How to Make Gamification WORK for Your Community

We’ve looked previously at why gamification is powerful for online community engagement—today we want to explore the practical steps you can take to make it work for your community. 

Many communities shoot themselves in the foot straight away with a lack of advanced planning

Work backwards from your business goal

Like any good marketing or engagement plan, you need to start at the end: 

  • What will success look like for us? 
  • How will this help us meet our community’s goals? 

Probably the most common reason to introduce gamification is encouraging participation. This could be getting a new community off the ground, enticing the lurkers, or a hundred others. In this case, the end goal might be: 

“Get as many members as possible to participate in at least one discussion, once per month.”

Maybe 90%+ member engagement would be ‘exceptional’, 75%+ would be ‘great’, and so on. With a measurable end goal, you can then get as creative and crazy as you want. As long as you test every idea against your end goal (“Will this help improve participation, specifically?”) then you’ll stay on track. 

Pro Tip:
Remember that the end goal of gamification isn’t a direct sales increase; it’s valuable, well-intentioned social behavior and active community contribution. It’s a long-term business game, and at the start it’s all about that quality behavior.

Build achievable and relevant gamification goals

There’s nothing worse than a gamification system that no one understands or that’s too hard to accomplish. It’s a fine balance, but it should be very easy to get started and appropriately more challenging to reach each new level—if it’s too hard from the outset, expect growing frustration and demotivation among members. 

But “challenging “ doesn’t need to mean complex. For example, progress could be marked by the amount of time devoted to the game: make the activity harder by rewarding those who put in the most time. Ensure everyone understands exactly what’s required to earn badges, titles, or points from the start. 

Remember to plan for the long-term

The ultimate goal of your community isn’t just engagement, it’s entrenchment. By making users feel valued and integral to the community, you’ll inspire them to keep returning after ‘game over’ and take your community to the next level. 

Foster genuine competition and aspiration

Competition for rewards is integral to a successful gamification strategy. Rewards could include: 

Levels, ranks & titles

Most gamification systems employ some kind of ‘levelling up’. This is crucial for ongoing participation—getting a higher level than your friends or topping leaderboards gives us a huge dopamine rush and sense of accomplishment. 

The key here is to tailor to your niche, don’t just use generic levels like ‘Level 1’ and  ‘Level 33’. For example, for a DIY community you might start at ‘Apprentice‘ and climb towards ‘Master Mason’. Members should aspire towards an awesome title. 

Usually you’ll want to show participants how they’re scoring relative to the competition. Leaderboards are great for this, but aim to have members competing against similar ‘opponents’, as this creates the most motivation for success. If level ones are seeing the level two hundred and fifties on the leaderboard, they might get discouraged or think it’s a waste of time! Refreshing leaderboards every hour/day/week can also incentivize newer players. 

Badges

Badges are slightly different. These can be awarded outside of the specific ‘game’. Achievements like going the extra mile in some way, consistently providing fast answers to questions, logging in everyday… Badges can act as small but powerful tools for participation—because once you’ve got one, you don’t want to lose it!  

Real-life awards

Depending on the maturity of your community, it might be appropriate to offer direct rewards: reach a specific goal and get a specific reward! This will often be discounts or special access to your products. 

“Mystery prizes” are another option, where members compete for a specific goal knowing they’ll get something—this often works even better than a specific reward,  because the anticipation of surprise is so powerful. 

At the end of the day, making gamification work comes down to understanding your members and what will motivate them, and having a plan in place. Hopefully this has given you the nudge you needed to get your ‘game’ off the ground!

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Brought to you by PeepSo Team Eric Tracz
I'm a Digital Nomad currently living in Manila, The Philippines. Co-Founder and CEO of PeepSo.com. First time WordCamp Speaker at WordCamp Kuala Lumpur 2017, WordCamp Singapore 2019 and hoping to speak more soon. I started my journey with open source nearly a decade ago as a simple support guy. Joomla! was my first encounter with the world of Open Source. After that period of my life got phased out I fell in love with WordPress and never left. I have been both lucky and at the same time I worked my ass off to get to where I am right now. Free time, if I have any, is usually spent with my wife and / or travel around South-East Asia. Even when I'm supposed to be on a little vacation, not a day goes by when I don't check up on PeepSo. So far visited or lived in: Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Hungary, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, China, Japan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Norway, Germany, Scotland, England and more... Whenever possible, I jump on my Ducati Monster and just ride.

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