Social gamification: How it benefits companies and their users

Social gamification is proving its worth in organizations large and small. In this Q&A, Sonya Barry, a community manager at Java.net, explains how.

Social gamification is about more than who can collect the most shiny virtual baubles on mass-market social media

sites. There are a growing number of social gamification offerings being developed for SMB and enterprise organizations that attract users and employees alike, encouraging them to share knowledge and engage with your company in meaningful, even fun, ways.

In this Q&A, Sonya Barry, director of community infrastructure and community manager for Java.net and the Oracle Technology Network, discusses the introduction of social gamification to Java.net, a community for developers. She highlights the benefits of purposeful gamification and discusses how it can create a win-win for the company and its users.

Gamification alone will not make a vibrant community -- the users can tell if there's nothing behind it. Adding gamification to a vibrant community can take it to the next level.

Sonya Barry,
director of community infrastructure and community manager, Java.net

What made your company decide to jump into gamification?

Sonya Barry: Community engagement is becoming more and more important in technology marketing. Creating a space where a company can have a conversation with its users is incredibly valuable. They tell us what we're doing right. They tell us what we're doing wrong. They tell us what we could do better next time. Someone who has spent either time or dollars to use your product is going to have opinions about it. We need to hear those opinions to know what our next steps are.

What is your vision of what social gamification will look like for Java.net?

Barry: We're still in the design process, so I can't be sure exactly how these will look when we execute, but we have some ideas. A mission is really a behavior or activity that we want to encourage, but that might not flow from basic usage of our forums or discussion groups. A good low-level mission that I intend to implement pretty soon after launch is for a member to change their user handle in the system. By default, when you sign up, your user [handle] is an ID number -- that's not friendly, and it's hard to keep track of who you've been talking to. So our first mission will be "Change your ID to a friendly handle." They'll get some high number of points for that -- say five times the value of starting a new thread.

We're also working on ways to tie activity online to activity in the real world. We have an opportunity to create missions for community members who attend one of the flagship conventions -- for example, Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne, which are held every fall in San Francisco. A real-life mission in this context could include coming to our booth in the expo hall and swiping a code on their badge, which could place an attendee badge on their profile page online and qualify them for a different, higher-value T-shirt or a pass to a private event only for community members.

We're going to play with the concept of reputation scores, but haven't really settled on a formula yet. We've talked about the possibility of having a lifetime score that never goes down, and a secondary rolling score that indicates how recent your activity has been on a certain topic. So a user who has achieved guru status is always a guru, but if that user takes a couple of years off from the community and comes back, it would be clear to other users who may not remember them that they are a respected community member, but they haven't been around for a while.

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Is there anything you're taking pains to avoid doing at the moment?

Barry: I think the thing I'm most conscious of right now is where to draw the line in creating games and missions that will encourage the engagement we want to see while not making the game the sole purpose for some users being there. We'll be keeping an eye on the users who try to work the system in a way that is advantageous to them but detrimental to the community. We already see it in users who post multiple meaningless posts, or beg for other users to label their answers as correct, as a way to drive points up. To me, the goal is to create a participatory, enjoyable culture that welcomes and encourages new users but also discourages users from pushing too hard for their rewards and alienating others.

How do you think social gamification will ultimately benefit Oracle?

Barry: Gamification alone will not make a vibrant community -- the users can tell if there's nothing behind it. Adding gamification to a vibrant community can take it to the next level. Getting a gold star for something in elementary school isn't a simple cliché. A small, positive reward can have large positive impacts on human behavior, even if that reward has no monetary value to the person earning it. So we see gamification as a way to encourage behavior we'd like to see in the community: Our users and customers connecting with each other and with us keeps that community growing and lively. Rewarding those little contributions -- a blog comment here, a helpful answer on a message board there -- can really add up over time. Our community members get positive feedback in terms of points that can help them build a reputation in the field. We get a bigger community with more deep participation that is more appealing for users to join.

Let us know what you think of this story; email editor@searchcio-midmarket.com.

This was first published in November 2013

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