User Experience, UX Blog
Gamification of websites, apps and intranets
User adoption, engagement, retention, revisits, brand affinity, loyalty… these are all great reasons why you should consider introducing certain elements of gaming into your website/app/intranet. I’ve added several links to Wikipedia articles in this blog post, due to the many concepts and references to psychology, etc.. Wikipedia sums up information nicely, and cites some great sources with each article for further reading.
Why care about my article? I’m a strategist and use my broader knowledge to understand any given problem. This article combines user psychology, user affinity, feedback psychology, time displacement and marketing concepts to give you a better understanding of why I believe in gamification. So let’s get started.
What is gamification?
In short – anytime you use language, visuals or an experience to challenge, motivate or reward your user. Within the contexts of this blog post, it should not be confused with actual game play, but rather using game mechanics to engage users in non-game environments (like websites, apps and intranets).
There are a few bits of reading worth mentioning that helps make sense of why users enjoy challenge:
- The Ben Franklin effect states that if a person has already performed a favour for another, they are more likely to perform another favour for that person. This means that if you’ve challenged a user to do something (e.g. help by answering a question, or complete a task), they may be more willing to be further engaged. This is a person-to-person phenomenon, but can easily translate to the digital world as users are more intimate with their digital devices.
- The Flow State in positive psychology refers to full immersion in a challenge or task, as the user is fully aware of goals and their progress through immediate feedback. Any interactive challenge that you post to your user will engage more of their attention, and get them closer to the flow state and as a result, increase happiness of the user in their task.
Challenges can be presented to the user in any way – through a form to sign up for something, to help answer questions, moderate posts, etc. It’s an opportunity to be part of a greater community by being a contributing part of that community in whatever capacity the user is able to contribute. This is common in user forums (like the Stack Exchange platform, explained in more detail below).
When crafting your challenge, keep in mind your user psychology matrix (in my user psychology and expectations post), as some users will be sceptical of the time requirement where others may love a good challenge.
If someone wants something, their need drives their motivations. Encourage that motivation (the reason they’re on your site) with some fun and appropriate statements to get them through lengthy or daunting processes. MailChimp does this extremely well (explained in more detail below) with their graphics and accompanying statements.
Some companies I’ve worked with have long and complex forms that require completing before any additional steps can happen. These forms may take hours to complete and users may find themselves demotivated and wonder “what’s the point?” Encourage them! Consider statements like:
- “Nearly there!” or “Not long now!” (possibly in a lengthy form or app loading screen)
- “You’re doing great! Keep it up!” (think about a fitness app you may have used where it keeps encouraging you while you work out)
- “You’re more than halfway!” (The Kappa effect, although a bit far-fetched for this statement), basically explains that users may think more time passed than actually did when being involved in repetitive tasks. This can be demotivating, especially when the input is multiple form fields where the user may have to think about each answer.)
- Motivation can also come in the form of sample text. Think about a form field that poses an open-ended question like “Tell us about yourself“, where the user may ask “in what context” and may need some sample text as inspiration. Give them an AWESOME example to pull inspiration from.
Reward and Celebration
In a previous article, I covered the basics behind user psychology and expectations, where you can read in detail how certain users love feedback on their work. Think of the user as a glass of water, slowly being drained as they their valuable energy into a task. You can easily fill them back up (making them feel great again) with reward and feedback on their work.
When crafting reward statements, think about:
- who you’re talking to (what type of user, age group, etc.)
- what do your users unconsciously desire, within the contexts of why they’re visiting your site / using your app, and try to appeal to that side of them rather than tackling the actual problem at hand (e.g. if a user is creating an email campaign, create your reward statements with success and someone they respect cheering them on, as they are most likely creating an email campaign to gain more users or grow their company). It sounds a bit far-fetched, but that’s actually where the statement “sex sells” stems from (this is a great read and provides some fun pub quiz knowledge).
- saying something awesome (rather than being captain obvious).
Finally, consider the challenge/reward system as a holistic unit as it relates to game mechanics. Do users gain points for being more active in a system? When do they get the points and how do you share their achievements / accolades with others in a way that encourages them to do the same (like having the most answered questions in a user forum like Stack Exchange, explained below).
The magical combination of the three
Pose challenges to your users, motivate them throughout (without patronising them), and reward them for completing goals! People abandon websites and apps for various reasons, so I can’t speculate here on why your bounce or abandon rates are higher than should be expected, however you can certainly make an effort to decrease it by implementing any combination of the above.
Client engagement on websites & apps
This one is pretty simple – there are so many great examples of this online. I added two examples below which illustrate how this can be done, along with the descriptions above.
Employee engagement on intranets
This one is a bit more tricky, since . . . well, intranets are boring (or are they?). I conduct user experience sessions often with companies of all sizes, and the one consistent statement I hear is that users aren’t engaged on the intranet, so they get specifically what they’re looking for and leave. This creates a problem for the communications teams in that it’s difficult to create a transparent process where they can push news or critical announcements to users, forcing them to fall back to old methods like email.
Not all intranets can be customised to add gamification in all areas (for instance, altering an out-of-box SharePoint instance to add gamification messages causes unnecessary customisation, so in that specific instance, gamification of the actual site is not plausible). In these instances, consider user gamifying areas of the site, and including roll-ups of achievements in the portal areas you want users to be engaged in. Encourage commenting and sharing, run reports against your system and even if it’s a custom process to update the results, you can reward your most active contributors.
Sounds expensive… is it worth the investment?
YES! And it’s less expensive that you think, especially if you introduce these concepts at the start of a project (IA, UX and UI phases). You also don’t need to jump in with everything at once. Start small and build your apps in a way that allows you to expand into other areas if that’s on your radar.
Gamification has received a lot of praise and a lot of criticism, however if you’re educated on all facets of gamification, user psychology and you’re well-versed in your company’s industry, you’ll understand your users enough to know how successful gamification of your environments will be.
2 Great examples
Each user has a profile summary which is sort of a satellite view of the Stack Exchange world, showing which communities the user belongs to, where they’ve contributed and which contributions have provided most benefit to the greater community.
Rank (as compared to others)
You can view how you rank amongst other contributors and see your rank change as you make contributions to any of the platforms.
Reputation in the community
Reputation is also an important metric, which allows you to view how you’ve impacted the greater community spanning your entire membership of all sites.
Encouragement for big or scary tasks
Nothing is scarier than the thought of sending out an email to potentially tens of thousands of customers. If you’ve missed anything during your multiple checks and reviews, there is no undo button – no going back. MailChimp encourages you with a kind and gentle “This is your moment of glory.“
Ensuring good account standing is important. MailChimp rewards you for being a good citizen with some words of encouragement. “Keep up the good work!“.
Celebrations for task success
Celebrating a user getting across the finish line is very important, as discussed previously. This tells you with full transparency what just happened, but also provides you with a mini celebration for completing your daunting task with “High Fives!“
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