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August 01 2012

5 Ways to Get Email Overload Under Control

If you’re like most people with a connection to the internet and a job that requires you interact via email, then you probably know what email hell feels like. The only good news is that you’re not alone. In fact, the average person gets more than one hundred emails per day. The bad news is it’s not getting better.

The number of emails you receive will continue to grow every year. So what, if anything, can you do to get a grip on this email avalanche? Start with these five tips.

1. Set a Time Limit
According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, people spent 28% of their time writing, reading, and answering email. Most of it is unproductive because email is reactiv…
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More About: Jobs, contributor, email, features, gamification

January 11 2012

Can You Tweet Me Now? Verizon Gets Gamified

verizon image

Verizon is joining the gamified millions by adding social login, rewards and other game mechanics to Verizon Insider, the company’s community hub and news site.

Verizon Insider has been around for awhile, but Verizon decided to take the gamification plunge as a way to give its community a stronger voice and highlight its social offerings. Verizon paired up with Gigya, a company that specializes in making sites social, to add game mechanics to its site.

These additions include awarding points for comments, Facebook and Twitter integration, a leaderboard of top users with tiered badges (for example, “apprentice” users and “newbie” users”) and social login. Users will get automatic updates when they earn new levels. The site also features social contests and news such as gaming gadgets, the Xtra Factor app — a companion app to The X Factor TV show — and text-to-win exclusives.

Gamifiying Verizon Insider is definitely a step forward for the phone company. Is it only a matter of time until your phone bill gets gamified? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

More About: gamification, verizon

For more Mobile coverage:

January 10 2012

Google Maps Game for Google+ Revealed in Video

Google has quietly released a promotional video for a Google Maps-driven game for Google+ Games. In the video, Google pimps a “Play your world, like never before” slogan and a link to “Start here,” which leads to entertaining demos on how to use Google Maps.

The game comes out next month and appears similar to On the Ball, Marble Madness and Rolling Madness 3D — all games in which a player navigates a ball through courses. We also noticed in the teaser video that players will likely earn points for rolling over Zagat-rated venues. Google acquired local reviews giant Zagat in September.

The Maps team developed the game for the Google+ Games platform, which went live Aug. 11. The game runs on WebGL, a technology that creates 3D web graphics viewers can see without installing extra software.

When Google bought Zagat in 2011, Google’s Marissa Mayer said, “Moving forward, Zagat will be a cornerstone of our local offering — delighting people with their impressive array of reviews, ratings and insights, while enabling people everywhere to find extraordinary (and ordinary) experiences around the corner and around the world.”

This effort could be a new way to push the popular Zagat Ratings further into the spotlight using gamification.

SEE ALSO: Man Uses Google+ Game to Propose to Girlfriend [VIDEO]

What are your predictions for this game? Sound off in the comments.

Using Google+? Add Mashable to your circles. You’ll get the latest about new Google+ features and tips and tricks for using the platform as well as top social media and technology news.

More About: gamification, Gaming, Google, Google Maps, zagat

5 Ways Brands Can Use Pinterest to Boost Consumer Engagement

On Pinterest? Follow Mashable to check out our favorite infographics, tech news, internet memes and digital culture!

Constance Aguilar is a social media strategist and account manager at Abbi Public Relations, where she oversees client strategy on social media channels, through traditional media relations and event production. You can follow her on Twitter @ConnieAguilar and read her blog posts at abbipublicrelations.wordpress.com.

The surprise smash-hit social networking site of 2011 wasn’t Twitter, Tumblr or Google+. In fact, it was a site that, even today, is still an invite-only social network. The Palo Alto site Pinterest has skyrocketed into the top ten most visited social networks of the past year and continues to gain traction and popularity.

The image-based platform is a simple enough concept: Users create and name Boards anything they like (Places I’d Like to Visit, Pretty Dresses, My Cookie Creations, etc.) and post relevant photos on corresponding Boards, while categorizing Boards under one of the 32 general Pinterest categories. Users follow one another based on interests, and photos are displayed in a pin board-type feed that is simple, yet visually stunning.

But how can brands and companies utilize this platform to their advantage? Here are five ways to jump on the Pinterest bandwagon to reach an already established female audience and a rising male audience.

1. Contests

Brands and companies can connect and build buzz among their audiences by hosting various types of contests on Pinterest. Contests can range from creating the “Best Board” to a earning the most Repins. Users could post photos of the best outfits they put together or of sculptures built from products bought at a specific store. Similar to photo contests on Facebook or Twitter, Pinterest offers a way for brands to build visually stunning interaction between themselves and their patrons.

2. New Product Approval

When launching a new product, whether a new dress, dinner dish or cellphone, companies want to determine initial reactions to the product’s look and feel. Because of Pinterest’s commenting ability, it’s an ideal platform on which to introduce a new product and gather firsthand opinions. Because Pinterest’s popularity hasn’t reached the caliber of Facebook, brand managers can easily organize, analyze and determine sentiment from the results. As users Repin a photo, brand managers can gather more intelligence, and ultimately decide whether their companies should move forward with mass production. Think of it as a social media focus group.

3. Showcase Brand Personality

For companies that don’t necessarily have product lines to show off, the social networks allows photos to communicate a brand’s personality. For instance, a mayoral candidate could have a Pinterest Board of photos that features his philanthropic outreach and community relations. A magazines can post past and present photos that showcase places it has sent journalists, events it has covered, etc. Each Pin allows for a description and a link to the original story. Therefore, any company can quickly connect an audience with its story, mission and future plans, all via photo Pin.

4. Display Various Sectors of a Company

Larger operations can use Pinterest to nicely organize areas of focus and relay them to the public. For instance, an integrated marketing agency may host several individually themed Boards. One Board showcases photos of its public relations efforts, while a design department Board displays logos and web pages it has created, and a final Board hosts photos of employees in action. These types of organized displays would also allow other businesses to view similar work, effective strategies and innovative teams, making Pinterest a strong B2B community.

5. Creative Communication Between Brands and Customers

Using Pinterest, brands can create Pins and Boards that feature customers’ product interpretations, and then showcase them for entire audiences. This way customers can further relate to products, and brands have a way to thank to their supporters by integrating them into their communities. For example, a clothing company Pins a photo of a shopper in one of its outfits, and writes caption “Brandy A. paired this floral dress with our black lace stockings and brown leather boots to create the perfect fall ensemble.” Brandy feels special because the brand recognized her involvement and creativity, and thus is inspired to return, and the company creates content that keeps fans constantly involved.

Pinterest holds immense potential for brands to interact with their audiences and to visually entice current and potential customers. Using the power of image, companies can create buzz around products, display more in-depth aspects of their businesses, and ultimately create more personal and visually pleasing social experiences for their audiences.

More About: Business, community, contributor, customer engagement, features, gamification, pinterest

January 09 2012

10 Companies That Hit the Bullseye With Online Contests

Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment. The YEC provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.

Online contests and sweepstakes can be great for business. Besides creating a fun customer experience, consider the lure of increased publicity, the spike in traffic to your website, and all those shoutouts on Facebook and Twitter.

But for every online contest success story, you’ll also encounter a story of doom. The angry emails, phone calls, tweets and Yelp reviews. The sharp drop in traffic following a so-so spike, the total lack of interest and participation. And worst of all, loss of money or reputation.

SEE ALSO: How to Successfully Run a Social Media Contest

The key to a successful online contest is planning — you can’t wing it and expect to succeed just because you’re giving something away. Freebies come a dime a dozen. You know what doesn’t? Online contests that generate lasting sales.

I asked 10 successful entrepreneurs to share contests that caught their eyes in 2011, and why they thought these contests presented genuine business wins.

1. Citizen Eco-Drive

Citizen Eco-Drive were sponsors for the 2011 U.S. Open, and during the competition they ran contests on both Facebook and Twitter offering one lucky person each day a free watch. To win, people had to simply follow, retweet or answer trivia questions. This campaign proved to be successful due to the ease of entering, a great prize, and the brand benefited from all the increased fan engagement.

- Anthony Saladino, Kitchen Cabinet Kings.

2. Magnum Heir Contest

Recently I was involved in a social media activation project with Magnum and Ogilvy. During this contest, they put out a call for the next Magnum Heir and encouraged people to first submit a video and then forego a voting period. The prize package alone was to die for and following the new ‘heir’ for the next year, via social media, will keep the brand recognition alive and well. Loved it!

- Erin Blaskie, BSETC .

3. Bing’s Use of User Generated Content to Drive WOM

Bing launched a Jingle contest which required users to upload a video of their ‘Bing Jingle’ for a chance to win a monetary prize. They promoted it across all of their social media outlets. The end result was increased viral engagement and substantial word-of-mouth marketing. A byproduct of the viral component was increased ‘air play’ on major blogs, which drove organic content development.

- Erica Nicole, YFS Magazine: Young, Fabulous & Self Employed.

4. Viral Content is the Golden Egg

Some of the most successful online contests have content that is entertaining to users that don’t necessarily care for the brand they are about. A theme song for a brand, or even a viral video can be entertaining to listen, watch, and most importantly, share. FreeCreditScore.com band contest is a great example of success.

- Ilya Pozin, Ciplex.

5. Find the Dodge Journey

To me a good online contest incorporates offline elements. The recent ‘Find the Dodge Journey’ competition was brilliant. It was like a real-life scavenger hunt with the prize being a free car. Dodge weaved together effective television ads with an awesome YouTube challenge to create the ultimate adventure. Yikes, now I sound like I work for Dodge!

- John Meyer, 9 Clouds.

6. Oscar Mayer Good Mood Mission

One of my first jobs with Weber Shandwick was working with Oscar Mayer on their 2010 campaign, the Good Mood Mission. For every ‘good mood’ shared on their website, in combination with other tactics (hello Wienermobile), a pound of food was donated to Feeding America. Social happiness sharing? Feeding the hungry? So simple. They reached their goal within six months of the program launch.

- Sydney Owen, 3Ring Media.

7. Great Contests Get Emotional

Lifestyle entrepreneur Marie Forleo recently ran a successful online contest for her ‘Rich, Happy & Hot Live’ event. She had contestants record heartfelt videos about their current challenges and dreams for their business. This provided Forleo with excellent in-depth data on her market, and the emotional content made the videos prime for sharing. In the end she received over 250 entries.

- Laura Roeder, LKR.

8. Visa’s Ideas Happen!

I worked on an amazing two-year campaign with Visa a few years back that encouraged young people to come up with great ideas and share them with the world. In return, 12 winners were given $25,000, and we were hired to put on an incredible weekend workshop to arm them with tons of tips, resources and connections to make their ideas come to life and rock. Campaign was huge with billions of impressions!

- Jennifer Kushell, Young & Successful Media.

9. Basecamp Tell A Friend

Basecamp recently held a ‘Tell A Friend’ contest, offering a discount to new users who signed up through their friends. This worked well because most business owners who use Basecamp are friends with other business owners who would also benefit from using the software. This gave potential users a chance to try the software at a great price!

- Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media.

10. Carnival Cruise Lines Didja Ever

Carnival Cruise Lines launched a wildly successful social media campaign this year, asking people to create a ‘Didja Ever’ list. This was to get people to dream big about the things that they wanted to fulfill in their lives from travel to experiences. It was extremely successful and helped them to cross over the 1 million mark in terms of Facebook Likes.

- Greg Rollett, The ProductPros.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Thomas Hawk

More About: Business, Contests, contributor, features, gamification, Social Media

For more Business coverage:

January 04 2012

10 Easy Customer Engagement Ideas for Small Business

Scott Gerber is the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, a nonprofit organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment. The YEC provides young entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of a business’s development and growth.

Business and technology writer Efraim Turban defines customer service as “a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction — that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation.”

While customer experience means different things to different people, it is generally about the sum of all the interaction a customer has with a brand or company. That’s a significant difference from customer service, which generally focuses on a single transaction.

All of which begs the question, how do you create a customer experience that sets you apart from the competition and keeps customers coming back? Luckily for you, I recently asked a group of successful young entrepreneurs those very questions.

1. Our Customers Are Our Models

At Sweat EquiTees, we make sure to feature our customers as best we can. After all, they are our life and soul. Since we sell clothing to entrepreneurs, we have our customers send us photos of themselves in their shirts, and then we feature them as “model entrepreneurs” on our website. It’s a fun and engaging way of promoting our customers and showing off our products.

- Benjamin Leis, Sweat EquiTees.

2. Hold a Virtual Party

Everyone loves to attend parties, even more so if they don’t need to dress up and drive somewhere. I’ve held virtual parties where I’m on camera interacting with people via chat, giving away fun tips, making jokes and answering customer questions. Why not make learning fun? I should mention it was Halloween and I was a wearing a witch’s hat!

- Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media.

3. Put the Spotlight on Customers

We like to write about the attendees to our events and their companies on our blog. This makes them happy because we’re spreading the word about their activities. They also feel more engaged and involved with our company in between events, and feel part of a larger community.

- Tim Jahn, Entrepreneurs Unpluggd.

4. Put Money In Your Clients’ Pockets

Once you know who your clients are and what they do for a living, connect them to people who need their services. You can make virtual introductions, but this also works offline. There is no greater compliment you can give a customer than referring someone to their business. If you put money in your clients’ pockets, they’ll keep putting money in yours.

- Robert Sofia, Platinum Advisor Marketing Strategies, LLC.

5. Call Your Customers

Call me old-fashioned, but what could be more engaging than a one-on-one phone call? Try calling some of your customers, even if it wasn’t part of your agreement or the package you sold them. If you spend 10 minutes getting to know a customer, you’ll learn some incredible things about why people buy your stuff. You can also win a fan for life. If you just have to keep things online, use Skype!

- Corbett Barr, Insanely Useful Media.

6. Geocache Scavenger Hunt

I’ve set up a geocaching scavenger hunt for some of my clients to work together as teams and integrate my product while on the hunt. Geocaching uses GPS coordinates to find destinations or hidden objects. This generates a lot of buzz and is a great way to shake-up traditional marketing methods. If you have a product or service, introduce it as a geocache to make some curiosity.

- Vanessa Van Petten, Science of People.

7. Use YouTube

YouTube videos are some of the easiest, least expensive ways to create a fun, engaging experience. Use a Flip video camera, which has easy editing software, to record testimonials from your employees and clients. Upload videos of your team doing unique or entertaining things. Be sure it’s tasteful and your clients will like it.

- Nick Friedman, College Hunks Hauling Junk.

8. Solicit Participation With Contests

Engage your customers with trivia, contests or promotions which require a public response to participate. For example, I ask musicians to share their stories on social media. The best stories shared win free digital distribution to get their music on iTunes, Amazon, etc. The goal is to get the conversation going to reach friends of friends. Costs are minimal and ROI is great.

- Lucas Sommer, Audimated.

9. Make Yourself Accessible

People love feeling like they have access to you whenever they want. If I’m emailing my mailing list, I always try to add a line that says “Anything I can do to personally help you out? Just hit reply.” I always get a lot of responses, and build a much deeper bond with my audience and customers.

- Sean Ogle, Location 180, LLC.

10. Show Your Fans Some Facebook Love

We really love the relationship that we have with our fans and potential customers, so we like to show the world. Every week on our Facebook page, we highlight one of our fans as “Fan of the Week.” This is fun because their love for our company is displayed to our fans, and that person will then share it with their own network.

- Andrew Saladino, Just Bath Vanities.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Kaptain Kobold

More About: community, contributor, customer engagement, customer service, features, gamification, Small Business, YouTube

For more Business coverage:

December 30 2011

5 Video Game Moments that Defined 2011

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It seems like every single year is “the year of gaming,” if only because the genre keeps getting bigger and bigger. Everyone thought 2006 was going to be the high water mark with the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii all battling for supremacy. Then 2009 upped the ante with a rush of top-tier, high-selling games.

In all the console-focused frenzy, few people expected mobile and social gaming to be so dominant. The Nintendo DS (and its iterations) is the best selling system of all time and smartphones became tiny-powerhouses thanks to intuitive games such as Angry Birds, Cut the Rope and more.

Well, 2011 was no slouch in terms of gaming. This year we caught a glimpse of the next generation of systems — portable and otherwise. Social networks entered mainstream games, motion gaming promised to further revolutionize how we play, mobile games proved they are here to stay and gamification showed that pretty much anything you do online can be turned into a video game.

Read on for the year in gaming.

1. The Next Generation of Consoles

This year introduced tons of new consoles and systems. Nintendo launched the 3DS, a handheld system that provided glasses-free 3D visuals, as well as the Nintendo Wii U, a console that features a tablet-like controller and asynchronous play. Nintendo has always pushed the boundaries of gaming and is almost always successful (cough, Virtua Boy). The Wii U will let users interact with a screen by using the tablet interface or pair the tablet with Wii controllers. One example had players throwing digital stars from their lap to the screen and another showed a golf game controlled by placing the tablet on the ground like a tee and swinging the Wii controller like a club.

The 3DS was a bit of a bust, sales-wise, for Nintendo. This might be due to the high sales of the DS and the pending launch of Sony’s PlayStation Vita, a powerful handheld with two touchscreens, an array of internal sensors and a graphics engine that can trounce any other mobile device.

2. Mobile Gaming is Here to Stay

Another reason for the 3DS’s poor sales could be that gamers finally got their gaming fixes on their smartphones. Angry Birds continued to dominate the games market, but that bird-flinging addiction also opened the door for a range of innovative mobile games to enter the market. The iPhone and iPad are still considered the premiere gaming mobile devices capable of simple games like Cut the Rope, as well as visual stunners such as Infinity Blade II. Android phones, however, went toe-to-toe with Apple’s mobile darling.

Microsoft is also a force to be reckoned with. While the Windows Phone 7 has received mixed reviews, it comes packaged with Xbox LIVE functionality and will pair up with the recent Xbox 360 interface update, transforming your phone into both a gaming device and multi-purpose controller.

3. Battlefield Takes On Modern Warfare

Let’s not forget about the console games either. This was the year EA’s real-world, first-person shooter Battlefield 3 swore it would finally topple Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, releasing just one month ahead of Modern Warfare 3.

Ultimately, Modern Warfare 3 came out on top in terms of sales, but the real story was how much everyday people and media latched onto the competition. It was more than a moment of competition but an example that video games are moving further into the public consciousness. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that both games spent enormous amounts of money promoting and publicizing before launch.

Both games also introduced social layers to their massive multiplayer experiences. Battlefield 3 launched “Battlelog” and Modern Warfare 3 launched “Elite.” Both services helped players connect and converse with fellow gamers, keep track of their in-game stats, view resources on how to improve their play time and share through social networks. The services integrated social into the multiplayer experience and changed users’ expectations on what games should offer to their fan communities.

4. Motion Gaming

Motion gaming had a big year in 2011, precisely because it wasn’t such a big deal. When the Nintendo Wii came out, gamers were skeptical that gesture-based controls could actually be fun. The PlayStation Move, another handheld gesture controller, was called a technologically advanced copy cat. The Xbox Kinect, Microsoft’s controller-free gesture-based peripheral, was deemed too inaccurate to work in games.

This year saw all of those peripherals and concepts become commonplace. Motion gaming is no longer a novelty but one of the many ways that we now play video games. Nintendo is experimenting further with its tablet-like controller for the Wii U; PlayStation is adding touch and swipe controls to its latest handheld; and Xbox recently released an interface update for the 360 that’s all about gesture controls and voice commands.

5. Gamification

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Gamification, the buzzworthy yet cringe-inducing term, has a much-deserved spot because its so damn omnipresent. Gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to a service or system, such as rewards, leaderboards and points. Everyone from brands to TV shows to musicians to sports teams to media companies have added game elements to their sites and services as a way of further engaging their clients.

If you look close enough, nearly everything you do on the Internet has become some sort of game: Did you earn points for your comment on the Glee website? Did you have more Twitter followers than your best friends?

Friendly competition is our natural state of being, and there is undeniable pleasure in winning, even if that “victory” is becoming mayor of your favorite cafe or earning exclusive content for your television viewing habits.

Honorable Game Mentions

A 2011 year in review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning some of the games that kept our thumbs busy. These games were news-makers, innovators and just plain fun to play. In no particular order:

Battlefield 3

This first-person shooter is all about fast action and vehicular combat.

Click here to view this gallery.

Image courtesy of Flickr, brianjmatis

More About: features, gamification, Gaming, mobile gaming, motion gaming, video games, Year End 2011

For more Entertainment coverage:

December 27 2011

How 9 Retailers Successfully Leveraged Game Mechanics

Macala Wright is the publisher of FashionablyMarketing.Me, one of the leading fashion and retail industry business websites. She is a retail consultant and business strategist who specializes in marketing consulting for fashion, luxury and lifestyle brands. You can follower her on Twitter at @InsideFMM or @Macala.

Social games have begun to influence consumer behavior and purchases. According to Saatchi & Saatchi, 66% of tablet owners play social games daily, and 46% of tablet gamers are women. In fact, the largest group of social gamers is women between the ages of 35 and 44, the second largest is women between 18 and 34. Men make up the third largest group.

Marketing to these demographics in today’s economy is a top priority for retailers. And ramification offers companies a chance to engage young audiences and start to build consumer-purchasing habits that aren’t entirely based on continual discounts and free stuff.

In 2008, DKNY was one of the first retailers to experiment with social games by partnering with digital paper doll game Stardoll. In 2010, PopSugar created a more grown up version of Stardoll with their release of Retail Therapy. The online game made a strong debut, featuring popular brands such as Banana Republic, Barney’s New York, Diane von Furstenberg, Gap, Juicy Couture, Topshop and Tory Burch. Retail Therapy’s release showed that social games weren’t just for tweens and teens anymore.

Now, three year later, games are growing up. Brands and retailers alike have begun to experiment with different forms of online games. Here are nine examples of companies that successfully leveraged game mechanics in consumer marketing.

1. Nike’s “Winter’s Angry” Perseverance Campaign

Ending 2011 with a bang, Nike launched an interactive campaign to promote its winter wear. Players assist the athlete in “beating the cold” through a series of actions. For example, players can test their reflexes to win prizes for completing certain actions. The games feature world champion wideout Greg Jennings, U.S. women’s soccer player Alex Morgan and Olympic gold medalist sprinter Allyson Felix. The highest scores achieved between Dec. 9-15 were eligible to win a trip for two to meet a world-class Nike athlete.

2. Norma Kamali’s 3D Movie

Earlier this year, fashion designer turned futurist Norma Kamali launched Norma Kamali 3D, a site that features her first 3D movie and ecommerce shopping experience. But you may not have noticed that there was actually a game within the movie. Kamali asked viewers to find six objects within the experience.

The first week of the site’s launch, over 20,000 Facebook fans requested a free pair of custom 3D viewing glasses with the designer’s signature cat-eye frames. “I am hoping that people see 3D not just as a source of entertainment, but as a shopping utility,” Kamali told FMM in an interview earlier this year. “In the future, we will be able to view, shop and play with fashion in 3D.”

3. ALDO’s Instagram Mood boards

To promote the launch of its fragrance collection, ALDO worked with Dynamo and ALLDAYEVERYDAY to create a Facebook game. Players chose from a series of Instagram photos that, once selected, were compiled into a mood board that they could post to their Facebook Timelines.

What makes this such a truly amazing campaign is that no retailer or brand had yet combined Instagram and Facebook in this manner. In an interview, marketing director Vyara Ndejuru shared that the brand wanted to create a “visual experience for their customers” that would entice them to visit the new A is for ALDO microsite. “ALDO customers are accustomed to immersive experiences; Instagram and Flickr are huge drivers for them,” she added.

In order to launch this campaign and build awareness amongst their fans and customers, ALDO promoted on its homepage with calls to action built into the microsite once the customers clicked through. They the company followed up by emailing its customer base in French and English and by engaging via Facebook.

4. Bonobos Incorporates Gamification in Ecommerce

This year the online closet solution for men, Bonobos, incorporated gamification into three of its social media campaigns. In its Easter Egg / NotCot collaboration and Twitter #secretcode campaign, the retailer hid images of models dressed in Bonobos signature pants around NOTCOT.org and NotCouture. Site visitors had to search the site to find and click the images. The first 50 people to find the pants everyday received a $25 Bonobos credit plus free shipping. As a bonus, social audience members who clicked the little guy in paisley pants received a special code for $100 off their purchase.

Bonobos is applying social engagement and gamification to engage a male customer base. “There is a new breed of male shopper online,” says David Fudge, head of Bonobos social media, “While they may want to look great, they don’t necessarily want to talk about fashion. They want to know how it’s going to look in real life.”  Fudge says that when it comes to marketing to male consumers through games, marketers must “speak to their customers and audience like their one of your personal Facebook friends.”

Richard Mumby, vice president of marketing, added, “The key to making gaming work within our ecommerce experience is focusing on making it social, not making it commercial (in terms of focusing solely focusing on sales). Your fans and follows are looking to interact with you, not to passively take in your content,” he advises. “Provide engaging posts and tweets that solicit a response. Allowing them to take action and become involved in something is the key to a very loyal and evangelical customer base.”

5. Gilt Groupe Built VIP Program On Social Rewards

In his book, Gamification By Design, author Gabe Zichermanm references Gilt Groupe, specifically how the flash sale retailer awards its top consumers with exclusive access to the site. Gilt launched Gilt Noir, a loyalty program for the top 1% of its online shoppers. The members received a scented candle and a member’s card as well as the ability to shop 15 minutes before any sale begins.

Instead of offering discounts, Gilt offered access. And in retail, we know that access and exclusivity go a long way with our consumers. Once they get it, they want to maintain it.

6. BlueFly and Badgeville

Earlier this year, BlueFly partnered with Badgeville to enhance Bluefly customers’ online shopping experiences and to encourage customer interaction via badges and leaderboards. Shoppers were rewarded based on the actions they took on the site, such as watching videos, creating wish lists, writing reviews and reading blog posts. As players earned higher badges, they earned early access to products and special deals and discounts, among other rewards.

7. Valentino’s 3D Museum

In Decermber luxury fashion house Valentino launched a virtual 3D museum, a downloadable desktop application for Macs and PCs. Viewers navigated through various galleries, clicking over 300 virtual dresses and pulling up original sketches, advertising campaigns, 5,000 archival images and nearly 95 fashion show videos. The virtual museum had over 10,000 downloads its first day. While the digital event lacked a fluid experience for viewers, it accomplished Valentino’s goal of continuing his legacy.

8. Best Buy and CityVille

Zynga says more than 230 million active users plays its games. And more than 71 million Facebook users play CityVille.

This year, Best Buy became the first virtual branded retail store in CityVille. In the game, players build houses and roads to create a city, seeking to collect points they can use to unlock new game features. Players can place other businesses in their games, but they have generic names, like “bakery” or “toy store.” Players who chose to add a Best Buy to their virtual worlds signified they wanted the brand present in their lives.

9. HSN Arcade Entices Fans To Stay Onsite Longer

Similar to BlueFly’s goals, online and television retailer HSN launched the HSN Arcade to encourage customers to spend more time on HSN.com. When it launched, the HSN Arcade featured 25 video games that consumers could play for free while watching a live stream of HSN’s television channel. The games enabled consumers to post their scores to Facebook streams as well. HSN’s integration of shopping, social networking and gaming are largely driven by the retailer’s focus on engaging female consumers online.

Making the Case for Gamification and Retail

As technologically savvy, social consumers, we solicit fashion advice via mobile apps like Pose and Fashism. We post images of things we want to buy to our Facebook page and let friends say yeah or nay. So when it comes to gaming, the next logical step is to add some retail fun.

Basil Farano, co-creator of Stylmee, the first 3D fashion app for iPad, believes that retailers must try to make the experience as “real” as possible for players. “In Stylmee, the gaming experience is built around challenging our member’s knowledge and taste in fashion as they try to build a fashion boutique and empire,” Farano says. “We use the same problems that real boutique owners would face to challenge our member’s ‘fashion-ability.’ It is a very realistic experience, which is what we believe the social gaming community is hungry for.”

When brands and retailers reward players based on the success of the their actions within a game, “retailers can increase their perceived value to the player, aka shopper, through rewards that don’t tarnish their brand image,” adds Farano.

By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods, marketing and retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, says a recent Gartner report. It seems that social gaming, like social media, will become critical for nurturing customer relationships through play. Do you agree?

More About: contributor, features, game mechanics, gamification, Marketing, Social Media

November 14 2011

October 20 2011

L.A Kings Are First Pro Sports Team to Get Gamified

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The NHL’s L.A. Kings will become the first pro sports team to add full game elements to their website and social networks, the team recently announced.

Game elements, or “gamification,” refer to adding a game-like experience to a non-traditional source. The Kings are creating “The United Kings Family” in partnership with Bunchball, a gamification company. Fans will be able to earn points by watching videos, posting on the Kings’ website, sharing news on social networks like Facebook and Twitter and participating in a variety of other online and offline activities.

Users will earn online badges and trophies while working their way up a digital fan leaderboard. Earning points will also unlock exclusive rewards such as signed merchandise, personalized messages from the players, behind-the-scenes videos, private arena tours and more. “All of the things you can’t buy we want to be able to reward them with,” says Jonathan Lowe, the L.A. Kings’ VP of marketing.

Bunchball has worked with major brands to add gamification elements, but working with a pro sports team was a bit of a no-brainer. “They understand fan dynamics, that is their business,” says Steve Patrizie, Bunchball’s CRO. “The fans are ultimately their business, so they understand how to relate to fans better than a lot of other companies.”

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Adding gamification to a hockey team is at first a little confusing. Sports teams often have dedicated fan bases from the get go. Gamification is a great tool for engaging an audience and drawing in new users, both things a sports team doesn’t normally have to worry about, thanks to local patronage. Gamification, however, can make a huge organization like the L.A. Kings feel more personable and help fill seats and move merchandise even when the team isn’t doing well, Patrizi explains.

The Kings’ also have to compete against hometown sports teams such as the Lakers. “When you look at California, compared to Montreal, We have what people say is a “non-traditional” hockey marketplace,” Lowe says. The Kings don’t have to compete with other hockey teams for local fans but they do need to compete with other, sometimes more popular, teams playing different sports. “In terms of marketing a hockey team, our fans are overwhelmingly passionate … about spreading their love of the team. Hockey fans tend to be more tech savvy, more active online,” Lowe says.

The Kings themselves have tried to be more tech savvy, including launching a team-selected Pandora channel, weekly web deals and keeping an active blog. The gamification layer is certainly a first for pro sports but, while the Kings may be the digital guinea pigs, expect to see gamification coming to a team near you.

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October 13 2011

Why Education Needs to Get Its Game On

Gerard LaFond is the VP of marketing for Pearson’s College and Career Readiness division and the co-founder of Persuasive Games. He’s currently working on the gamification of education through the Pearson start-up, Alleyoop.

Kids spend hours a day on sites like Facebook and YouTube. They play highly immersive video games, watch engrossing shows on their HDTVs and interact with apps on their mobile devices. All of this is in stark contrast to how they spend their days at school, where educators lecture and write on blackboards, then ask kids to read boring textbooks and practice abstract skills or memorize obscure facts. The cycle of lecture, test and repeat is not the best way to engage kids. In fact, it might be the best way to alienate them.

We are wasting the huge opportunity offered by technology to engage and immerse kids in curiosity-based learning and discovery. Schools should not just prepare students to pass state assessments and standardized tests. We should also prepare them for the complex real-world situations they will certainly face. If we recalibrate our education system to meet the needs of the digital natives, we can produce eager, life-long learners who are well-equipped for 21st century careers.

SEE ALSO: 4 Excellent Indie Games With Real Educational Value

If we believe part of the solution to our education problems is better engagement, then perhaps we should turn to the engaging world of video games to help us get there.

The Freedom to Fail in a Safe Environment

There are many lessons from the world of video games that we can apply to education and see immediate results. For one, games can create a risk-free environment for learning and discovery. In most games, failure is a given. Often players must “die” several times before accruing the knowledge and skills necessary to win. Since a certain amount failure is normal within the game, players will naturally take the approach of trial and error to discover the path to success. This is a very effective way for teens to learn, and it does not require peers or adults telling them they did something “wrong.” Importantly, there is no shame around this type of failure; it’s simply part of the process of learning (and, eventually, winning.)

While this type of risk-free environment can be difficult to replicate in the classroom, educators and parents should keep in mind that creating opportunities for students to safely fail is the best way to ensure that real learning breakthroughs occur. Kids who are not frustrated by failure, who instead see it as part of the process, are less likely to give up on learning. This is a valuable lesson that can be modeled through learning games and applied in the real world.

The Power of Game Mechanics

Secondly, good games are designed to make players want to work hard to achieve a goal. In the game world this is known as “grinding.” Grinding is the hard (often repetitive) work that is required to achieve a desired outcome. According to Jane McGonigal, game designer and author of Reality is Broken, World of Warcraft players will spend an average of 600+ hours grinding before they get to the good stuff. Yet players will persevere because they really want to get to the good stuff. This is important, because math, like many other valuable skills, requires grinding for mastery. Why can’t school be engaging, goal-oriented and game-like? If it was, perhaps we could get teens to grind out a hundred extra hours of studying and attain better college and career prospects.

You might be skeptical about the possibility of making school fun. The truth is that school doesn’t have to be as fun as World of Warcraft — it just has to be less boring than it is today.

In addition to risk-free environments and grinding to reach goals, games have many other properties that make them a perfect vehicle to address our education problems. There has been a lot of buzz around the idea of gamification, particularly in the world of marketing. It is touted as an effective customer engagement mechanism, and many brands using game dynamics have seen positive results. If we apply this strategy to education, I believe we can realize an equally positive impact on society as a whole. If we tap into motivational game dynamics like small achievable goals, desirable rewards, constant positive feedback and compelling interactive content, then we can design an educational experience that speaks to teens.

If you’re looking for a real-world example of game dynamics being used well in the classroom, take Ananth Pai. The third grade teacher from Minnesota was disappointed in his classroom’s math scores. To improve them, he decided to “gameify” his classroom with titles like Brain Age on the Nintendo DS and Flower Power, among others. Math is a subject that requires grinding for mastery at every level, even in the 3rd grade. Pai has successfully used video games and in-class game mechanics to manage and motivate his students, improving their math scores by a significant margin.

At a recent game conference, Pai reminded us that there are real kids behind these numbers — kids with interests and passions and goals. Whether it’s the 3rd grader trying to catch up in math and reading, the 8th grader struggling with fundamental algebra skills, or the 11th grader preparing both academically and personally for college, these kids need us to design a better game. Until we have SchoolVille or World of 21st Century Skillcraft, let’s replace lectures and testing with play and discovery and begin fostering a passion for lifelong learning in all of our students.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, KentWeakley

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July 18 2011

HOW TO: Gamify Your Marketing

Adam Kleinberg is co-founder and CEO at Traction, an interactive agency that aligns psychology with technology to create ideas that work. Look for Traction’s LinkedIn page and free toolkit. Catch him tweeting at @adamkleinberg and blogging at tractionco.com/blog.

The scale of the audience accessible through gaming is simply staggering. In terms of potential reach, it rivals television as a medium. Yet, according to Forrester, 84% of marketers have no plans to use games in their marketing efforts.

Is this a giant missed opportunity just waiting to be seized? Or is the notion of “gamification” just one more chance for marketers to fall prey to Shiny Object Syndrome?

As with most shiny objects, the answer is “it depends.” Let’s examine the opportunities marketers have to gamify experiences.

Who Are Gamers?

Throw your stereotype about “gamers” out the window. In short, just about everyone is playing games. Gamers span virtually every demographic, according to a May report from Forrester: 65% of Xbox gamers are male, 59% of “social gamers” are women, and mobile gamers are split right down the middle.

They are also spread evenly across generations, especially social gamers — 23% of whom are Boomers between ages 45 and 65. Gamers tend also to be more motivated than non-gamers to be connected to others, and they display a higher than average propensity to interact with brands on social networks.

The What and Why of Gamification

Of course, marketers are not playing games. They’ve got metrics to achieve, brands to build, ROI to measure. Why consider gamification? What kinds of behaviors can you expect to drive?

Gamification can be leveraged to drive adoption, engagement, loyalty, sharing, even sales. While all of these are worthy business objectives, don’t get all worked up just yet — as you’ll see with any marketing plan, the devil is in the details.

Before deciding if you should gamify your marketing, it’s important to understand some vocabulary. These terms tend to be inconsistent in the literature, but it’s important to understand the underlying concepts these terms represent.

First and foremost, gamification is not equal to games. Gamfication is the application of gaming concepts to non-game experiences in order to drive desired behavior from an audience.

What kind of concepts? A few definitions:

  • A game is structured play, usually for fun.
  • Gameplay is interaction inside of a game.
  • Game Mechanics are constructs or tactics commonly used in games to encourage gameplay. These are things like badges, points, leader boards, levels, challenges, achievements and virtual sheep you can put on your virtual farm.
  • Game Dynamics are strategies commonly used in game design based on psychological motivations. These include things like “Appointments,” in which someone does something to gain a reward, “Avoidance,” in which someone does something to avoid a punishment, or the “Free Lunch” dynamic, in which people feel they are getting something because of their behavior.
  • Currencies are ways to give people incentives based on various motivations in a digital world: the need for financial reward, the need to do good, the need to help one’s community, the need for recognition and influence, the need for pleasure. We can assign currencies to each one of these motivations to reward people for desired behaviors.

  • Why Gamification Works

    In a word, progress.

    In 2010, Harvard Business Review reported on the results of a study into what motivated people at their jobs. Hundreds of people kept daily diaries over several years to identify what really kept them motivated day-to-day. The answer, overwhelmingly, was a sense of progress.

    Game mechanics are essentially a collection of tools that measure and report statistics. Those statistics represent progress. Collect five more points to level up. Check in at two more locations to get a badge. If nine more people agree to purchase, they’ll all unlock a deal.

    Currencies are the rewards at the end of the rainbow — perhaps recognition on a leaderboard, a donation to a cause you care about, or a coupon. They measure your overall progress, as well.

    According to Forbes, Groupon is the fastest-growing company — ever. It’s also an example of a company that uses game mechanics (a progress bar showing how many people have bought and how many are needed to activate the deal), game dynamics (you get a great deal because others have unlocked it) and currencies (the deal itself).

    How Brands Are Gamifying the Customer Experience

    Brands across the spectrum are using gamification in clever and unexpected ways:

    1. Starbucks

    Starbucks has rewarded visitors who check in to multiple locations on Foursquare with a Barista badge, and their most loyal customers with a $1 off mayors special.

    2. Nike

    Nike and Apple have teamed up to gamify your exercise regimen. Nike+ lets you save runs, set goals and challenge friends. They even have public featured challenges in which to participate, like "Men vs. Women," to see which team can run the most in a year.

    3. Ribbon Hero

    Microsoft has launched gamified software training (giving Clippy, the annoying animated paperclip, a second chance at life) with Ribbon Hero. You can download the extension to Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010, which uses gamification to help you learn the software. Microsoft calls Ribbon Hero a game, but I call it gamification because its primary purpose is a training tool. The “game” is a means to an end.

    4. CauseWorld

    Kraft put utility ahead of branding with its sponsorship of CauseWorld, an app that allows users to earn points or “Karmas” by checking in and scanning products at grocery stores. Users can then turn those points into donations to their favorite causes. CauseWorld leverages game mechanics like team play, points, leaderboards and achievements, while rewarding users with multiple currencies -- donations to charities and mobile coupons for Kraft products.

    Considerations for Successful Gamification

    So, you’ve identified gamification as a strategy for your brand, app or landing page. What next?

    Follow these guidelines to achieve success:

    1. Have an objective. If your reason for considering gamification is “because everyone is doing it,” you might as well give up now. Start with real business goals. Figure out what you want to achieve. Then, you’ll be in position to assess which user behaviors will translate to success.

    2. Engineer a path to your goals. Many marketers have long used the “funnel” as a model for planning communications; it’s useful because it’s a behavioral-tactical model. You identify the behaviors you want to elicit (awareness, interest, consideration, purchase) and then you choose tactics that can provoke each of those behaviors.

    You should use a similar approach in designing a gamified brand experience. First, identify the behaviors or actions you want from participants, alongside their relative value. Then you can identify strategies and tactics — game dynamics and mechanics — to engineer a path toward your goals.

    3. Rewards, rewards, rewards. Incentives must mean something. Game mechanics are a means to an end. Buffalo Wild Wings recently conducted a program called “Home Court Advantage” using SCVNGR, a location-aware platform that allows you, or even your customers, to create challenges at specific places. In this instance, users racked up points to win free chicken wings or a grand prize trip to the NBA Finals.

    According to SCVNGR, over 180,000 participated in over one million challenges and posted nearly half of them to their Facebook walls.

    Don’t reinvent the wheel. Not every gamified experience requires a ton of back-end engineering. A number of companies like BunchBall, Badgeville and Gamify, have made implementing game mechanics as easy as customizing a WordPress site.

    Basic game mechanics like points, levels and leader boards are turn-key, but can be customized to your brand’s content.

    4. Take a holistic view. It is vital that you look at the big picture, especially if you’re applying gamification principles to a product.

    For instance, Klout is jockeying for position as the authoritative metric for social media influence scoring. They use an algorithm to make it simple for marketers: A Klout score of 15 = not so good. A Klout score of 99 = awesome!

    However, Klout is jeopardizing its core objective by applying gamification principles to its user experience. It added the game mechanic of “group play” to encourage viral spread. (Klout allows you to gift five “K” points to people who have influenced you to log in). But if a company wants to gauge the influence of a user, they don’t want it to be affected by a system that can be “gamed.” The second business objective (increasing membership) may undermine the first business objective (establishing credibility).

    While Klout has done some gamification exceptionally well — like getting brands to offer perks to those with high influence scores — their mission to become “The Standard for Influence” is being threatened by their lack of a holistic view.

    5. Make it fun. American Express Travel has gamified a new marketing program called NEXTPEDITION. Players answer a series of fun questions to earn a custom-made mystery trip based on their “travel sign.”

    The game cleverly disguises marketing as a diversion. For example, American Express asked me what I’d do during The Zombie Apocalypse (I’m going to build a flamethrower out of my old grill and car parts). The 15 questions I answer may serve to vaguely qualify me as a credit lead (their agenda), but are much more about entertaining me (my agenda).

    Ask Why When You Gamify

    Many brands are having tremendous success using gamification to provoke their customers toward action. You could too. Or you could totally flop.

    The critical difference will be if you’ve asked yourself “Why?” at every step in your process.

    “Why am I doing this?”

    “Why will people care about this reward?”

    “Why will this strategy work?”

    If find you’ve got good answers to these questions, it just might be time to inject a little play into your work. If not…

    Game over.

    Image via nan palmero

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July 15 2011

5 Best Practices for Applying Game Mechanics to Your Website

Craig Ferrara is a senior gaming & UI expert at Gigya, where he designs the integrations of Gigya’s technology into clients’ websites. Gigya makes sites social by integrating a suite of plugins like Social Login, Comments, Activity Feeds, Social Analytics and now Game Mechanics into websites.

Conversations about game mechanics — the rules that govern how enjoyable a game is — are changing. Formerly a topic mostly discussed by game designers and gamer geeks like myself, gamification is now part of the business discussion as marketers look to apply it to websites.

One concept that has remained constant, regardless of who is having the conversation, is to identify ways to keep players engaged and games fun. This applies to your site as you encourage social user participation via gamification tactics. Let’s break websites down by their common social tools, and target ways to effectively gamify them.

1. User Generated Content

Increase content generated by users on your site. By incentivizing content creation, the user becomes more engaged, thereby making your site richer and more dynamic, as well as improving its SEO. Content is mostly submitted through simple vehicles like comments, ratings or reviews. These are basic ways to get feedback from users based on the content you produce and present.

For example, reward top commenters, but also look for alternative ways to reward commenting on pages. Perhaps allow “weighted commentary” — that is, permit users to sort comments based on each commenter’s respective “rank,” with the most highly ranked users’ comments appearing at the top of the feed. While this kind of reward falls outside the scope of badges and points, it gives the most active users something just as desirable: clout.

2. Sharing

Aside from being both repetitive and easy, sharing can prove incredibly useful in syndicating your content. With gamification elements, users feel even more compelled to syndicate your content. While sharing naturally lends itself to gamification, content publishers should be aware of one potential pitfall: rewarding the user simply for sharing is in violation of many of the major social networks’ terms of services. Social networks prohibit immediate incentives for clicking the share button in order to prevent users from spamming their feeds with random content to earn points.

One way to work within this system is to have users work toward a larger overall goal or ranking as a result of sharing. Instead of prodding your visitors to “click to share and earn ten points,” sharing can be a means to bring users toward an achievement. Doing so gives visitors the idea that sharing has value, but does not drive toward mindless clicking. Instead, they’ll share what actually matters to them instead of just spamming their networks.

3. Feedback

The Facebook “Like,” Google’s new “+1” and other reaction buttons serve as both content contribution and sharing tools. They allow users to express an opinion with just one click. Furthermore, you can incorporate gamification by rewarding users for “liking” content on your site — prioritize the opinions and feed activity of highly ranked users. For example, when a website’s activity feed displays popular articles and top user reactions, a visitor will likely feel more compelled to click. Think in terms of Roger Ebert giving “a thumbs up” to a movie versus relying on someone less influential.

The benefits of showing ranked reactions in the activity feed are two-fold here — not only will the user expose content to others on the site, but they will also showcase their rank, thus encouraging others to achieve the same status.

4. Social Login

Social login brings an invaluable layer into the game: a user’s social graph. A basic principal in game mechanics states that users are more inclined to participate if they have some real world benefit behind the rewards. This can be as simple as increased reputation within a community. Once a user logs in via social APIs such as Facebook Connect or Twitter, she can then compare herself with gaming friends as well as social network friends, all in one space.

Now your visitor knows some people in the site community — but they’re still new to the game. How can we encourage participation? Maybe award them small amounts of points just for clicking around, or more points for remaining on a page and consuming content. Therefore, a user who may have no initial interest in earning badges will still be able to advance in the rankings given their increase in participation points. As soon as they recognize the value in earning points (perhaps their comment appears higher in the activity feed), they’ll get hooked and consciously participate. Keeping users involved in the game without any effort on their behalf is a great strategy for converting them into active gamers.

5. Keeping Score

Any good game mechanics implementation goes out of its way to educate users on achieving and advancing within a system. For instance, offer instructions alongside every badge, and show an indicator of their progress within that achievement. At the same time, you don’t want to bombard site visitors with constant, blazing reminders. Instead, consider using simple JavaScript notifications that don’t monopolize valuable site real estate.

Of course what good are all these badges and points if you can’t show them off? By integrating game mechanics into activity feeds and leaderboards, you allow your users to do just that — all while putting a human face to the game. Activity feeds not only allow users to find their friends within their social graph, but also to view their friends’ badges. In turn, those participating in the game learn how to unlock badges for themselves. Any good game mechanics implementation should go out of its way to inform the user about how to level-up.

Follow these pointers to connect your site’s social elements with game mechanics that allow you to reach both your passive and enthusiastic “gamers.” Keep in mind that tying rewards to your existing social elements is just as important as the rewards themselves. Just as with social games like FarmVille or World of Warcraft, participants should feel as if they’re part of a community through which they can proudly syndicate their achievements.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, yurok

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July 06 2011

7 Winning Examples of Game Mechanics in Action

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the books Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, now available) and Funware in Action (Manning, Q3/2010). He is also the CEO of professional mobile social networking startup beamME and frequently muses about games and the world at funwareblog.com.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems. In other words, it means taking the best lessons from games like FarmVille, World of Warcraft and Angry Birds, and using them in business. Whether targeted at customers or employees, across industries as diverse as technology, health care, education, consumer products, entertainment and travel, gamification’s impact can already be felt.

While some have criticized the concept of gamification as shallow or demeaning, the initial findings from gamification specialists are nothing short of astonishing. Regardless of your business model, the following seven gamified innovations should inspire you to strategize via game analysis.

1. Make a Market: Foursquare

The first incarnation of the location-based networking field was littered with carnage, leading many to write off the entire concept. But Foursquare’s founders, veterans of the now defunct Dodgeball, succeeded with an ace in the hole: game mechanics. Exposed to the concept while working at Area/Code (Zynga’s recently acquired New York City-based game design shop), Dennis and Naveen concluded that mobile social networking would work if you were to change the dynamic from multiplayer to single player.

Instead of depending on the action of the crowd to provide intrinsic reinforcement (e.g. “Hey, you’re around the corner. Let’s grab a beer!”), Foursquare overcame the empty bar problem by becoming a single-player game. The user competes for badges and mayorships whether or not anyone is there to meet him. In the process, Foursquare proved that location-based networking wasn’t doomed to fail, that simple game mechanics can affect behavior, and that you can engage 10 million customers — all while raising $50 million.

2. Get Fit: NextJump

When you listen to NextJump CEO Charlie Kim describe his zeal for physical fitness, you immediately understand the energy that has propelled this interactive marketing platform into one of the nation’s fastest growing businesses. But keeping fit isn’t just Kim’s personal goal — he told me it’s also a practice he believes his employees should value as a tool for improving their lives, reducing company insurance costs and preventing employee absenteeism. To achieve those goals, NextJump installed gyms in its offices, and built a custom application that enabled employees to check in to each workout. Ultimately, they rewarded the top performers with a cash prize. After implementation, around 12% of the company’s staff began a regular workout regimen.

But Kim wasn’t satisfied. By leveraging the power of gamification, he retooled the fitness “game” to become a team sport. Now NextJump employees could form regionally based teams, check in to workouts and see their team performance on a leaderboard. Leveraging the game themes of tribalism and competition had an astonishing effect on behavior. Today, 70% of NextJump employees exercise regularly — enough to save the company millions in work attendance and insurance costs over the medium term — all the while making the workplace healthier and happier.

3. Slow Down and Smell the Money: Kevin Richardson

In many countries, speed cameras snare thousands of drivers each year — a quick shutter flash earns a miserable ticket in the mailbox. In some countries, particularly in Scandinavia, ticket amounts correspond with the driver’s salary, rather than his speed. But Kevin Richardson, game designer at MTV’s San Francisco office, re-imagined the experience using game thinking.

His innovative Speed Camera Lottery idea rewards those drivers who obey the posted limit by entering them into a lottery. The compliant drivers then split the proceeds generated from speeders. Richardson used gamification concepts to turn an negative reinforcement system into a positive, incremental experience.

When tested at a checkpoint in Stockholm, average driver speed was reduced by 20%. If the plan were scaled across the U.S., the results could mean thousands fewer injuries, millions of dollars worth of reduced costs and substantial environmental benefits.

4. Generate Ad Revenues: Psych & NBC/Universal.

Psych is a popular program on the USA Network, but these days, creating value for TV advertisers means connecting to the web and social media in creative ways. Enter Club Psych, the online brand platform for the show, and among the first major media platforms to get gamified.

The brainchild of NBC/Universal executive Jesse Redniss, Club Psych implemented gamified incentives to raise page views by over 130% and return visits by 40%. The resulting rise in engagement has generated substantial revenue for the company, bringing registered user counts from 400,000 to nearly 3 million since the launch of the gamified version. The media conglomerate has since embraced the strategy across properties, bringing gamification to ratings leaders like Top Chef and the The Real Housewives.

Other content publishers, like Playboy, have seen similar results. Their Miss Social Facebook app has achieved an 85% re-engagement rate and 60% monthly revenue growth with gamification.

5. Make Research & Evangelism Count: Crowdtap

Getting product feedback is a costly and challenging effort. Therefore, most marketers have come to loathe ineffective surveys and expensive focus groups. Enter Crowdtap, the hot New York City startup launched earlier this year that reached $1 million in revenue and 100,000 users in just over 90 days. The company offers consumers gamified rewards to complete research tasks and to share brand advocacy with others — something mere market research simply cannot do.

Through the use of gamified, virtual rewards, the company has been able to raise average user participation by 2.5 times, thus reducing research costs by 80% or more for key clients. By targeting consumer rewards along a motivational (not demographic) axis, CEO Brandon Evans reports that competition-oriented users are four times more likely to create quality comments and 12 times more likely to refer others to the platform. Instead of competing against the system, they challenge themselves and peers to excel — an extraordinary achievement by any measure.

6. Save the Planet: RecycleBank

Modern life is wasteful, and easy fixes are rare. By tapping into people’s desire for reward and competition through gamified experiences, governments, utilities and entrepreneurial powerhouses are rewriting the rules of sustainability — and making the world a better place.

In a Medford, MA pilot program, households competed in an energy smackdown in which the winning family managed to lower its carbon footprint by 63%. In a program called Putnam RISE, Indiana families are making thousands of pledges to reduce power usage through a competition. The schools whose families conserve the most energy receive a cash prize. And across the country, incentives experts at Recyclebank are using the power of gamification to radically improve home environmental compliance. So far, they’ve utilized game mechanics such as points, challenges and rewards to drive breakthroughs. For example, the project has seen a 16% increase in recycling in Philadelphia, where the recycling rate has broken 20% for the first time in history.

7. Make Teaching Fun: Ananth Pai

As former globetrotting business executive turned elementary school teacher, Ananth Pai has seen it all. But when he inherited his class in White Bear Lake, MN, Pai realized there had to be a better, more engaging way to teach. So he grouped students by learning style, and retooled the curriculum to make use of off-the-shelf games (both edutainment and entertainment) to teach reading, math and other subjects. Students play on Nintendo DS and PCs, both single and multiplayer, for example. Their overall point scores are tabulated and shared using leaderboards.

In the space of 18 weeks, Mr. Pai’s class went from below third grade average reading and math levels to mid-fourth grade. The classroom success is supported by video interviews with his kids, who say “Learning with Mr. Pai is fun and social.”

In addition to these seven great tips, dozens more success stories pour in each week, underscoring the tremendous investment of time and money into gamification. Gartner Group estimates that by 2015, 70% of the Forbes Global 2000 will be using gamified apps, and M2 Research forecasts that U.S. companies alone will spend $1.6 billion on gamification products and services by that same year.

Gamification spans the gamut — from the hundreds of startups that launch with game mechanics incorporated into their products, to the big brands that make gamification a hallmark strategy. Regardless, the message is the same: the future will be more connected, more social and more fun than ever before.

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May 28 2011

Beyond Badges: 3 Smart Ways to Gamify Your Startup

game image

Rajat Paharia is the founder and chief product officer at Bunchball. You can follow him on Twitter @Bunchball and read his blog.

Gamification, or the use of game mechanics in non-gaming contexts, has quickly made its way into the lexicon of the marketing and tech world. Companies in every industry imaginable are trying to tap into this powerful new strategy for influencing and motivating their customers, employees and fans.

Blindly slapping badges and points on your site isn’t going to work. Like any technology or methodology, there’s a right and wrong way to implement gamification.

Here are three key strategies for creating a gaming solution that has lasting value and truly engages consumers and site visitors.

1. What Is Your Core Experience?

What is the core experience that you’re trying to gamify? Understanding this dictates everything else you’re going to do, so it’s crucial to set this foundation correctly and understand both the experience and your users. Here are just a few of the many core experience types:

  • A content and community site for fans of a TV show or musical artist: Your users are fans who have a passionate interest in something and want to indulge and share that passion.
  • An expense-reporting application: Your users are employees who are dealing with a necessary evil in order to get paid.
  • An ecommerce website: Your users are customers who are looking for a trusted vendor, a good deal and quality information that can help them make an informed purchase decision.
  • Complex media creation software: Your users are people who are probably using 10% of the available functionality of the software and need a compelling reason to move up the mastery curve.

What’s your core experience is?

2. Know Your Business

Now that you know what your core experience is, you need to have a point of view about what’s good. Typically, this flows naturally from answering the question, “How does my business make money?”

Sometimes this is pretty straightforward. We make money from online advertising, so more pageviews = more money. Therefore, pageviews are good. Other times, it’s less straightforward.

If you were going to gamify an email client, what’s good? Responding quickly? Having an empty inbox? Dealing with high priority items first? It’s not always an easy question to answer, but you need to have a point view, because a) You want your gamification program to generate value, and b) You need to be tracking and rewarding the right behaviors. Here are some examples:

  • Passionate interest sites are typically ad and sponsorship driven, so content consumption and content sharing is good.
  • Some applications are a pain to use but are necessary for business. Getting employees to use them in a timely manner is good.
  • Quality information sites thrive on user-generated content. So, content creation and content moderation is good.
  • Mastery curve applications are powerful but also very complex. Users typically would like to learn more about how they work, but don’t have the time or inclination to go through dry tutorials and training. (Think Microsoft Word or Adobe Illustrator.) For a user to get the full value out of the application, and be willing to pay for upgrades once the next version comes around, the application developer needs the end user to understand the capabilities of the software, and develop fluency in using them.

3. Know Your User

At the end of the day, whenever we engage with anything, we’re always asking, either consciously or unconsciously, “What’s in it for me?” Your core experience provides value to the user in some manner:

  • Passionate interest sites satisfy my desire to know more about a topic.
  • Necessary but complicated applications accomplish business goals.
  • Quality information sites help me make informed decisions.
  • Mastery curve applications help me work better.

If your core experience doesn’t provide value, then you’re in trouble. The next challenge, however, is trying to influence and motivate behavior around that core value. What is meaningful value? The answer depends on your users, the context, the community of people participating, and the core experience.

Let’s take a stab at our example sites and see what kind of meaningful value we can provide. To make things clearer, I’ve provided fictional illustrative examples below. Note that meaningful value doesn’t need to mean dollars.

  • Passionate interest: A Kanye West fan site rewards me with status (“Top 10 Fans”), unlocking exclusive access to content (music, wallpapers, ringtones) and early access to concert tickets for sharing music with friends on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Difficult but necessary app: Employees earn points for filling out expense reports, with the number of points earned being proportional to how much time has elapsed since the first expense on the report. If it’s within one to two days, the user gets 100 points, three to four days, 50 points, five to six days, 25 points, etc. Employees are heavily incented to fill out expense reports quickly. They can redeem points for chances to win paid time off, gift certificates and other dollar value goods.
  • Quality information: JoesBikes.com rewards me with status and reputation (5-star reviewer) as well as more powerful moderation abilities (edit anyone else’s review) for writing good quality product reviews.
  • Mastery curve: Microsoft’s Ribbon Hero 2 rewards me with unlocking an entertaining story and a feeling of mastery for going through the tutorial content embedded within (this one is real).

  • Conclusion

    Following these three key strategies will put you on the road to implementing a compelling gamification solution. You’ll be asking all the right questions, so that when it comes time to start designing and implementing, you’ll have a solid foundation of understanding on which to build a solution that drives meaningful value for your business and for your users.

    Image courtesy of iStockphoto, yurok

    More About: business, gamification, gamify, social media, startup

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May 27 2011

How Social Media and Game Theory Can Motivate Students

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Patrick Supanc is the President of College and Career Readiness at Pearson, where he focuses on new market development, digital innovation and product strategy. He has been a teacher in Indonesia, an education policy adviser at the World Bank and UN, and led K-12 market development at Blackboard.

Social media and online games have the potential to convey 21st century skills that aren’t necessarily part of school curricula — things like time management, leadership, teamwork and creative problem solving that will prepare teens for success in college and beyond. Making the transition between a highly structured environment in high school to a self-driven, unstructured environment in college can prove a huge challenge for many kids.

Educators spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix this problem. The solution doesn’t lie solely with games, but a lot of the psychology that motivates teens to play games holds potential. We need to figure out how to tap in.

The Status Update and Checkins

If teens feel empowered to broadcast a goal via a status update to a group of their peers, it becomes more real. Other people see it, comment on it, and offer positive reinforcement. That same strategy could be used for academic goals like performing well on tests. Closed networks can help students reach for educational goals and ask for help. These kinds of networks can be a great way for kids to know they’re not alone, and shouldn’t be ashamed to seek assistance.

In a similar way, checkins don’t necessarily have to be location-based. People check in because they’re driven toward some kind of status or reward. Teachers, parents, and students can start using checkins to monitor time management skills, show the progress of a student over time, and drive toward very specific goals (or rewards). Think of a network where a teen could check in to a certain class or subject. Updates like “Christina just checked into quadratic equations” could show her peers what she’s working on, encourage participation, and allow others working on a similar subject matter to pitch in.


As anyone who grew up in the video game generation would know, leaderboards are an incredibly strong motivator. They’re surprisingly underused in education, considering their simplicity and that they’re completely powered by participants’ desires to do better.

Many students are motivated by friendly competition. They are also driven by the need to compare themselves to others. Leaderboards can foster this in a healthy way and encourage people to try harder with little incentive other than positive recognition. Why not set up a school-wide, inter-school or even nationwide leaderboard, similar to what Nike+ did to make an otherwise potentially mundane activity (running) fun?

Leveling Up

Game mechanics can be built into daunting coursework to help students understand complex problems. Anything that naturally has a step-by-step, logical process (like math, for example) can be easily converted to a game that uses levels to convey a sense of achievement along the way. This is called a “progression dynamic.”

Games are great for delivering relevant feedback in the form of a mission, level, quest or objective. The best games are just hard enough to keep users interested but offer enough frequent and positive feedback to make sure participants are having fun.

Social media and games have an incredible power to keep us engaged and connected. We’re probably a bit far from a future where kids say, “I can’t stop learning,” rather than “Five more minutes on my Xbox 360.” But understanding the psychology of games and applying it to the way kids learn can help us break down persistent challenges. And, we might just have some fun along the way.

For more lists, how-tos and other resources on this topic, check out Mashable Explore!

Image courtesy of Flickr, smemon87

More About: education, gamification, gaming, Kids, parenting, social media, teachers, video games

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April 15 2011

Do We Need an Online Trophy Case For Our Digital Achievements?

This post is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark as a new part of the Spark of Genius series that focuses on a new and innovative startup each day. Every Thursday, the program focuses on startups within the BizSpark program and what they’re doing to grow.

In the digital realm, achievements take the shape of badges, pins, points, stamps and other paraphernalia that startups and games dole out to users who check in at locations, complete tasks or repeat some form of “good” behavior.

To some, these achievements are meaningless baubles. To others, they are trophies to be celebrated with friends. For the latter group there exists Score.ly, a fledgling startup.

Score.ly aggregates badges and activities via APIs from 12 different social media and entertainment sites. On Score.ly, users connect accounts such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Gowalla, GetGlue, Flickr, XBox Live, Netflix and so forth, and Score.ly grabs their earned achievements, awards badges of its own and then houses them all in user “Folios,” short for portfolios.

“It’s an online trophy case,” founder Elizabeth Fuller explains.

An Online Trophy Case

Fuller, ever-curious about the way in which people choose to represent themselves, has been thinking about the discrepancies between real-world achievements and online accomplishments for years.

She, along with business partner David Leibowitz, started to think specifically around the idea of an online trophy case as a place to collect and share achievements in the summer of 2010. The idea grew into a business after the pair pitched the startup at a Startup Weekend event in New York city and won $10,000 in seed money from AOL Ventures.

Score.ly then launched an alpha version of the site in September and has since go on to receive a tempered response for online denizens. The startup isn’t publicly releasing the exact size of its user base, but the number is in the tens of thousands.

Are These Collectors Items?

Not all trophies are created equal. An honorable mention is far less memorable than a first place or grand supreme showing. Does the same stratification exist for digital awards, and which, if any, have lasting value?

And will our children and children’s children one day see our online trophies as testaments of real achievement? Will they say, grandma, “I can’t believe you unlocked the Douchebag badge on Foursquare? Tell me how you did it!”

Perhaps not. Still, Fuller insists that Score.ly’s small user base is actively engaged. “We’ve noticed that people linger on, and get excited about, the LeaderMap,” she says.

The LeaderMap is a portion of the site where Score.ly users can sort a leaderboard of friends by achievements, kudos (Score.ly’s answer to the “like”), Twitter followers, Foursquare badges and the rest.

But, Fuller sounds uncertain about what the startup can realistically do with the achievements it aggregates in the long run. Her answer to the question, “What’s the point of collecting these things?” is barely tangible. “We’re looking at new ways to aggregate and spread this information,” she says.

The young startup has plenty of time to explore the “So, what?” question, and it even has a few ideas around monetization that Fuller’s not ready to disclose.

So, is this a give-it-time-to-mature startup or a service that celebrates a temporary fad in internet culture? That’s for you to decide.

Image courtesy of confidence, comely, Flickr

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: badges, bizspark, foursquare badges, gamification, score.ly, spark-of-genius, startup

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March 10 2011

Online Fashion Retailer Bluefly Tries On Social Gaming

Online designer fashion retailer Bluefly has partnered with social rewards startup Badgeville to add social gaming into its website experience.

Bluefly will be rewarding customers for onsite shopping behaviors including watching videos, reading blog posts, writing reviews or creating wishlists. The idea is to turn shoppers into Bluefly-engaged fashion gamers.

“Players” will earn badges, based on their behaviors, that highlight their various fashion credentials. The more badges earned, and the higher quality, the better chance the Bluefly shopper will have at unlocking tangible rewards that come in the form of early access to products, badge-holder specials and discounts.

“At Bluefly, our customers are highly engaged in the world of fashion. They are voting on celebrity styles; they are talking with each other on our site to discuss outfits. Our goal is to look for innovative ways to foster that passion and to create opportunities for interaction,” says Bluefly CEO Melissa Payner. “The partnership with Badgeville is a great addition to our site because social games incentivize our customers for their interactions — interactions which we see as a key component of growing and strengthening the Bluefly community.”

While its unknown how shoppers will react to the new system, Bluefly, if successful in converting its customers into more engaged shoppers, has an opportunity to be a trendsetter among its fashion retail competitors.

The deal is also a win for Badgeville; the young startup already has competitors such as Bunchball in the white label social gaming space. This particular partnership should help Badgeville stand out and attract more top-tier clientele.

Both Bluefly and Badgeville are mum on whether money exchanged hands as the partnership was formed.

More About: badgeville, bluefly, game mechanics, gamification, MARKETING, social gaming

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December 17 2010

5 Predictions for Game Mechanics in 2011

joystick image

Gabe Zichermann is the author of the critically acclaimed book Game-Based Marketing (Wiley, 2010), the upcoming Gamification by Design (O’Reilly, 2011) and blogs at Gamification.co. He’s also the chair of the January Gamification Summit in San Francisco. Mashable Readers are invited to attend with a special discount by using the code GSMASH11 at GSummit.com.

This year was the first time most people heard the term “Gamification,” the process of using game thinking and game mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences. Although this strategy has always been around us, a combination of factors have made the topic explode onto the scene. These include the rise of Zynga and social games into the largest sector (by reach) of gaming, the demonstrable power of Foursquare’s badges and mayor mechanics to engage consumers in simple tasks, and 30+ years of video games everywhere.

But if 2010 was the year we make contact, 2011 promises to truly be the year when game mechanics take over: a potential roller coaster of exciting product, company and organizational launches. And so, here are my predictions for the breakthroughs we’ll see in game-powered enterprises.

1. Health Gets More Fun

wii fit image

Getting fit and staying healthy are some of the hardest things to do. Games like Brain Age and Wii Fit have emerged in the past few years, making headlines for their ability to turn exercise –- mental or physical –- into something fun. But while these games haven’t yet had much of an impact on our health, hundreds of startups and established companies are leveraging the lessons of those games to create real change.

In 2011, we’ll start to see the first successful examples of game mechanics used for health — largely around big data streams and mobile, building off Fitbit, Nike+ GPS and other monitoring and measurement ecosystems. “Gamified” health will look less like games, however, and more like apps that make fitness fun — for example, tying Xbox achievements to gym-based treadmills instead of creating virtual treadmills to run on.

2. Education Hears the Bell

mindsnacks image

Almost everyone agrees that education needs reform. But most efforts to use games to educate children have been failures, largely as a result of designers having to please parents and teachers before kids’ needs are served. With the advent of devices like the iPod touch and tablets however, a new generation of education companies can reach kids with less friction and more feedback.

I believe we’ll see the first “trans-institution” apps that connect students across different schools. We’ll see the first “gamified” textbooks from publishers while federal and state governments will continue to innovate and support initiatives in education. For adults, applications like MindSnacks, an iPhone app that makes learning languages more fun, will transform how we engage with continuing education. Expect an explosion in apps and services for language, food, finance and geo-location that manipulate game mechanics.

3. Blue Skies Ahead

recyclebank image

Although a number of games have been made to help people change their environmental behavior, few have had much long-term success. More subtle experiences, however, like the “health meters” in the Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf are proving to be a hit with drivers through ambient feedback, like a plant that grows when the car is driven in more environmentally friendly ways.

Companies like RecycleBank have had early success convincing customers to recycle by giving them rewards, and a whole host of electricity and carbon-offset startups are emerging to help consumers reduce their consumption. Big and small companies alike will continue to innovate here, with the support of energy companies and progressive governments; the stakes couldn’t be higher.

4. Loyalty Programs Get More Virtual

Airline frequent flyer programs are among the best examples of successful game systems. United Mileage Plus and American AAdvantage together count more than 100 million active “players.” Recently, these programs have become more game-like, adding progress bars and competition to their mix to improve user engagement.

At the same time, major online gamification players like Zynga and TopGuest have been striking deals to break down the walls between virtual activities (like checkins) and “real” rewards. From hotel chains to credit cards, reward programs will continue connecting with game-like experiences online. Plan to start earning points and miles in unexpected places and redeeming those points for virtual goods.

5. Big Brands Get Involved

Startups drive innovation, and game mechanics are ripe for exploration with exciting technology and service companies emerging almost weekly in the space. Big brands also understand the need for game-like connections. Traditional advertising continues to lose effectiveness with younger consumers, and customer acquisition costs remain stubbornly high.

Some of the world’s biggest brands have taken notice of how game mechanics can help their strategies. In 2011, we’ll be likely to see a handful of major media companies and consumer goods brands launch gamified experiences, with even more to follow in 2012. Expect to see the most innovation in finance, travel and TV.

Next year will be a very exciting year for gamification and customer engagement overall. From small startups working on energy consumption to the world’s biggest media properties, tools like points, badges, leaderboards and challenges will be increasingly deployed to create emotional and brand loyalty. That’s a fun future we can all look forward to!

More Gaming Resources from Mashable:

- HOW TO: Use Game Mechanics to Power Your Business
- 6 Reasons Why Social Games Are the Next Advertising Frontier
- 5 Fantastic Web Games We Can’t Stop Playing
- 6 Emerging Social Games Taking the Web by Storm
- How Social Gaming is Improving Education

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, DSGpro

More About: game mechanics, games, gamification, predictions, predictions-2011, rewards, social gaming, social media, video games

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