Gamification is a concept that has existed on the periphery of business culture for several years, but still seems misunderstood by the corporate mainstream.
However, the increasing use of social networking technology by companies is slowly moving gamification onto the enterprise IT radar. Indeed, specialist startups are appearing that base their solutions entirely around the gamification idea. One such company is brand advocacy firm Lithium, which specialises in providing gamified social plans to businesses in order to more finely control client relationships.
“Employees should collaborate, should help each other, work together,” says Lithium’s principal scientist in analytics, Michael Wu. “But there’s no onus on the customer to do that at all. That’s why social enterprise software exists.”
Wu believes gamification’s primary purpose is to encourage and facilitate co-operation and collaboration, but what about competition?
“Competition is one aspect of it, but competition and facilitation go hand in hand in gamification,” he says. “Imagine what happens when you play a game. There is competitiveness – you want to beat your friends or colleagues, you want to win. But if that’s all there is, and there’s no co-operation, then it actually won’t last very long. Eventually, one person wins, and then nobody wants to play anymore.”
A good gamification solution taps into people’s innate desire to communicate and share experiences, says Wu, whose background is in biophysics. By combining the “top down” problem-solving skills of a biologist with the “bottom up” methods of a physicist, Wu says he was able to use mathematics and statistics to accurately model the functions of the human brain. The relationship between neurons and synapses – making and breaking connections – functions in exactly the same way as social bonds, Wu believes. “Both talk to each other, and form and break relationships,” he says.
Wu offers the example of one of Lithium’s most gamification-receptive clients: cosmetics company Sephora.
The gamification challenge here, Wu explains, was initially to find out the most popular avenue of social interaction between company and customer.
“Often, people would go to their Sephora community and ask things like what kind of mascara they should use at the gym,” says Wu. “Other customers in the community are not obligated to help with this, and it ended up with mostly only employees who would answer that. So we gamified answering.”
Wu’s team at Lithium ascertained how many questions had been asked, and how many customers thought the answers were useful and had solved the problem. Then, using Lithium’s social software solution, they began to feed Sephora’s client information into a data analysis system to gamify the entire feedback process. This was followed by a tailored integration of Lithium’s software-by-service gamification backend solution.
“We rewarded customers who responded to questions with virtual recognition in the community,” says Wu. “This could be tied to things like status or badges. Users began to realise that if they answered more questions and were helpful, they’d get more of this feedback.”