(Below is a manuscript snippet of my book, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards. Please subscribe to the mailing list on the right to order the book when it launches. This post may be moved into a Premium Area after a certain period of time).
A Story about Social Media
The landscape of gamification development must be understood in historical context to see why gamification mechanics themselves don’t ultimately lead to good design.
Let’s take a look at social media.
Due to the proliferation of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, the versatile term “social media” overtook “social networking” in 2007 and became a new buzzword.
Many forward thinking tech enthusiasts and startups fully embraced this new disruptive paradigm and its wide applications in content publishing, communications, and information sharing. Corporations whose business models truly embraced “innovation” began to cautiously explore this new arena outside of simply tossing the term around in meetings.
When enough interest and excitement in an industry hits critical mass, there will always be people and agencies that self-proclaim as experts to capitalize on the buzzing trend. It almost doesn’t matter what the new buzzword is – SEO, SaaS, Cloud- the subjects are so new that while no one can truly be an expert, everyone is in the running to be considered one.
And so, these “experts” saw the growth in “social media” platforms and services as heralding the dawn of a new era in technology, business, and culture. They made sure to demonstrate the importance of its influence through models proving the virality of user-shared brand content and by collecting and promoting case studies showing how companies became huge successes due to their social media savviness. The pitch is very inspiring and logical.
Unfortunately, being an “expert” only went that far- when companies actually hired these social media experts to run their marketing campaigns, they found that all they could do was create Twitter profiles and Facebook fan pages (I’ve even seen services that charge $600 just to create these accounts). Not much substance to truly grasp the utilities of this new trend.
Everyone is now a publisher and many would argue that this is a good thing. However there is an important distinction to be made: the real question isn’t how often we publish, it’s what to publish? That was still a mystery in the early days of the social media evolution. For content, the “experts” would ask the company to send them updates “worthy” for posting and every once in a while they might even provide some customer support using the company’s Twitter accounts or share pictures on their Facebook fan page. But overall, the industry felt disillusioned by this new fad, as the miracle they were expecting in ROI wasn’t being realized.
What most people didn’t recognize then was that social media is much deeper than simply possessing and posting on profile accounts. That’s just the outer shell of its influence and impact. We now know today that great social media campaigns focus on how to create value for the audience by sharing information that is insightful and engaging; has a personal voice; engages and sincerely interacts with each potential customer; and much, much more.
In essence, the beauty of social media was in how you designed and implemented a campaign, not in the bells and whistles you’ve used. It was the informal and formal dialogue you had with your community that ultimately taps into the platform’s unique possibilities.
Knowledge of good social media principles doesn’t necessarily mean someone can execute them correctly. Take for example popularity. Everyone knows how to be “popular” – be outgoing, funny, confident, and compassionate, etc. – but when you look around your community or network, you find that there are still only a few people who are truly “popular”. Helping a brand become popular is exactly what true social media experts would be doing if both principles and execution were aligned.
Fortunately, because social media does have the power to make a company radically successful (and there are still dozens of successful social media case studies coming out on a monthly basis) the trend stuck around. In 2014, most companies now subscribe to the belief of, “If your company doesn’t have a social strategy, it will become irrelevant.”
What does this have to do with gamification?
The early days of social media mirrors the gamification industry today.
Continue reading Points, Badges, and Leaderboards: The Gamification Fallacy