How many meetings have you sat in recently where the term “gamification” has come up? It’s often waved in front of an executive as either a magic elixir or a battle cry. Gamification, it is stated, is the answer to engaging customers.

I like the idea of gamification…in theory. In its simplest definition, it is creating an action and reward system for members of your community. Humans like games because we get some immediate gratification. The gamification of experience, however, leads to some odd “rewards” for those who play.Gamification

Some brands have succeeded because of the way they’ve leveraged this gaming trend. Dropbox, for example, has gamified the product adoption process of their users. Share with a friend, get a reward. Use Dropbox to share a file, get a reward. The reward is always the same, but it is valuable to their users. Dropbox is a cloud-based file system where users can share and find files from anywhere. It’s great, but the biggest challenge is running out of the space available. To reward customers, Dropbox provides more space. Users happily share their love of Dropbox with their networks, because doing so provides them something they really desire – more space to use.

Dropbox enjoys additional reach thanks to this game system. Users are rewarded for their usage, Dropbox gains new users who turn into customers, and everyone is happy. But it all comes back to this: Dropbox is providing something of value. Their experience and product are valuable enough to users to enjoy playing the game.

But what happens when brands start with their own goals in mind, instead of considering rewards which are actually meaningful to their community members?

“Rewarding” customers with a white paper or ebook they never requested is not a gift, it’s a nuisance. Offering a download they control is one way to actually see what is valuable to them. If they are not opting to download what you are offering, it is not a reward. Don’t treat it as such.

LinkedIn offers two examples of gamification of the experience. In one case, it’s great. In another, it’s just a game.

A while back, LinkedIn started highlighting how complete your profile was by using percentages. Humans like to get 100%, so showing a user his or her profile only at 80% was an impetus to complete the steps. It seemed to work and profiles all over LinkedIn became more robust.

But what about the game of LinkedIn endorsements? Endorsing others to earn a spot in your network’s feed is not enriching the experience. If the experience of being a member of LinkedIn degrades, as many are claiming, then no amount of gaming can help.

Gamification could be a fun way to engage users and help feel rewarded. It’s especially useful for those experiences that take time or require several steps towards adoption. But gamifying for gaming’s sake is just silly if the experience isn’t worth it. Consider what you’re delivering to customers first, then how to engage them from there.

Games and rewards don’t mean anything if your customers experience stinks. Customers won’t feel rewarded or engaged just by gamifying something that doesn’t matter.

Photo credit: Tama Leaver via Creative Commons