• Online Communities, Industry Trends

What is gamification in 2020?

by Khoros staff | Apr 16, 2020

Is it all a game?

About a decade ago, gamification was a big trend in business software. Usually, it was an effort to make people think their work was like a game by applying points to activities and assigning levels or ranks based on completed actions. This trend grew so prevalent that people predicted everything would soon be gamified — even pumping gas! But while this worked for some systems, it more often failed because the rewards presented (ranks and points) did not align with software users’ motivations, namely saving time and money.

Communities and Gamification

Online brand communities were one of the first places (outside of actual games) where gamification emerged. This is because most communities started to serve the nascent “gamer” culture in the early 2000s. Lithium (now Khoros) itself began as Gamers.com in 2001. In modern communities, the ideas and practices that drive gamification have matured to align more with a sophisticated member journey concept where the key role of the user experience designer is to match extrinsic rewards with intrinsic motivation.

Communities consist of large, diverse audiences at various stages of their journey, from visitor to expert, each with different intrinsic motivations. Therefore, the rewards and recognition system has to be sophisticated enough to handle this complexity. In most thriving communities, you can see that their gamification, or recognition systems, are pretty customized. Whether it’s Domo’s Black Belt system or SAS’ PROCstars and SuperFREQs (I am told it’s a data science joke), the recognition system is unique to the audience and tailored to the journey their customers make.

To simplify the discussion for this blog and the more detailed tipsheet, we broke it into 3 categories based on the common phases of a community member’s journey: Visitor, Active Member, and Superuser.

Starting out: From visitor to member

When new people visit a community, it’s important to encourage two behaviors in particular: asking questions and joining the club.

Getting visitors in the first place - while difficult for most websites - is actually one of the best benefits of having a community. Communities today are very good at getting search traffic, because modern search algorithms typically rank peer content higher than brand content. Mature Khoros-powered communities get 70-80%% of traffic from searches. This means the key to getting visitors is user-generated content — and one way to encourage this on your community is answering questions whenever they arise.

The second part — getting people to interact with content and join the community — is where the real challenge begins. Fitbit’s community is very good at this. As one of the big names in fitness technology, Fitbit has helped build an industry that gets people over one of the most significant hurdles there is: starting a new fitness program.

Their home page design is a dissertation on gamification. At the top is the search bar, immediately followed by forums focused on their top products. They know why people are there and want to show them the most relevant content based on what their peers are looking for. To encourage people to sign up, interacting with any content requires a login. But on Fitbit’s community, people get a lot of value from reading the content without signing up. Visitors can also see that there are a lot of people out there who have earned status in the community, and that may motivate them to join. Fitness folks can be competitive! To showcase this, Fitbit has sections for both Most Featured Authors and Top Answer Authors, both of which display point values next to names. That shows visitors that there are a lot of active people here who are willing to help them start their fitness journey.

Next: Level Up

Once a visitor signs up to become a member, rewards and recognition really become important. Turning new users into community experts is what makes a community grow in size and value to it’s members. More people, more knowledge, more traffic, more solutions. Domo’s community, the “Domo Dojo,” is a leader in doing just this. They built “belts” for different tiers of activity — just like the belts that recognize achievement in many forms of martial arts.

The Domo Dojo has a wide variety of activities that users can complete to earn points; earn enough points, and you earn a new belt — from a white belt for brand new users all the way up to a black belt for seasoned experts. When users achieve black belt status, they actually get a personalized black belt with their user name embroidered on it! You can hear more about it from Dani Weinstein, Head of Global Community at Domo, here.

End goal: Super engagement

The largest communities have full-time employees devoted to superuser programs that make up just one percent of the community population, yet contribute 30-60% of all the content! And since content is the driving engine for community growth, superusers’ value cannot be understated. Superusers are frequently the starting point when designing recognition programs because they are one of the most valuable parts of a community.

But superuser recognition can be tricky. These rare folks are motivated almost entirely by an intrinsic need to help others and advance a field they care passionately about. This requires a careful balance between rewards and status or rank so as not to “cheapen” the intrinsic motivation while still keeping it entertaining. This crucial balance between humor and legitimacy is why we see successful programs like Domo Black Belts, the Knights of NI at National Instruments, and PROCstars at SAS.


We provide a lot more details on how to actually implement and build rewards and recognition systems in your community in our tipsheet and in the Science of Social blog in Atlas. The bottom line is that you have to start by understanding what your members want and why they want it, whether they’re a visitor, a superuser, or something in-between. Only then can you start to incentivize the steps they need to take to develop their status and produce valuable content. I’ll leave you with one piece of advice that I really liked from Jeff Link’s gamification blog: start with your superusers. If you’re building a new community, then start with the people who urged you to do it in the first place. Get a good understanding of what keeps them coming back every day, and then work on creating more of them.

If you would like to discuss further, join the conversation on Atlas, our own community of digital engagement professionals.

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