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By Ildikó Tuck

Tips to increase user engagement through game mechanics and social techniques

The term gamification has followed the trend of many other modern concepts. It was invented, used and then over-used and misunderstood to the point where it has lost a significant part of its intended meaning. It has become one of those words that people use when they want to sound knowledgeable and it has had the proper backlash of any such word - people talking about it feel that they need to define it over and over, just to be clear. While I’m not particularly interested in reinventing the wheel and adding yet another definition to the pile, I am very much interested in what sort of implementation of gamification elements makes the best user experience in the web and mobile UX world.

One of my favourite examples when it comes to gamification is Tripadvisor. They have been around long enough to prove the method really works and they’ve been doing a stellar job that we can all learn from (and we do!). The service is built on user-generated content. They achieved the complex task of getting millions of users to willingly sit down and write about their travel experience for free. Even if it starts out as a simple badge hunt or an opportunity to brag to friends about latest travels, being a contributor to Tripadvisor quickly turns into a serious commitment - a moral obligation to fellow travellers to keep on writing. This is not an activity people normally do, unless their experience has been in one of the extremes.

Yet Tripadvisor is filled with 3-4 star, “neutral” reviews. How? By employing certain techniques familiar to us from games in a non-game context, they’ve managed to motivate people. In their case, climbing the ranks of becoming an “expert” and giving back to the community is the main component driving user engagement and keeping it high, but it’s not the only one. It’s a very complex, tricky web of small tweaks and ideas that work cohesively. It’s hard to dissect what exactly makes Tripadvisor and similar sites successful, but there are a few common elements.

  1. Turning the quantity and quality of contributions into an accepted status In the examples above, and with other similar success stories, there is always a pattern of the community attributing value to the highest ranked contributors.

  2. Being able to play the game with friendly faces When someone writes a review, they automatically get published to social media (unless the feature is turned off). When someone is connected to the site, they automatically see which of their friends have been to that particular travel destination and what they have said about it. Moreover, people get notifications when someone likes a review written by one of their friends. While not as clear-cut as some of the other points, I consider this a game mechanic from a social game perspective.

  3. Friendly competition Relating to the previous point, there is always the competitive element of game mechanics that can be used to increase and retain engagement. Seeing how one’s friends rank in contribution numbers and general standing within the system helps to motivate the individual to do more and get a higher standing. For example, it’s always a good idea to have statistics like “you’ve travelled more than 9% of your friends”.

  4. Breaking up the journey with a few milestones No one likes to see that being the highest ranked expert is an unattainable goal. Breaking up the journey to the top with milestones helps by keeping people entertained. Being positive and encouraging about small achievements and giving people a sense of constant progress is good practice.

  5. User pictures, avatars, personalisation It’s well-known in the UX world that reviews and opinions with a real human’s picture are more likely to be believed. Building on this, allowing users to customise the image they portray on the service can be rewarding on both ends. The readers of the site are more likely to believe what they’re reading, but more importantly, the users writing the content feel more in charge of their image and more likely to want to invest time in building it further.

These are some of the key techniques employed by Tripadvisor that I've identified. I'm confident that all of these have significantly contributed to their success and employing them might be just the thing your app needs as well! What others similar tips do you have? Please share in the comments.

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