I was starting to wonder why people were connecting gaming with content and engagement. What the heck does giving out Farmville credits have to do with a brand’s content? Then it hit me. We have been getting gamed all along; we just didn’t have a really cool industry buzzword like gamification to call it.

Remember that episode of Seinfeld when Elaine is consuming sandwiches from a certain sub shop just to get another punch in her card that would eventually lead to a free sandwich? In fact she lost the card somewhere during the episode and someone offered to make her a sandwich and she refused saying that she only wanted one from that deli so she could get her free one. That’s a form of gamification.

You know how LinkedIn shows you a status bar for the progress you have made filling in the information on your profile? How about the status bar on the survey you just completed that shows you are on page 1:5? That’s a form of gamification.

The webinar you just registered for because they promised to give out an iPad 2? Demo you signed up for because you get a $50 Amazon gift card? That’s a form of gamification.

So why are we doing it and why are you playing into it?

The definition of gamification according to wiki is ‘the concept that you can apply the basic elements that make games fun and engaging to things that typically aren’t considered a game.’

Essentially it’s a way for brands to educate and engage in an entertaining manner without being looked upon or expected to entertain.

And brands are doing it because it works. Elaine sure did bust her butt to eat all those [crappy] sandwiches just to get a free one. I do frequent the same car wash no matter how out of the way it is so I can get to my free one faster. We have all surrendered to the progress bar and proceeded until we hit that done mark.

There is no incentive to brands to give away stuff but they do benefit from building ‘fun’ programs that generate repeat, loyal customers and active participation with their content.

A few months ago Joey Strawn announced that he would be awarded participants in his blog for participating and sharing his content. The idea was that you get your name in a hat for every time you do something to support his content then he draws a winner monthly. The more you participate and ‘like’ the content, the more chances you have to win.

Will audiences participate more if there is an award? Will you?

  • Marketers are giving away ‘stuff’ for a Like on their Facebook brand page.
  • The car wash gives a free car wash for every 5 that you buy
  • Marketers are raffling off high-ticket items to the most active tweeter with an event hashtag.
  • LinkedIn showcases the Top Influencers of the Week in the groups
  • On Twitter we can only follow so many people (2000) until the same amount follow us back
  • Foursquare gives out badges and mayorship to people who frequently check-in to locations
  • Our Klout goes up and down depending upon how much we participate in social networks and with whom
  • Empire Avenue rewards us with social currency
  • Checking off things on our to-do lists presents a reward of accomplishment

Are we more inclined to ‘like’ a brand if we get something? Will we participate more in social channels if there is some kind of reward? How do we – the brand, the content producer – decipher who is genuinely interested and who is here to ‘get stuff’?

I see the value in gamification and believe it has a place in an overall marketing strategy but I am skeptical about how it will impact a true return. If we are already still questioning the value of a ‘like’ (anyone figure out the formula for ROI in social?), how much more difficult will it be to extract the one-time ‘likes’ (just there to get stuff) from the true brand fans (got stuff but there to stay awhile)?

Have you been gamed? What do you think about gamification and its role in our marketing strategies?