In a previous life, in a multi-billion dollar corporate environment I was entrusted with communication strategies and many of my staff training sessions started with the group playing a game. There was a good reason for that, games engage the centres of the brain associated with entertainment and pleasure, they take the edge off potentially tense situations and they allow us to learn through something which is fun.

Playing games is hardwired in us. Whether we are dealing with social media marketing, staff security training, communication strategies or selling, a game will always increase participation levels and activity in the room and it is no different on the web.   

Right now there are thousands if not tens of thousands of game apps intended to be marketing ‘viral’ aids which will help drive brand awareness and sales, in SEO we have PageRank which gives us a numeric value between 0 and 10 for the supposed worthiness of a website and in social media marketing we get into counters of ‘social media marketing might’ such as Klout.

There is always a very clear need for us to understand the context within which the game occurs and what it’s trying to teach us and the risk is that when this is mishandled (or not communicated sufficiently clearly) what is intended to be a great way to learn something fast is lost and we end up focusing on the game itself. In the real world this means that a training session is wasted as the values learnt in the game are not translated to actions outside it. On the web it becomes even more meaningless as websites, for instance, show their PageRank value like it should mean something. And, very recently, job candidates proudly displayed their Klout score on resumes meant to impress potential employers.

When gamification is introduced in a training context the trainer is aware of the risks involved and its limitations and structures a training session which offsets them and drives the lessons learnt home. On the web we are each left to our own devices to learn, or not, from the games we play. As a result, more often than not, these games become the end rather than the means, the message is lost and a lot of energy, drive and enthusiasm are dissipated chasing results which have no or little contribution to the task at hand.

A classic example of this was mentioned by Maggie Fox at one of the Best Thinkers webinars on Defining Influence when she pointed out that she was noticing that some people were getting more interactions per post on their blogs than she was, though her Klout score was perceptually higher.

Gamification works best when we understand that it leads to specific gains:

  • Wider adoption of certain principles (like creating backlinks or linking up social media profiles)
  • Greater awareness of complex issues (like the authority of a website or the social media importance of a person)
  • A simplification of complex interactions


It also works badly when we:

  • Focus on numbers and scores as the end game
  • Do not realise there are complex underlying principles involved
  • Forget that the fun element is not the reason the ‘game’ was created


I have, frequently, after PageRank was invalidated as the metric which decided your website’s ranking on the Google search page, heard webmasters and even search engine optimisers wrongly advise clients to link-build as the only viable means to increase their website’s ranking on Google. As it happens I have also been present on at least one meeting where a social media marketer’s score on Klout was touted as the convincing argument for their hiring for a project.

Our world is a lot more complex than it appears. There really are no easy jobs any more and this also means that there are no easy solutions to the marketing problems we face. The faster we realise that gamification is a technique and those who tout ‘game scores’ should be seen as indicators at best, the better we will become at creating online marketing campaigns which benefit the client as well as the consumer and learn to deliver quality results in the promotions we undertake.