Why I Don’t Like Gamification

Originally posted elsewhere in October 2012. Thank you to Timehop for resurfacing it. Still as true for me today as ever.

The other day, I tweeted this:

Do X years of experience make you an expert? Is your whole reputation reflected in # of status points? This is why I don’t like gamification.

Here’s the story behind the tweet:

The customer community that I manage has a built-in status points system (we use Jive). Status points are earned by different activities done in the community, such as posting documents or having an answer you provide marked as “correct” or “helpful”. Different status levels, from “Getting started” to “Super Cyberhero”, are reached as more points are earned.

An employee who is a community member emailed me to request:

My status level is at Level Two out of Five and I’m not able to change it. This can be misleading to customers who may not know who I am, and who may judge my expertise based on my status level. Can you override the point system and update my status to the highest level? This will give them more trust in my expertise.

My response to this has two parts: one part technology, and one part earned trust.

On the technology side, the status level graphic can be replaced with another graphic, such as “Employee”. This is something we have considered implementing, but haven’t done so.
Pro: This would clearly mark which community members are company employees.
Con: The indicator of how many points an employee has earned would be removed.

Which brings me to earned trust. Even if I *could* override the earned status points* and change the person’s status to the highest level, I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. Should I update his status to “Expert”? I don’t know – *is* he an expert? I don’t feel qualified to make that designation. Does having built a product make you an expert on it? Maybe…. or maybe not. Should all employees be marked as Experts? Probably not. Then how would we decide who is, or who isn’t, an Expert? Who would decide?

The points system reflects a member’s *actual* activity in the community. Points are earned when content is contributed, and when other members provide recognition. I think it would be appropriate to mark employee profiles with a graphic in addition to reflecting the points earned. To simply change the status to the highest level would be more misleading – it would imply that the member was more active in the community than he actually is.

Maybe I am biased. I don’t consider myself a gamer, and am not particularly motivated by points and badges. I do understand that game mechanics can provide excellent support for desired behaviors, such as healthy eating or getting household chores done. My favorite gamification success story is Speed Camera Lottery: instead of just penalizing speeders, the camera captures drivers who obey the speed limit and rewards them with the potential to win cash (funded by the speeding ticket fines). Brilliant! This is a game I can get behind!

But racking up numbers just for the sake of numbers – number of LinkedIn connections, Facebook ‘like’s, badges – seems to be missing meaning. What is the desired behavior that is being supported? Or, whose desired behaviors?

And to elevate a member’s status points so that his contributions will be more accepted or respected… sorry, no can do. Those points – that trust – must be earned.

* I’m sure the points can be overriden. Thank you in advance if you want to teach me how. But I’m not interested in going there.

Don’t Shoot the N00bie

Why would you hire someone* without community experience?

  • Because you don’t care about community
  • Because you don’t understand community
  • Because you have a community for the wrong reasons
  • Because you see community as a lever to get what you (the business) want(s)
  • Because you don’t believe community is a service for its members

* This rant brought to you by the letter “N” for N00bie

I met this particular newbie at a social business conference last week. He approached me at the reception food table, where I was trying to stave off becoming #hangry. He was polite, respectful, and non-greasy. He was new to the company, new to community management, and was now responsible for two established communities. He said he’d been reading up on everything he could find on community management. His question for me, “How can I encourage customers to help each other in the community?”

That’s a short question with a long answer. And my answer always starts with more questions:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What are your customers trying to accomplish?
  • Were the customers answering questions, and then they stopped?
  • Are there new types of questions you want them to answer?
  • What other challenges are you having?

It was at this point that he told me he was a new hire, had applied for something else but had “gotten” this position instead. He seemed eager to learn and to please, so I tried to be happy for him. But I was mad at his managers. What support were they giving him? What are their goals and expectations, for him and for the communities? One positive I can say is they did invest to send him to a great community conference.

My rant is not to say that a person with no community experience is a poor community management hire. We all start somewhere. The person I met was eager, polite, and willing to walk up to someone and ask for help. I hope he will grow and flourish in the role. But he has a hard road ahead. I hope he gets the support he needs.

If you’re in the market for a community manager, do you know what you’re looking for? And why?