External communities are a curious thing. Why does a user repeatedly return to a community that they aren't being paid to or required to participate in? If it's not an obligation, why do they choose to invest their own personal time in the community? What motivates them to be there?

 

The answer is value, and the definition of that will be different across the members of your community. This is the role of community, to understand the different needs and desires of an audience, and provide that support and engagement. This is where gamification can play a big part in ensuring your members return time and time again.

 

What motivates your audience?

Why do we do the things we do, day in and day out? Research indicates we are driven by two types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic, and this affects our level of engagement.

 

The key is to strike the right balance between externally influencing users to be part of your community (through offers, discounts, private access etc) and internal motivation, in which your users will make a decision to be there because they see personal value in being active community members.

 

Designing missions that target desired behaviours is critical to this process. Always come back to the question "what are you trying to achieve here?" and design your missions around the answers to that query.

 

In short, gamification helps users:

  • understand desired (or valuable) behaviours through instant feedback (points, badges & leaderboards)
  • get positive reinforcement when they execute these behaviours
  • publicly display achievements to the community - build earned reputations
  • create advocates that support and evangelise community best practices
  • showcase success stories - promote achievement and rewards (also know as creating a path to further value)

 

Engender attachment and ownership

The most successful customer communities create feelings of shared ownership and value in brand, company purpose and/or value to the world. A great example is Apple. How many of you, or know someone who does, identify as an Apple person? No matter what else is on the market, you, or they, will get the next product because Apple is a brand people feeling attached to.

 

Bunchball founder Rajat Paharia talks about the following tiers of customer loyalty:

  • Inertia - You don't feel compelled to leave or try a different brand. It's just easier to stay where you are
  • Mercenary - You go where the best offer is. Whoever makes you best deal gets your custom
  • True - You have a personal attachment to your brand and you will resist competing offers to stay loyal to where you are
  • Cult - You not only stay loyal to this brand, you extol it to others and genuinely believe in it

 

How many of these users do you have in your community? Gamification should be geared at moving users through these tiers - how do I change a member from mercenary to true or cult loyalty? Is it through discounts? Is it through personal engagement and interactions? When they achieve something truly personal am I rewarding them for it?

 

Measuring your community

Gamification is built on measuring behaviours in your community against your strategic objectives and taking actions based on the results. So when we come back to the magic question of 'what are we trying to achieve?' we look at the following:

 

  • Mission completion - by member type/location/***/age/location/subscription level etc. Whatever information you capture from your members, look to gamify their activities to get focused results on behaviour
  • One off or repeatable? - What kind of activity is it? What percentage of users achieve something once then leave? What's your conversion rate on returning members achieving missions?
  • Temporal vs ongoing events - do you have a community that peaks when time-based activities are run? Is it an extrinsically driven community or do users achieve more outside of your events?
  • Expectations vs reality - are users doing what you thought they would do? As much as you expected or not? Are they doing something else, and if so why? Is it too hard to achieve what you want users to do? Maybe they need more training or your use cases need re-examining?

 

In conclusion, think about the value of your community objectives and how to gamify those activities into something meaningful for your members. The opportunity is there to drive these users, inside and out, to becoming sustained and valuable members of your community.