Smart Business Solutions - Blog Post

Article #08

Work or Play? Intro to Using Gamification in Social Media Marketing

While Social Media Marketing can be extremely effective, its imperative that companies move beyond two-dimensional campaigns for a more interactive user-experience. Gamification has proved to be a highly successful way to do this, and social media has developed into an outlet where user-experience marketing can quickly be implemented and seen by consumers. To put it simply, gamification incorporates fun and an element of competition to a marketing strategy. All of that is great, but is it right for you?


Why Use Gamification?

For most brands, users probably don’t want to engage with your social posts unless they hate them, love them or are getting a deal out of it. Robert Nissenbaum of Tactical Social Media explains it like this:

  • "We’re all intrigued by fun, but can it lead to more business? If you read the statistics on how many hours people spend playing games, with every subsequent generation spending more time and money, then you’d say it makes a lot of sense. For instance, Millennials spend 1.47 hours a day playing games, according to the Wall Street Journal."

But Gabe Zichermann, Editor of, gives the definitive reason:

  • "Games are the only force in the known universe that can get people to take actions against their self-interest, in a predictable way, without using force"

In the world of marketing, the gamification technique is used by brands to incentivize objective completion; typically to make unappealing offers seem fun or make an audience stick to something they’re already fond of. It’s also used to form an emotional connection with the audience and spark engagement as opposed to simple awareness. But, gamification is not a silver bullet for a bad strategy.

To be used effectively, gamification has to fit the theme, has to fit the brand, and it has to be aligned with what the brand stands for. If it’s generic, it’s not going to work. If it’s aligned with something that people are already talking about, it’s a great strategy to use for engagement and retention.

How can you make it fun for someone to respond or participate? By making it feel more like a game than a social media campaign. A solid game will tempt you to continue playing it – to unlock new players, to receive rewards, to get ahead of your room mate! But is gamification right for every business or brand?


Consider Why You Want to Gamify

Yes, gamification is an intriguing buzz word. No, it isn't right for every business. Dustin DiTommaso, the Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow, recommends that businesses looking to gamify their products or services ask themselves three critical questions before moving on:

  • What is the reason for gamifying your product or service?
  • How does it benefit the user?
  • Will they enjoy it?

If you can answer these questions with confidence, if gamification seems like a good fit for your business' product or service and if the users enjoy it, then move on to exploring your business goals. DiTommaso recommends exploring the following three questions:

  • What are your business goals?
  • How do get the users to fulfill those business goals?
  • What actions do you want users to take?

If this exploratory phase yields positive feedback, your business is ready to move into user research. Here is an article from (written by Erica Swallow ) which gets into more depth about deciding whether gamification is right for your brand: Is Gamification Right for Your Business? 7 Things to Consider.

Tip: Player Motivation

The S•A•P•S method is a proven means of providing player motivation:

  • Status - Status is the relative position of an individual in relation to others, especially in a social group. Status benefits and rewards give players the ability to move ahead of others in a defined ranking system. Examples: community leaderboards, public badges, personal leveling
  • Access - Access rewards give the players the opportunity to interact in a private or special way with a company or brand that they would otherwise never get and others are not privy to. Examples: early head start on new offerings, exclusive content or contests, special meeting with company representative or corporate function
  • Power - Power rewards give players a modicum of control over other players in the game for personal or community gain. Examples: serving as a moderator for forums or events, naming rights for new badges, game events, rewards, etc, ability to donate resources to new players from a mentor position
  • Stuff -  Stuff rewards are physical or digital things you give players for playing your game. Examples: hats, koozies, money

Studies have shown that Stuff Rewards are the most expensive and least effective rewards in the SAPS system! They are the easiest to procure for companies, but have the lowest return. Often players will leave the game after they have received their "stuff".

Case Study


While you can find thousands of examples of gamification in use today, here is one from 2013 when Audi launched their A3 Sportback -

In the first half of the year (2013), an eighteen-wheeler truck drove through South Africa carrying a brand new A3 Sportback.The eighteen-wheeler’s route was navigated by the tweets of hopeful South Africans. The campaign’s premise was that the truck’s final destination would be whichever city in South Africa generated the most tweets. Once there, three randomly selected tweeters would have the chance to exchange their own car for the new A3 Sportback.

The campaign caused a social media frenzy. By logging into the campaign’s microsite, fans could submit their information and help guide the truck to their city – a modern, social take on the standard computer racing game. Ultimately, fifty thousand tweets guided the Exchange truck to Johannesburg, where three lucky finalists were given the chance to compete for the A3.

During the three-week campaign, 11,310 people entered the contest. Within five hours of launching the campaign, Audi South Africa was trending on Twitter, and interest for the A3 Sportback on the Audi website tripled.

More Resources

These articles are a little dated, but are every bit as relevant today as when they were when written:

26 Elements of a Gamification Marketing Strategy  (April 5, 2012 by Debbie Hemley)
5 Questions to Ask to Build an Effective Gamification Strategy  (Sep. 3, 2014 by Mario Herger)

I would like to give a special "shout-out" to a few individuals who's work inspired or contributed to this article:

Randy Hlavac - Marketing instructor at Northwestern Medill IMC Business
Joey Strawn - Director of Integrated Marketing at ISM
Dustin DiTommaso - Experience Design Director at design studio Mad*Pow

Images courtesy of  Pixabay