Although the term may sound like made-up internet jargon (and to some extent it is), "gamification" is a real trend and one that has become increasingly common in society. The phrase itself refers to the rising prevalence of game-like mechanics across non-game-related media in our daily lives. Regular users of mobile apps such as Foursquare are no doubt familiar with the concept: ordinary errands and chores help a person earn points and badges with which to compete with friends and, sometimes, random strangers. Occasionally there are prizes (often in the form of coupons), but most of the time that users spend on Foursquare is geared towards friendly competition.
Gamification practices drive the popularity of many smartphone and social network applications with constant socialization and feedback loops, or cycles that involve earning points and various rewards. A recent study done by the Pew Research Center focuses on the phenomenon in depth, with results showing that the integration of gamified elements into social media will increase exponentially by 2020. Although there is a great deal of debate regarding how healthy feedback loops are for user behavior, one thing is for certain - people enjoy being constantly rewarded for their online activity.
While most small business owners lack the programming knowledge to design apps such as Foursquare, this doesn’t mean they cannot take advantage of gamification. At its very core, the concept of a and gamification and feedback loops can be boiled down to a cycle of interaction and reward. Although most businesses may not realize it, many companies on social media see their highest levels of user engagement through practices that parallel those practices seen in gamified apps.
When looking for examples of this, a business owner can examine their most popular competitors and see this activity for themselves. Raffle contests, constant question and answer sessions, and community shout-outs are seen quite often on Facebook's most heavily-trafficked pages. While a business needs to gain a rather respectable number of followers before such techniques can be employed, these methods offer fantastic ways for businesses to keep network users interacting with their listings for extended periods of time.
Another way that businesses can gamify their social media page is through community-driven competitions. Often used by movie promoters and other entertainment-based companies, contests in which users submit original video or written works are very popular. These submissions are usually voted on by the community itself and a winner is chosen based on the final scores. While activities such as these can take a considerable amount of time to manage, the result is a follower base that continues talking and thinking about a company throughout the contest's duration.
Of course, many small businesses end up turning to experienced social media companies for contests of this magnitude. Aside from these competitions, companies on very demanding budgets can still employ feedback loop-based tactics to keep users engaged with their company. All it takes is a design that rewards followers for their behavior and a sincere appreciation of one's user base.