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Gamification for Your Online Community: Fun Ways to Engage Members

As an association professional or community manager, gamification can help you bolster member engagement within your online community. We see gamification tactics more and more widely used across a variety of sectors. Salesforce incorporates gamification in its CRM platform, motivating sales teams through leaderboards and badges. Duolingo utilizes gamification to make learning a new language entertaining, employing a point system and streaks to encourage consistent practice. I’ve personally been taken in by the rewards and incentives in Apple Fitness+. The monthly challenges, workout streaks, and special event badges motivate me to try new activities and push myself further in my fitness journey. As someone who works in tech, I understand what they are trying to do, and it’s working.

As the concept continues to evolve, more organizations, ranging from education platforms to employee training programs, are embracing gamification to drive participation and achieve specific objectives – and associations should too! In my upcoming Super Forum 2024 session, I’ll be exploring how to effectively use gamification tools to improve your association’s online community and member engagement. In this post, I’ll share a sneak peek – giving you practical insights into why gamification works and some ideas for how you can use it.

What is Gamification?

Gamification is an influential strategy that employs game-design elements and principles in non-game contexts to encourage and reward desired actions and behaviors. But how exactly does gamification work and why is it effective?

The goal of gamification is to tap into the psychological aspects of human behavior associated with gaming. It capitalizes on our human instincts for competition, achievement, rewards, and a sense of accomplishment, cultivating an immersive and stimulating environment that motivates users to participate.

Gamification involves integrating elements commonly found in games, such as points, badges, leaderboards, challenges, and rewards, into various activities or processes to make them more enjoyable and engaging. It’s most easily implemented through digital platforms, like online communities and mobile apps, but it can also be incorporated into physical environments, depending on the context and objectives.

You can see gamification applied in various fields, including education, business, marketing, and health, to enhance user engagement, learning, and performance. Again, picture the way apps like Duolingo and Apple Fitness+ use badge rewards, leaderboards, and activity streaks to keep people coming back. Organizations use gamification tactics to increase motivation, foster collaboration, and improve user satisfaction.

Woman cheering after winning an online game

Why You Should Use Gamification in Your Online Community

Integrating gamification into online communities can substantially benefit your member engagement and your association. It injects excitement into routine tasks, encourages participation, and creates a fun kind of urgency for members to do what you want them to do. From earning points and unlocking badges, to competing on leaderboards, game-like elements can motivate members to log into your online community, participate actively, and stay engaged. Gamification boosts member retention and loyalty by rewarding members for interaction and collaboration.

How to Implement Gamification in Your Online Community

Remember that the key to gamification is creating a structure of incentives that reward users for performing desired actions. You’re creating mechanics that evoke the social aspects of gaming, like competition, cooperation, and achievement. The gamification elements you use can and should be tailored to the objectives and nature of your target audience and online community. Consider factors like user motivations, desired behaviors, and desired outcomes to create engaging and rewarding experiences.

Some common types of gamification include:

  • Badges and achievements: Badges and achievements serve as visual representations of members’ accomplishments and contributions. By awarding points and badges for activities such as posting content, answering questions, serving as a volunteer, or participating in events, you can recognize and celebrate members’ efforts, fostering a sense of pride and status within the community (Bonus: you also boost awareness of the programs they’re involved in).
  • Progress Bars: Show users their progress toward specific goals or achievements, like completing their profile. Highlighting how far they’ve gotten and noting incomplete tasks gives members a checklist of things to complete in order to reach 100%.
  • Points, Leaderboards, and Ranks: Display a leaderboard ranking top contributors or active members. This fosters friendly competition and recognizes your members who are actively participating. You could also try awarding levels or ranks (like gold, silver, bronze) when users reach a certain level of activity. Newcomers often start with a “newbie” or “newcomer” designation, and you can assign titles with names that fit your brand personality. Remember to consider all the ways someone can interact with your community (consumer, contributor, creator levels) and try to meet them on their level.
  • Quests, Pathways, Goals, or Challenges: Guide members through a specific set of actions or educational modules with quests or pathways that give them a list of things to complete to achieve a badge. Providing your members with this clear goal within your online community can drive participation and create a sense of purpose. One company that has embraced this method of gamification is Salesforce, which employs what they call “trailheads.”

At Higher Logic, we appreciate the importance of fostering engagement and creating thriving online communities. Our platform offers customizable gamification features to make implementing these techniques effortless so you can spur member toward participation and loyalty.

Gamification Best Practices

Although there are some common gamification methods and themes, incorporating gamification into your online community can be pretty customizable – from deciding what activities will result in points and badges for your members, to naming your badges and ranks. This can be exciting and fun, but it’s important to go in with a plan so you don’t end up creating a confusing, disjointed collection of experiences that feel completely random to your members. To ensure the success of your gamification strategy, it’s a good idea to observe some best practices.

Here are three key considerations:

  • Align gamification with community goals: Before implementing gamification, it’s crucial to align it with your community’s goals. Clearly define what you want to achieve through gamification and how it aligns with your overall community objectives. For example, if your goal is to increase knowledge sharing, consider implementing badges or leaderboards to recognize and reward users who contribute valuable insights.
  • Ensure fairness and transparency: To maintain user trust and engagement, it’s essential to ensure fairness and transparency in your gamification system. Clearly communicate the rules, criteria, and rewards associated with each gamified activity. Avoid creating a system that favors a select few and instead promote equal opportunities for all community members to participate and succeed.
  • Create a positive user experience: The success of gamification relies on providing a positive user experience. Design your gamification elements in a way that enhances user engagement and enjoyment. Consider factors such as visual appeal, intuitive navigation, and responsive design. Additionally, regularly gather user feedback to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to optimize the user experience.

Remember, gamification should complement your community’s purpose and enhance the overall experience, resulting in a thriving and active online community.

Evaluating and Analyzing Gamification Success

Regular evaluation is essential to ensuring that your gamification strategies are working and having the intended effect. Tracking user engagement metrics is a vital aspect for measuring the success of your gamification efforts.

  • Monitor metrics like active participation, time spent on your online community, and the number of completed challenges or quests, to gauge the level of engagement and the impact that your gamification efforts on your online community. You want to challenge your members but not make accomplishments such a reach that people lose interest.
  • Monitor the performance of gamified activities before and after you implement gamification to see if participation is trending upward. Then decide if you need to enhance the gamification experience. You may want to review the number of points you’re awarding for certain activities – do they still align with your objectives?
  • Collect feedback from your members to see if they’re (A) aware of the ways they can be rewarded for participating in your community, and (B) have input into how they’re rewarded and what they’re rewarded for. Consider making this a part of an annual community survey – you’ll be surprised how feedback empowers you to level up!

By continuously reviewing and optimizing gamification elements, you can keep your community members engaged, motivated, and actively participating in the community.

Team planning their gamification strategy

Making Gamification Work for You

Gamification has proven its effectiveness in driving engagement and participation in online communities. By incorporating game elements into the community experience, organizations have successfully enhanced user interactions, increased loyalty, and achieved their goals. Whether you’re a professional association looking to boost member engagement or an e-commerce platform seeking to drive customer loyalty, gamification can be customized to meet specific objectives, fostering an immersive and rewarding experience for your online communities.

Learn more about gamification during Laura Layton's session at Higher Logic’s 14th annual Super Forum, April 10-12 in National Harbor, MD.

Laura Layton

Laura Layton is a Senior Advisor at Higher Logic. She specializes in working with associations on marketing automation, growing online communities, and integrating marketing and community programs to expand overall member engagement.