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The Case for Gamification in Online Communities

Written by Andy Steggles | on October 28, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Earlier this week, friend and association community management consultant Ben Martin wrote a blog making the case against gamification as a feature of online communities. He argued that gamification encourages people to participate in online communities for the wrong reasons - reward and/or recognition - and that it can negatively impact the quality of posts.

Also that gamification can lead to resentment among community members, when only a select few have badges or high point scores while others who contribute quality content go unrecognized. Coincidentally, a discussion of this same topic popped up on HUG this week as well, and the majority of the comments echo my thoughts about gamification: namely, that it's a beneficial element of online communities.

In my opinion, here are three reasons why gamification is a vital element of online community success:

  1. Members like recognition. The same way that badge ribbons are incredibly popular at in-person events, online badges, ribbons and other indicators of prestige within a community platform are appreciated and sought after by many online community participants. Feedback from many of Higher Logic clients supports this - members love profile ribbons.
  2. People are competitive by nature. The "most active" member designation in online communities is another popular feature across many Higher Logic communities, as well as other online community platforms. Do some members admit to participating just to keep their names on the "most active" leaderboard? Sure. Does this diminish the quality of their contributions? I don't think it does. Just as any party needs conversationalists to draw quieter guests out of their shells, online communities benefit from active members. If you don't think this is true, do an experiment and remove the leaderboard from your community, as accidentally happened on HUG this week - you will definitely hear about it from members insisting it be reinstated!
  3. Gamification helps build long-term engagement. Gamification features have a way of making community participation "sticky," e.g. what may start as a competitive thing where members want to appear on the leaderboard often eventually turns into genuine engagement. Participation in an online community definitely has an element of habit to it, and when visiting your community on a daily basis becomes a habit, chances are that they'll stick around for the long-term and become truly engaged and vested in the discussions.

There are some examples of research that support the use of gamification in online communities - this study about what happened when a company removed the gamification elements from its enterprise social networking system and this example of Kaplan's gamification system's positive results are particularly good. And this is a good study by the Pew Internet & Research Project about the future of gamification, in which it's mentioned that Gartner predicts that 50 percent of corporate innovation will be gamified by 2015.

Even in a worst case scenario, where you find that quality has diminished as a result of people posting low-value content to "game" the system, perhaps tweak your algorithm to add a weighting based on the rating of the respective contribution. For example, instead of giving 50 points to every blog posting, perhaps only give those points if two or more people have "Recommended" or "Shared" the content (as a partial indicator of quality).

What are your experiences with gamification, either as a community manager or a participant in online communities? Also, any idea why LinkedIn is not doing more with gamification?

Topics: Community Management, Engagement

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