Last week in Paris, Social Media Club France hosted an event titled "Audience Engagement and Monetisation: Social Gaming, a model to follow?" where the crème-de-la-crème of France's fast-emerging social gaming sector partook in a fascinating panel discussion. Presenters included notables such as KRDS, one of only two agencies in France to be included in Facebook's Preferred Developers Consultant Program, and IFeelGoods, which is the first platform that lets retailers provide Facebook Credits as marketing incentives.
Moderated by Benoit Raphael, co-founder and former editor-in-chief of Le Post.fr, the discussions covered the elements of success for social games and Facebook apps, as well as the enormous potential for virtual credits to revolutionize the way money is exchanged online. Highlights of the panel discussion can be found here, what this post is about is how this lesson in game dynamics can be applied to news sites.
One of the catch phrases heard frequently these days amongst the digerati is "adding a social gaming layer" to, well, everything. For a brilliantly clear explanation of what that means, have a look at this TED talk delivered by Seth Priebatsch. Below we'll delve into what that could mean for news sites.
Social Games: a logical extension of user generated content initiatives
For any community manager, the following statement should make complete sense: positive reinforcement is key to encouraging participation. If step one is allowing your audience to participate more, step two should be rewarding them for doing so (and steps three and four: enticing them to continue the interaction regularly and then share the experience with their friends).
This thinking is nothing revolutionary, in fact it can be traced back to social loyalty schemes that existed far before the internet did (think about your super market club card), and there are a plethora of companies that have already adapted the model to work online (Foursquare, Groupon, and recently Facebook itself just to name a few). It's adding game dynamics to these social loyalty schemes that is innovative, and this is where news publishers could stand to profit immensely.
The question isn't whether or not people are gaming on the web: more than 50% of Facebook users go online to play social games and Zynga has over 200 million individual players each month. For news publishers this poses very exciting possibilities, and the obvious question arises, as Harvard's Nieman Lab put it, "...could adding a little gameplay - and some circular icons - turn casual readers into engaged ones?"
Badges, badges, badges...and MORE badges!
It has already been more than 6 months since the Huffington Post launched its HuffPo Badges initiative, which, as Ariana Huffington explained, focuses on three key member activities, "connecting with others, engaging with our content, and moderating comments." The idea was to take the HuffPo community "to the next level" by offering recognition to top users in these areas, and perhaps even more importantly from a social gaming standard, they had plans to "add more badges and more features that will make being a part of the HuffPost community even more dynamic and rewarding."
As far as we can tell, no new badges have yet been added to the HuffPo experience, which is a big no no according to Thibault Viort of WEKA Entertainment. He explained at the Social Media Club event that at WEKA, the aim is not just to make a social game, but "to make a living game, one that grows and changes everyday". Although the very concept of badges and member ranking involves a dynamic progression, if new objectives aren't regularly introduced, the game play risks becoming stale, and as we know, the novelty factor doesn't last forever.
A new news-related social gaming experiment has just emerged on Philly.com, website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News, which looks to offer a more Farmville-esque experience to users. The company behind the badges system found on Philly.com is called Badgeville, and the name is indeed a play on the stupefyingly popular Zynga game. On Philly.com, users earn points for activities they already do, such as visiting the site, reading articles, sharing content, and leaving comments.
A visitor gains different sized trophies according to the number of points they've accumulated, and various badges for completing specific tasks, such as the "Wanderer Badge" awarded to members after their 5th visit to the site. Through the tallying of points and badges, a site's most active users can be identified and a new dimension of analytics is possible.
There is a massive bonus to adding game dynamics to news websites in particular, and that is engagement analytics. By tracking specific actions you want to encourage with a simple point system, you can keep a close eye on the health of your community. Furthermore, with a dynamic system that allows you to introduce new badges at a moment's notice, you can actually target specific activities that you might want to encourage more.
For instance, say you notice there has been a lull in the sharing of articles over the last week, you can take this knowledge and actually act on it by creating a new badge that is unlocked after sharing 5 articles in the next week. What's more, you can link this badge to a real world incentive by allowing sponsors in on the fun. This could be branded, for example, the Pepsi Broadcaster's Badge, and earn users a free six pack of the Pepsi product of their choice.
By coupling game dynamics with an ambitious advertising department, news publishers have a real opportunity to both increase engagement AND boost ad revenue. This can be taken a step further however, by adding a social gaming layer with real incentives to a UGC initiative, such as CNN's iReport or BBC's Have Your Say. In doing so, news outlets can also benefit from richer editorial content, thus addressing virtually every publisher's ultimate goals of providing better content, improving reader engagement and loyalty, and bringing home the bacon.
This is a guest post from Garrett Goodman, a new media consultant currently working with Citizenside, a French start-up that specialises in increasing audience engagement with its UGC hub solution, the Reporter Kit. This solution uses a proprietory system that integrates badges, grades and points to add a social gaming layer to news gathering.