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We added gamification to the Eloqua Topliners community in July 2012 when our community was about 18 months old. Here are some thoughts...
We had some text on the community home page leading up to the change - kind of a 'countdown' for about a month. It linked to a page that's not on the site anymore (dangit!) but included screenshots on what they would see when they logged in after the change and tips on how to gain more points. I had several status updates as well pointing people to that page and even tagged some of the heavier users in those updates so that they'd know what to expect and could help answer questions from other users if they came up. In addition, we did a special one-time email campaign around the change as well. [Note: I'm not at Eloqua any longer and don't have access to these assets to share.]
Gamification was a HUGE hit with the community - more than I even envisioned, actually. I wrote a post about it here: Chart of the Week: Eloqua's Chart of the Week: ... | Topliners
Those stats continued on through my entire time there (through Feb 2014) and we never dipped back down. If you visit the site (it's open) and search on "gamification" you'll see a bunch of status updates about people trying to get to the next level or cheering because they just reached a new level, etc. It definitely truly motivated some folks!
One thing we did to drive awareness to gamification and give people a chance to really make progress was have "Point Specials" every so often. We also used this to drive the behavior that we wanted - people answering others' questions or learning about Status Updates, etc. Here's an example of one Special: Badge Special through 4/30/14 | Topliners
One of our customers who loved gamification and Topliners created a great scavenger hunt on the site so that she could get new members of her marketing team up to speed faster. I think we should have taken this idea and run with it for Topliners newbies, but unfortunately we didn't. See It: Happy Hunter Games! (A Topliners Scaven... | Topliners
As for number of levels: we started out with 8 and people found the jumps between levels to be too daunting. They wanted to make progress faster to the next level, so we expanded to 15 and made the point bands smaller. You can see more about this on our site - visit this page (Welcome to Topliners...Now What? | Topliners) then click in the section "How do I get points on Topliners?"
I hope some of these ideas/thoughts are helpful!
Thanks Heather again - your input was super helpful. To pay it forward I'll share what we ended up doing as well - it worked well and our members seem to be happy with the changes so far (only day 2).
We told our VIP members first, via a sneak peek, about the changes that were coming about two weeks prior, and the rest of the Community via a blog post and system announcements that pointed to the blog post. Once we launched Gamification we posted another blog post letting people know that Gamification was introduced and where to go for help and a bunch of FAQs we got during the pre-announcement (which is a good reason to do a pre-announcement )
We updated our how to earn badges and points document which was linked in the post-announcement blog post: Your Ranking: element14 Community Badges, Level... | element14
In regards to moving from a much smaller number of levels (we went from 16 to 9) - a couple people were surprised, but for the most part people weren't upset. I tried to focus as much on the fact that they were not losing any of their hard earned points and that their rank among the Community would not change - basically everyone would be in the same "boat".
Hope this is helpful to any others in similar shoes