Gamification – Best practices

  • 29 August 2018
  • 9 replies

Userlevel 4
How do you set up your badges in the best possible way? How do you make sure your super users stay engaged and beginning members stay active? Here are some tips and tricks to make your reward program successful:

User your badges to reward and show expertise

Make sure that the badges that people can earn are meaningful. Together with VU University inSided has conducted research to see which mechanisms would work best (see attachment below). The research showed that visitor expect that badges say something about the qualities and skills of someone. Back in the days badges could be earned by people who were active on the community for a certain time, posted a specific number of contributions or who responded very fast. These badges were seen as less meaningful by visitors, because it didn’t contribute to the trustworthiness of their answers. They even diminished the value of badges that were more meaningful as people considered the whole badge system as less worthful when these badges were included.
Therefore, we recommend to base you badge system on how much a person knows about a certain topic. The most valuable rules are based on the number of answers within a certain forum or category. If your community is more based on starting conversations and contributing the number of topics that someone started within a specific subforum or category might also be a criterium. Don’t set the bar too high, giving 3 answers is already quite an achievement, specifically in the beginning days of your community. Add badges later on so that there is still something to earn by super users and base these on new categories or subforums or parts on the community that have less P2P support. Also, try to set the rules according to the (expected) activity: An Apple support subforum probably will have much more activity than a Windows-phone subforum, so you can set the level for a more active subforum a little bit higher than for a less active one.

Stimulate engagement by setting up a rank system

While the badges are used to reward skills and expertise, the ranks can be used to reward and stimulate engagement in general. They say something about the participation level of users. Specifically, in the beginning they can make sure that the new users see they are ranking up after being active (it’s recommended to send them a PM notification) which encourages them to stay active and see which new rank title they can earn.
The following tips could help you to set up or improve the system. First of all make sure that people can rank up fast in the beginning. So award new ranks for just commenting (for instance a new rank for 1, 2, 5 and 10 comments). After this people are familiar with the community and you don’t want the rank system to become obsolete so you can make it harder and more meaningful to add a new rank. This is where you start to add right answers, started topics and likes to the rank system. Make sure you have some top ranks for super users so they will always stand out. With this structure you can even see who might be the less desirable users (the people that comment a lot, but who don’t give good answers or are liked by others 😉)

Unexpected perks work best

The best way to reward users is still to give them some perks or gift they might not have expected. It will give them a good feeling and it tells them their dedication is seen and rewarded. You could for instance reward them by increasing the involvement. Invite them to your office, add a hidden area where they can talk privately with each other and the moderators and share sneak previews if something new is coming up. Some of our customers have a ‘super user’ wall with their pictures and facts of life so that they can always talk about these things. Congratulate your users when they achieved something or when there is a mile stone. Let your moderators for instance create a video message or send a hand written post card. At least make sure it’s personal and a surprise.

Do you have any good examples of how you reward users? Let us and your fellow community managers know in the comments!

Tip for further reading: Roundtable Recap #3: Gamification

9 replies

Userlevel 5
Badge +3
Anytime I try to click and download the pdf in this post I get the following below and it never seems to download. Any chance someone can send it to me or investigate why this happens. Thanks

Userlevel 3
@aluciani Sorry for the inconvenience! I looked into it and there was something wrong with the file. I posted the original files again and they should work. Could you retry to download the article?
Userlevel 5
Badge +3
looks good now - Thanks @Martine
Userlevel 4
Badge +3
Do any communities use manually added badges in their gamification?

Ideas we have is an MVP Newbie badge, 'Excellent contributor' badge for great comments etc.....
Userlevel 5
Badge +3
Do any communities use manually added badges in their gamification?
@timcavey, Manually granting badges isn't an option right now. There's an idea for adding this feature though. Here: Manually grant badges to users

If you like it, maybe give it a vote 😎
Userlevel 4
Badge +3

If you like it, maybe give it a vote 😎

Done - thanks Drew!
Userlevel 1

How do you evaluate your gamification programs? We've implemented badges recently and I'm trying to sort out how badges, in particular, influence the community.
Userlevel 7
Badge +3
Hmmmm, we need to do a badge refresh as our business and customer base has changed a lot in the last 2 years and some of our badges are out of date, and don't have the right behaviours attached to them anymore.

Trouble is, it feels like a big job to refresh this... Anyone done a refresh before? Anything we should be aware of or need to know before we break anything??

@Julian hopefully the bat phone will be ready to help us if we need it! Lol!

Userlevel 7
Badge +1

Hahaha I'm here for the rescue! 😋 Loooong post incoming...

I have some tips I can share here, but maybe I should make this a dedicated topic / guide just like I did with the rank review a while ago...

Some general information about Badges, to answer the initial question by @Vanessa_MEO:
Next to Ranks, Badges are an efficient tool to stimulate groups of users to become active or to stay active on your community.

They actually work pretty well as many active users will try to earn them to show that they have a lot of knowledge about a specific topic, or that they are veterans on the community. I remember well that I had to discuss with very active users why they did not earn an Expert Badge already. 🙂

Which brings me to the general rules of using Badges. If you apply these rules when "designing" your Badges, they will help you to increase user activity for sure:

Don't let users know the (exact) rules
If users know that they need to post exactly 20 topics in a category, they will do exactly that. However the quality of these topisc will be low as their goal is the Badge and not the topic itself. It happens sometimes that users try to cheat the system. So if you want to inform users, keep it vague: Tell a user that they need to "help more", which means that they need to post more replies that get marked as the answer.

Badges should always support what you want to achieve
To stay in the example of a support community: Give Badges for answers to questions rather than posting 100 replies. The latter is not wrong, but will not help you to impress your Manager with an awesome deflection of support questions. 😉 Or if you want them to discuss ideas, give a Badge for commenting a lot in the ideation categories.

Give a clear description
A Badge is only valuable if your users understand why they or others received a Badge. Again, don't give the exact number, but describe what the user achieved. E.g. for a support-focussed Badge in an Apple support category could be: "Wow, you really make a lot of iPhone users happy!".

Use the Badge activity stream widget
This widget is active by default on your community. Make sure to give it the right spot on your home-/category pages or on topic pages so that everybody sees it.

Send notifications
When you notify your users that they've just earned a Badge, they will 100% realize that you appreciate their job! You can either send a private message or an email. The email actually supports HTML, so you can simply add your styled notification to the text field.

Now that we covered the basics, here how you can review (or define) your Badges:

1. Find out where you are at

First, create a document (if not done already) where you centralize the different Badges and their rules, something like this:

You can find the number of users who have received a Badge in the "Badge settings overview"-page in your Control Environment.

Add as many information as you like, e.g. also if/which type of notification you're sending.

2. Evaluate the distribution

When you have mapped your Badges, you should do a general check:
  • Are there Badges which no user has earned?
  • Are there other Badges which more users have earned than you expected?
  • Is the current set of Badges still covering the areas they should cover? (Maybe you have added new categories or changed things so that they need adjustment)
Should any of these things apply, take a note so that you can fix this later together with the rest of the Badges.

Now before we talk about how to continue the evaluation, you should be aware of two different strategies when it comes to Badges: General user engagement Badges and Top user engagement Badges. Most Badges fall in one of these categories, however there are exceptions (covered later).

General user engagement Badges
These Badges can be earned by the "normal" users relatively easy. Think of a Badge for posting your first reply or for starting 3 topics.

Note: I personally do not think you should give Badges away too easy. One reason is what I call "reward inflation": If users get a Badge for very little work, they will not feel that this is something special. If they then see other users with a Badge, it will not impress them any more. A second reason: If you run a support community and give users a Badge for their first acitivty, chances are high they will have a support question. A notification for an earned Badge will not help them with their question, it will rather make them feel like it is annoying. Nevertheless, such Badges can have a positive impact when rules are set smart, e.g. after users created their second or third topic.

Top user engagement Badges
These Badges are for the real experts. They do not have to be Super users, however Super users often own these Badges. They show that a user is a real expert, e.g. for posting 20 replies to a question which have been marked as the correct answer.

Typically, each community has Top User Badges for all relevant categories. Such categories can be support categories, but also idea categories.

3. Match it with your rank distribution

As a next step, you should see how this matches your rank distribution. In the rank overview page (under [Users] - [Ranks]) you will see a) the total amount of users and b) the number of users who own a specific rank. See if your amount of users per Badge are matching with how many users are at a specific range within your ranking structure, depending on if it is a general or a top user Badge:

Gneral user engagement Badges:
For all users owning the third rank level or higher (usually rewarded with their 3rd-4th activity) should own a Badge. For example, a Badge given for posting 5 comments.

Top user engagement Badge:
Depending on the maturity of your community (number of total registered users, amount of total ranks, rank rules for top 5 ranks): Only 0.05% (for younger communities) - 0.1% (for older communities) of users should receive such a Badge:
  • In an active, mature B2C support community which has 500k members after 10 years, about 250-500 Badges have been given away to users
  • a very active community for a non-profit organization has 20k members after 1 year, around 20 Badges have been given away
Note: This excludes "special Badges". Special Badges are Badges you give away e.g. for being one of the first 100 users who registered, or if users joined a special program etc.

It should be stressed that this is a hand rule, if it varies slightly this is not a reason to be concerned. It might actually say more about your ranking structure, if too few or too many users have a general user engagement Badge. Or that you had very low Badge rules in the early days for top user engagement Badges. If this part of the review gave you some valuable insights that's great, if not you at least learned more about the gamification demographics on your community!

4. Define/Refine your Badge structure

Now to find your ideal Badge structure, think about which categories should count for users to earn a Badge. Some general rules:
  • hidden categories should never contribute towards gamification (can be disabled in category settings pages)
  • Official/Off-topic categories (e.g. your "News and Announcement" category) should not or only partially be added to a Badge rule. E.g. users should not create topics in such categories, or their comments in an Off-topic category are not valuable
  • Badge rules should not collide with rank rules. E.g. a general user engagement Badge for 5 comments and a rank for (only) 5 comments. It's confusing if two things happen at the same time.
General user engagement Badges
New communities usually have 2-5 of these kind of Badges, more mature one up to 20 (then also for specific groups of categories). Make them diverse, e.g. a Badge for 10 comments, topics or answers.

Top user engagement Badges
You can create a universal Badge (not limited to categories) which combines topics, replies and answers. If you set the level a bit higher (about 1.5x the average activity of your top 10 users), the very top users might reach them sooner. In each case the rules are hard enough that not many users will reach them in the next 12 months.
Next to that, create goal-oriented Badges that aim to stimulate activity in all important categories (e.g. troubleshooting categories). Again see who has contributed how much (e.g. via a topic export or "mark as answer" export) and try to set the rules that only the top users (new communities: up to 3, mature communities 10-20) will earn a Badge.

Special Badges
These are the secret weapons of user rewards. You can e.g. create a Super user Badge, which is rewarded for a reply in a hidden category dedicated for your experts. Or you could activate this Badge for 1 reply no matter where on the community around christmas, and disable this after the holidays are over.
This usually is used when it makes the most sense, but do not go too crazy with it before every user on your community has 10 Badges. ;)

In the end, every category (besides official communication channels or Off-topic categories) should ideally "own" around 4-8 active Badges (50% general and 50% top user Badges), depending on the maturity. However, some communities like to give more Badges, some are rather keeping it special, so the numbers may vary a bit between communities.

A typical structure for Badges within a support category would look something like this:

I hope that this helps you on the way! If there are specific questions, or if someone wants to share their Badge structure, I am very happy to read it. 🙂