next Big Pop-Culture Wave After Cupcakes Might Be Libraries : NPR

Insights from the AWS Cloud Computing for the Enterprise Event in Los Angeles « my post summarizing @werner‘s talk…

RT @morphlabs: we answer Amazon’s call for SWAG from AWS evangelist @jeffbarr and help decorate their new offices…

Impact of OpenStack Project Goes Beyond the Cloud Industry Leaders – ReadWriteCloud

How to increase the value of content without ever changing the content another great post from @dspark

Five reasons why Foursquare’s mainstream success is inevitable – Telegraph

What Sucks About @Foursquare Today – an interesting rant and wishlist on geo-social from @jess3– posted on Slidesh

@jeffcutler will cover the BP Oil Spill for 2 weeks for the environmental professional @edrcommonground community…

10 Fascinating Facebook Facts:

9 Ways To Convince The CEO To Use Social Media and Enter The 21st Century | from @Jeffbullas‘s Blog – #1=scare ’em!

Stop Trying to Measure Social Media: 10 Things You Should Be Measuring Instead – Kommein

RT @morphlabs: “We create market value through an open core strategy.” CEO Winston Damarillo interview w/ @socaltech

The Field Guide to Social Media Weasels – which of the 12 types of social media experts are you? from @ikepigott …

Dr Werner Vogel, CTO at Amazon, speaking at AWS Cloud for the Enterprise …

A Look Back at the Last 5 Years in Social Media: … An interesting retrospective…

RT @davidnour Top 10 Reasons Most Networking Doesn’t Work and Why!: Networking is one of those necessary evils for most

Cloud Platform Startup @Morphlabs Raises $5.5 Million from TechCrunch…

2010 Nonprofit Social Media Benchmarks Study – Introduction – some interesting stats on using social media channels…

The Requirements Payoff — by Karl Wiegers …1-engage endusers, 2-prototype UIs, 3-review problems, 4-align with biz

Twitter is #2 Search Engine | Google is #1 by wide margin, Yahoo is 3rd and Bing is 4th… Social Media Today

Can Facebook Best Google With Social Search? – MarketingVOX

Facebook’s 500 Million Members [INFOGRAPHIC]:

10 Fascinating Facebook Facts:

Is Flipboard Legal? | Epicenter | (Is Flipboard scraping content it doesn’t have the rights to?)

10 Great Behind-the-Scenes Glimpses of Google [VIDEOS]: #10 is my fav!

40 Web Design and Development Resources for Beginners:

What’s the Value of Your Facebook Fans?

From my recent social media projects in the restaurant industry, I have become fascinated with brand Fan Pages on Facebook.

In fact, the genesis of this blog came about when I read a blog post from Ignite Social Media where they summarized the top 50 brands on Facebook.  There are 8 pure restaurant brands in the top 50 and I have summarized them below.  To make the comparisons somewhat equal, I added a column for the number of locations and calculated the number of fans per location.

Top Restaurant Brands on Facebook (Per Ignited Social Media)

While 8.4 million fans for Starbucks seems like an impressive number, it is only 4th in terms of Fans Per Location among the top 50 brands.  Interestingly, Krispy Kreme is doing the best job with 1.6 million fans spread across 615 locations yielding more than 2,600 fans per location.  As a comparison to smaller brands I was following, The Cheesecake Factory chain based in Los Angeles has 150 locations and 370,000 fans which yields 2,500 fans per location.

Which got me to thinking about the value of a Facebook Fan.

From my experience in a 43-location restaurant chain based in Southern California, I know that our Facebook Fan Page was important and the Facbook pageviews on a weekly basis were about 1/3rd of the pageviews from the main website.  In my mind, the Fan pageviews on Facebook are even more important than the website because they are current and interactive, and all Comments or Likes are hitting the newsfeed for each fan with the potential of reaching many more people.  If I had to make a back of an envelope calculation, I would say that the value of a fan would be at least 1 to 2 times the average dinner check for a casual dining or typical restaurant as that is my estimate of incremental visits driven by Facebook activity.  From my experience in managing the Facebook fan page and reading fan comments, I know that we were getting people to think about and talk about our brand when they weren’t in the restaurant – and that we were reminding people to come back and visit us.

To be a little more scientific, I did a Google search of recent blog posts on the subject of “What is the value of a Facebook Fan?”

Augie Ray, a social media blogger from Forrester, made an argument last week that the value of a Facebook Fan was zero.  While he may have been overstating his case, his point was that a fan does not have any value until a company is engaging the fan and working to keep their interest.  In other words, just pumping up a fan base for the sake of sheer numbers is not a way to build value.

Research firm Syncapse released an interesting study last month that said that the value of a Facebook fan was approximately $71.  Their report was based on interviews with more than 4000 fans of 20 top brands and analyzed the spending patterns of fans vs. non-fans.  Gigaom has a blog post summarizing the Vitrue report and you can download the full Vitrue report here.

I also found an interesting tool from Vitrue called the Facebook Fan Page Evaluator.  This looks to be a nifty little tool and uses a concept called ‘”Earned Media Value” to calculate the current and potential value of a brand based on the number of fans, page posts and interaction.  The Earned Media Value is an assumption that the user can change and see the results on the fly.  There are also recommendations for best practices for post frequency, post type and the use of short URLs.  There is a further explanation of the Evaluator tool from the Vitrue blog and at this AdAge blog post by Judy Shapiro.

Krispy Kreme - Vitrue Social Page Evaluation

So, what do you think the value of a Facebook Fan is?  I have some additional ideas about Fan page engagement and measurement that I will share in a follow-on blog post later this week.

Copywriting for Social Media?

I was intrigued by a blog post titled Copywriting for Social Media on Jason Fall‘s blog this morning.

Isn’t that post title an oxymoron?

I understand the need for careful crafting and re-crafting of messages for advertising – and recognize copywriting as a profession (especially since my brother Gary has been a copywriter for most of his entire career).  While social media involves lots of writing, I think it’s different than pure copywriting and I wouldn’t deign to break it out as a separate function.

So what’s different about social media?  Social media is all about communicating and you can’t separate the writing act from the communicating act.  In addition, the velocity of the messages is far greater, and the tone needs to be more informal, more human and not as ‘polished’ or edited as what is generally produced under a traditional copywriting campaign.

Velocity – I agree with Jason that when you write for social media you have to think in terms of 140-character ‘sound bites’.    Active social media practitioners need to produce many of these sound bites on a daily basis.  For example, when I was actively managing the social media properties (mainly Twitter and Facebook), I was producing 15 to 20 posts and interactions on a daily basis.  With that level of activity, you don’t have time to write, review and re-write the messages.  And you definitely don’t have time to bounce all of a day’s messages around with the ‘team’.

Tone – It is important to have the right tone in social media communications.  In many cases (as Jason points out), social media missives needs to be conversational and interactive.  Just like copywriters, it is critical for social media practitioners to make sure their writing tone matches the tone of the brand.  Getting the tone right means that you have to spend time with the brand and learn how the customers of the brand communicate.  And due to the velocity of the messages, you don’t always have the time to agonize or mull over what you want to write — you need to act like Nike and “just do it”.

I am also sharing links to these related posts on the copywriting topic that Jason included in his blog post:

Lessons From Using Foursquare In the Restaurant Industry

If you haven’t heard of foursquare and you run a restaurant, bar or other retail location, then you need to run to the foursquare website after you finish reading this blog post and start learning about it now.  This is the 3rd follow-on post in my series of 7 Social Media Must-do’s for the Restaurant Industry.

What is foursquare? – Before I get started, I will provide a short description of foursquare.  foursquare is a location-based game/service that lets people with GPS-enabled smartphones ‘check into’ various venues or locations.  foursquare users earn points for each venue they check into and the person who has the most checkins at a location is ‘elected’ the mayor of that venue.  There is a social aspect of the game as you can announce your whereabouts to your foursquare friends or broadcast it publicly via integrations with Twitter and Facebook.  For restaurants, foursquare is a customer loyalty program that is essentially free for you to leverage and the first (or second) movers in this area can plant a pretty big competitive stake in the ground with a minimal outlay.

A typical foursquare dashboard

Why is foursquare important? My reasons for experimenting with foursquare are based on the traffic I’m seeing in our test locations and mentions I am seeing in our social media feeds.

Traffic is increasing dramatically – Looking at the last 30 days at our two test locations shows that check-in traffic has increased by 2 to 3 times over the previous 30 days.  It is  too early to tell if this trend will continue, but it is a good and encouraging sign that foursquare is rapidly gaining mindshare and traffic.  As a comparison, Twitter also started off slowly over 2 years ago but it quickly gathered momentum like a snowball rolling downhill.

Free mentions – Another great side benefit of foursquare is that 10 to 25% of the users have integrated their foursquare accounts with either Twitter, Facebook or both services.  This means that they publicly broadcast their whereabouts whenever they check-in, add a tip or brag that they become the new mayor of a location.  These mentions are ‘free’ publicity for your brand, increases your brand awareness and could encourage other potential customers to visit.

Automated foursquare tweet on Twitter

What reporting does foursquare provide? foursquare excels at providing simple yet powerful information to owners of business accounts.  Access to the Stats alone should be worth it for business owners to claim their business listings on foursquare.  The statistics are very visual and appealing, and foursquare gives kudos for the inspiration of their dashboard to Nicholas Felton’s amazing Feltron Annual Reports.

The top line stats include the cumulative number of checkins, unique visitors, the mayor and business details.

Example of Summary Analytics in foursquare

The detailed stats for each claimed foursquare location include Key Metrics, Top Visitors and Most Recent Checkins, and there is a simple filter to view the data from today, yesterday, last week , last 30 days, last 60 days and all time.  One feature that I like is to see the most recent checkins along with the users Twitter handle if they have added it to their profile.  One of our rules is to follow everyone on Twitter who mentions our brand or who checks in to a location via foursquare, so this feature makes it very easy to follow new fans.  In any case, foursquare offers some great insights to frequent customers and a way to recognize and connect with them.

Example of foursquare Detailed Stats

How do I add an offer on foursquare? It is pretty easy to add an offer on foursquare.  A typical offer consists of a promotion for someone who checks into your venue and a more valuable promotion or spiff for the location’s mayor.  If the offer is perceived as valuable enough, the competition to claim the mayorship will result in many repeat visits and publicity which should more than offset the cost of the promotion.

Add A Special Promotion on foursquare

What else have I learned? The biggest insight so far is that not all locations are created equal.  Within the 40 location chain I am working with, there is a wide range of checkin activity.  Some locations have less than 10 checkins and others have more than 100.  The locations that seem to have high traffic correlate to high foot traffic and locations near clusters of young technology-inspired professionals.  For example, our location in Redmond, Washington across from Microsoft is our most active location.  Another minor challenge is that you need to determine how to handle the checkins from an operational standpoint especially if you want to track foursquare usage through your POS system – and you’ll have to educate your staff on the foursquare service and recognizing when someone has checked into your establishment.

What would I like to see changed? I’d like to make it easier to claim locations or at least speed up the process as I started the claim process for a bunch of locations 2 weeks ago and just one was approved.  Part of the reason is that foursquare is experiencing growing pains and probably can’t keep up with the administrative task of validating business who are claiming venues.

foursquare currently uses 6 digit venue numbers for each location and from an ease of use and SEO standpoint, I would like to see natural URLs that include the name and city of each location.

I would also like to see more information, including pictures, of a business.  Right now, the information is limited to the company name, address, phone number, Twitter handle and a Google map.

What’s the future of location-based services? A potentially looming issue is whether foursquare will remain independent, get acquired by a larger competitor or get their service overwhelmed by Facebook – the 900-lb gorilla in social networking.  Facebook has already hinted at adding location based services and other services like Twitter and Yelp have already added location features in addition to other small companies like Gowalla and Brightkite who are also trying to break the code for this market.  And just today, a new location-based service called SCVNGR was launched which will let brands or companies define tasks or treks to engage users.  For example, I saw two articles on SCVNGR published in Mashable and the NYTimes today.

I’d love to hear from others who are experimenting with foursquare to see how your experiences compare to my experiences.

Are You Hiring the Right Social Media Horses?

And how do would you know if you are?

In the Inbound Marketing book by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah that I reviewed last week, one of my most favorite chapters was called Picking and Measuring People.  Their position is that in an era of inbound marketing, hiring criteria and performance measurement must adapt to how marketing is changing.  They suggest a framework which they simplify with the acronym DARC.  If you want to learn more about their framework, there is a free chapter excerpt titled “Hiring in the DARC Ages” which is available on their book site.

DARC stands for:

D = hire DIGITAL Citizens.

A = hire people for their ANALYTICAL chops.

R = hire people with web REACH.

C = hire people who can create remarkable CONTENT.

While their initial premise is very good, Halligan and Shah provide an overly simplistic measurement table in the book which looks at just 4 factors.  I think they ran out of gas at the end of their book and it appears that they punted rather than develop a more robust measurement device.

Here are their factors and my critique for each one:

  • LinkedIn Followers – this is a good measure, but it doesn’t really tell how connected a person is or how they present themselves on LinkedIn.  Personally, I’m wary of people who either have too many or too few connections and any figure between 150 and 500 shows that a person is a Digital Citizen and has Reach.
  • Twitter Grade – of course, Halligan and Shah are going to use their own Twitter Grader rating.  But I am doubtful of some of the Twitter Grader results especially when a company account I follow can get a score of over 90 when they haven’t tweeted in over 2 months, the account is barely 6 months old and they only have 148 followers.
  • Facebook Grade – again, Facebook Grader is a Hubspot product that has only graded about 45,000 Facebook users so the raw outcome is also suspect.  For example, my Facebook Grade is 52 which means my profile is better than 52% of the people who have been graded.
  • Blog Subscribers – I’ve been blogging for three years and I don’t know how many subscribers I have because it isn’t something that is important to me.  I do know which posts are more popular and I know that my traffic has been trending up on a month over month basis.  Focusing on just blog subscribers is also a limited way to judge someone’s DARC quotient when you should really be focusing on content and consistency as well.

The industry needs a better measurement mechanism and being someone with analytical chops, I have come up with what I think is a much better way to measure the DARC factor of a job candidate or current marketing employee.  This may not be the ultimate Inbound Marketing scoring mechanism, but it is a credible stake in the ground and I welcome any comments.

My scoring spreadsheet is broken into major categories of blogging, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Other Platforms.  For each category, I ask a series of questions that are graded on a 0 to 5 scale which is better than trying to compare if 300 or 400 connections is better since they are probably both the same.  I have also added 4 columns to identify which DARC criteria is met with each question.  I am still light on the Analytical dimension which is a hard category to quantify, but is an easy skill that can be tested.

The PDF of the spreadsheet has been uploaded to Slideshare and has been embedded below:

In their book, Halligan and Shah say that it is an “ideal hire” when you find someone who possesses all 4 skills (a “4-tooled” player from baseball lingo) because there are not very many of these people around yet.  If you are a smaller company, you should try to get as many qualities in one person as you can.  And by the way, I consider myself to be one of those “4-tooled’ players and not just because I developed the measurement matrix above.  Check me out for yourself.

Inbound Marketing – The Only Social Media Book You Need To Read This Year

Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

I just finished reading a great book on social media and I strongly recommend that anyone interested in social media and market.  In fact, I would go so far to say that:

if you only read one book on Social Media this year, read Inbound Marketing!

The book is Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media)” by HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.  I am not the only one who is praising this book.  Of the 67 reviews on Amazon since the book came out in October, 61 people rated the book as 5 stars out of five, 5 rated it as as 4 out of five and there’s just 1 contrarian moron.

Wikipedia describes inbound marketing as a style of marketing that focuses on getting found by the customer.  According to the HubSpot website, Brian Halligan originally coined the term inbound marketing and which others have described as relationship marketing or permission marketing.  On the other hand, traditional marketing or outbound marketing is the process by which companies find customers by advertising.  The two types of marketing could not be further apart.  One analogy in the book refers to the divide as “spending with your brain” (inbound) or “spending with your wallet” (outbound).

The book presents the all information in a very clear and concise manner – and each chapter includes real life examples and tips, and ends with a checklist of relevant to do items.

There are 4 main parts of the book:

  • Part 1 – Inbound Marketing: discusses how shopping has changed, asks whether your website is a marketing hub and whether you are worthy.
  • Part 2 – Get Found by Prospects: focuses on creating remarkable content, and getting found in the blogosphere, Google and social media.  There is a very simple description of SEO (search engine optimization) along with hints for using pay-per-click and organic means to drive traffic to your website.
  • Part 3 – Converting Customers:  talks about how to convert visitors into prospects, prospects into leads and leads into customers.
  • Part 4 – Make Better Decisions: describes how to make better marketing decisions, how to pick better marketing people and measure them, picking and measuring a PR agency and watching your competition

Not only did Brian and Dharmesh write a compelling book, their company lives what they preach.  In addition to their corporate website and blog, they provide several great (and free) tools such as Website Grader and Twitter Grader.  These tools provide a numerical score of how your website or Twitter account is performing along with suggestions on how to make improvements.  They also have a related website called Inbound Marketing University.  Inbound Marketing University is self-described as a “a free marketing retraining program for marketing professionals—as well as marketers between jobs—looking to gain new skills to get ahead in the competitive workforce.”  The site provides marketing resources, webinars, news and a community forum. along with a series of 15 online/downloadable courses that will prepare you to take the Certified Inbound Marketing exam.

A free chapter from the book titled “Hiring in the DARC Ages” is available on the site.  This is one of my most favorite chapters as it talks about the 4 key types of people you should be hiring – digital citizens with analytical chops, marketing reach and content creators.  From my experience, many marketing teams need some serious overhauls to get people who understand and contribute in an age of inbound marketing and social media.

The authors conclude with a very strong call to action:

You have in your hands the playbook for getting found by your prospective customers and have no reason not to get started…now, today, this minute.

In the meantime, I found this Inbound Marketing 101 presentation provided by HubSpot Marketing on SlideShare and it presents a good overview of what is covered in the book.  This should be enough to whet your appetite until you get a chance to run over to the book store and get your own copy (or read it on your Kindle/iPhone like I’m doing).