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Sneaky Ways that Gamification is Playing You!

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Gamification is being touted as the lastest trend in marketing: combining traditional marketing with creating a stronger bond of interaction with the end user. What is gamification you might ask? It is the employment of game mechanics to build customer loyalty, maintain a consumer base and to have mundane tasks completed by dangling a carrot for a badge for completing a survey or some similar act.

The use of gamification techniques to mold consumer behavior and actions may be the next brilliant act of marketing that you didn't even realize you were participating in: sneaky tactics to keep you coming back for more. Not only you, but to share with your friends, followers and whomever else you might interact with digitally.

Let's look at a few of the ways that you are engaging in Social Media or with businesses online in which you are unwittingly or whole-heartedly being gamed.

1. Frequent Flyer Programs

Simple: sign up for the frequent flyer program and get points. These points can be used for future travel or other rewards. Frequent flyers monitor their points and some take “mileage runs” which is an airline trip to solely for point to gain maximum frequent flyer miles or statuses. The airline is now guiding and monitoring your behavior, sending email with the information that they have gathered about you and possibly to selling your information to another company for additional profit.

And I know  many a road warrior that not only gets, but expects, their free upgrade based on the past activities proving that it has created a sense of entitlement. In the words of mine, “I want my damn upgrade.”

2. Points/Rewards Programs

Grocery stores frequently have rewards cards that you can register for in order to obtain discounts on certain sale items each week. While this benefits you as a consumer, it also give the store access to your purchasing habits, weekly budgets and all of your personal information on the application for the reward card program.

3. Badges

Foursquare is a badge cornucopia! You receive your first badge, Newbie, with your first check-in and most people are hooked at this point. Foursquare has also partnered with large companies like Starbucks to create badges such as the Barista Badge which you earn for checking in at five different Starbucks locations. How many Foursquare badges do you have and what is your favorite? I am willing to bet that you have an answer to that question.


Who doesn't want to be liked? Facebook started this trend with their “like” button and now they are everywhere. An easy quick way to show your approval for a friend or company is tracked, monitored, graphed and charted. Your mindless click of the like button spurned a veritable fountain of marketing data about you: gender, age, country, language and activity. This can easily be used to create targeted ads on Facebook to reach your intended customer. Do you like that?

5. Competition

Once you join a new social game platform such as Foursquare, the first thing you do is find all your friends and then the ranking begins. The leaderboard keeps track of your points and this sets off the natural competitive nature that you have to move up the leaderboard and get to numero uno. One more check in could be just the thing to get you past Susie and earn you a mayorship. Oooo la la!

6. Points Programs

These are a benefit to the customer but again, the corporation is tracking your purchases with each point that you win. Many have deadlines and restrictions. But you could eventually get something free or at a discount: if they don't expire first.

7. Merit

Achieving status among your peers is a very strong motivator and gamification technique used by Klout and Peer Index. Nothing subtle here as you are checking your score based on your interactions throughout the Social Media communities. Klout currently ranks you on your activity within Twitter, Facebook, Linked In and most recently added Foursquare to their line up. In one of Klout's most recent updates they gave you the ability to compare yourself with a friend on their chart which ranks not only your Klout score but also their likes, true reach, amplification probability and network influence.  See the Klout page for more information on their analytics, email me if you figure them out. Merit or status is what can help achieve loyalty which is the ultimate goal.

8. Completing Tasks

Linked In has a perfect example of gamification for task completion: they want you to complete your profile and added a bar graph with a percentage for profile completeness. Underneath this are additional tasks that you can perform to complete your profile quickly and earn bonus +5 points for additional tasks such as add your summary and specialities. What do these +5 points mean? This is unclear but the underlying message is that you can not only get 100% but bonus points for task completion.

9. Achievements

Moving through a series of tasks, clicks and activities can get some results and some positive feedback. The rules and structure of the game are analyzed by the participants to achieve more and then let the games begin!

10. Appointment Dynamics

That tactic employs the participant to do certain things in a timely manner and they will be rewarded or punished based upon task completion.  Empire Avenue is a Social Media stock market game in which you can buy and sell companies and individuals who are priced as stock with values that fluctuate as does the real stock market. This clever game has an additional feature which includes the players social networking activity and blog.

11. Perks

Earn points, win prizes. Who doesn't want that? Klout perks are quite a kudo and even though some of the prizes were “interesting” like Secret deodorant everyone wants Klout Perks. I envision many more platforms having a real prize attached with the online activity as sponsors jump on the marketing opportunities.

12. Social Currency

The day that Google + started all of Twitter was abuzz with people asking if you were in or had an invite. People I hadn't tweeted in months contacted me to try to obtain a Google + invite. No one wants to be the only person that didn't get an invitation to the party. Being a part of your community and involved in what everyone else is participating in is a very powerful motivator for many people to make decisions. I would also call this a sheep mentality as it is mindless following of the crowd.

What are your thoughts on gamification within Social Media? Surprised by any of the above? Let me know what you think…


Use Game Mechanics to Build Customer Loyalty by Seth Preibatsch

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons: some rights reserved by mtsofan.

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  1. I’d never thought of those things on your list – the top of which is the frequent flyer programs – in the gamification term. Makes sense. Do I have to do Foursquare? I really don’t give a hoot about badges…is that a female thing or do the men like them as much, too?

    1. I quit Foursquare – just didn’t have the time anymore. And I was the Mayor of everything in my town so it lost it’s thrill. I didn’t really get any good mayor special either. But it was really fun to earn badges.

      I think that is the trick of good gamification — you just don’t know!

    2. When done the correct way a badge = discount or freebie. Then you’d like a nice 15% off that LED TV you wanted to get at the sales 😉

  2. All excellent points!!! I like 4sq, but about ready to quit. No Mayor Specials very often or at all. Check in specials are sometimes not worth it. Have found 2 or 3 places that the check in specials are good, will continue to use there! Companies have your data as soon as you use your debit or credit cards, don’t have to belong to rewards type program. May not know the actual types of items, but know where you go & $$s spent. Some sell the data others don’t, depends on credit card company. Thank You, very interesting & true!

    1. I loved Foursquare for a long time and had some higher hopes too!

      The data mining isn’t cool! And once a Twitter person tweeted my location which was only on Foursquare — not a tweeted or Facebooked location. 

  3. Marketers know how to feed the ego. Admit it or not, everyone has one. Even if it is not on public display, it’s there.

    I can recall some years ago when airline miles programs were all the buzz, people talking about how they had achieved Gold Status, Platinum Member, etc. What did it really get you? In today’s market, not much. A free upgrade to a depleted First Class cabin in a 45 minute flight? An opportunity to fight with a ticket agent over the 364 black out days for the trip you want, or a chance at a free 3:00 am flight to start your vacation.

    In return, you gave all your business to one airline. Even spending more for the tickets just to get the miles necessary to achieve the next milestone.

    Sneaky is too nice a word. More like brainwashing to me.

    Cheers Peg.

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