In order to grow and keep a healthy community we need to leverage our community management skills as much as we can. In my last post I talked about game mechanics in general and the good and bad kinds of points in a community. Points are interesting for a reason: they are an explicit, automated response to behavior and are just a potential. We have to do something with them to unlock that potential. And that’s where game mechanics kick in. I’d like to define the goal of game mechanics in communities as ’to automate responses to activities of members of your community in order to increase participation.’ So how do we unlock that potential? What do we do with the points?
Why do people do things? Basically it is to get these 3 things: Fun, Money and Authority. If you don’t want to pay for points, we need to help members get closer to or get a feeling of these 3 things. It depends on the person and the task what kind of mix he wants. Some just want money, others get a kick out of being seen as a authority. So how do we help them reach their goals? There are lots of examples, but find these the most useful in a random order. Remember though: If you start with points, you start a game no matter how you look at it. Games need constant tweaks and adjustments, are you ready for it?
- Score on profile page
- Status upgrades
- Form an elite group
- Make restricted content available
- Build up a profile on what content somebody likes
- Make statistics available
- Show their profile everywhere you can
- Real life present
Find the metric you like the best to rank people. Total collection of points? Total logins? Best answer on a forumpost? Watch out for ranking people because it alienates people who aren’t competitive. More importantly, it will define what a lot of people will strive for, and are likely to find ways to game the system. Do you really value logins that much? Is answering or starting a topic in the forum really worth points if it’s nonsense or in the ‘chatter’-subforum?
2) Score on the profile page
People draw some status from a high number. Do you know from the top of your mind how many followers you have on twitter by a margin of 5%? Do you think somebody else will know your number of followers? Hardly anyone, right? But you still want to increase that number!
3) Status upgrades
People don’t really strive for more points but for the status the points come with. It sounds a lot better when you say that you’re a ‘rising star’ than to say that you’ve got 182 points. Also it is an easy way to feel close to somebody else when you’ve got the same status, especially if it takes a while to reach it. When you’ve playing games you know that the first level is really easy to finish, so should a beginners status be. Nobody likes to be a beginner, so if someone has posted 2 or 3 forum messages you might want to promote him to ‘explorer’. Besides that, most people in your community don’t know what it takes to reach that level because they’ve never posted 2 of 3 messages, they are the lurkers (I prefer ‘audience’).
4) Form an elite group
Just like different status slice and dice your community into different groups, explicitly inviting somebody into a ‘invite only’ group really makes people feel they’re are appreciated. Never underestimate the power of a small group of like-minded people having pizza together. Let them formulate how the community thinks about that topic. Do something special with it. Videotape it, let them make a whitepaper, make a press-release They’ll trust each other way faster when they’ve had a informal but useful get together. Create an email-list, facilitate intensive communication. Hopefully they inspire each other and good things come out of it.
5) Make restricted content available
A litte bit like an elite group, something that is only available to special members will make it feel way more valuable. When your community is one around a brand or a product, make previews or beta products available. Let them know earlier in the process what you are developing for the community, new features on the website or an event for example.
6) Build up a profile on what content somebody likes
It takes some advance features of your content management, but if you’ve got people voting content up and down, you know what kind of articles they like. If someones blogs about something, and uses tags and categories, you might as well use those hints of what they like. Maybe you want to show more of the stuff they like. If somebody constantly votes 9/10 on articles by the same author, maybe they want to know when that person writes a new article and get an email.
7) Make statistics available
Once again you can link this to number of points or to a certain status. Making statistics available of any kind triggers people to find out stuff. Whenever somebody blogs, I grant them access to the Google Analytics for the blog they’ve written an article for. Some of them just like to see how many views they’ve got, other people look for keywords and refering sites, and all of them like the gesture and are getting more engaged.
8 ) Show their profile everywhere you can
Sure, every forumpost has the authors profile next to it. Also a blogpost isn’t complete without a sentence or picture of the author. But why stop there? For every kind of point someone gets, you might want to decide to have the member featured somewhere on your site. Someones first contribution should be celebrated! Make their profile featured on the frontpage. Tell them it’s featured, make a really easy to twitter this event! If somebody already has some friends or connections before writing their first comment, make it really easy to let them notify their friends about him being on the frontpage (or do it automatically).
9) Real life present
Sure, bells and whistles on a website are cool, but remind someone of their status every day for years probably takes something tangible. Send the top 10/20/50 of your members a coffee-mug with their name and status on it, and of course a small logo of your community. They will use it, and if they take it to work, people will ask about that status.
The boyscouts do it. Foursquare does it. Big Door does it. Bunchball does it. But should you? If you start giving away badges for special activities, there’s no stopping it. I started using Fousquare a few months ago, got 12 badges but can’t be bothered to check in again because there’s hardly any badges I can get. When you use badges, make sure that the activities people need to do are still way more important than the badge. If people start to do things for badges, they stop when they’ve got enough and will game the system whenever they can to get their badges.
What activities to monitor?
Everybody knows what things a perfect member of your community does, but how do you translate that to the language your website understands? Next post I’m going into the different kinds of user activity you might want to log and find a interesting use for via points.