Over the last few years, CMX has tapped our community to share numerous resources on building engagement. We have shared the Engagement Cycle, which is the fundamental framework behind building communities. We’ve shared Genius’ engagement strategy, which boosted the entire company’s exponential growth. And we have interviewed Meetup’s founder about offline engagement strategy.

CMX is no stranger to engagement strategies, and because of that, we know there is no one-size-fits-all approach. That’s why we’re excited to add this exclusive AMA with Nikoletta (Niki) Vecsei on gamification and rewards for community engagement to the mix.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-5-47-49-pmNiki is currently the Director of Communities Strategy at TransAmerica. Previously, she served as a community manager for over five years at several tech companies, including EMC and Okta.

Having grown up between two countries, and with her parents being from two nations, she peddled back and forth between Hungary and Germany throughout her childhood. She also studied in France, the Netherlands and England, which she says has not only shaped her mind and her sense of community, but has also taught her the valuable lesson of having less “stuff” and staying agile.

Throughout her career, her focus has been on bringing many voices together to the community table to create a varied and colorful experience. As an expert in the gamification of community engagement and rewards, she’s offered us three pearls of wisdom to share with you.

1. Give your rewards some real weight.

Gamification programs do not just stop at earning points and digital stickers. Niki recalls, “For example, the EMC Elect group (the super user program of EMC Dell) was the end stage of the gamification programs at our community.”
“You could earn points and badges for lots of challenges and activities on the community, but ultimately what it lead to was that you had to achieve a level of competency to be considered for the super user program to unlock really special rewards.”

“You only got considered. It was not an automatic reward as a super user, and even if you got selected, it was only a one-year tenure. You had to re-qualify every year to be considered for the EMC Elect program. That way, people who really want to be in and enjoy those benefits had to keep working at their status and renew their efforts in the community.”

2. Identify extrinsic and intrinsic rewards.

“The perks and rewards you offer to highly engaged members should vary based on external and internal motivators,” Niki explains. “For instance, if you’re representing a company at a product conference, invite them to speak about their use of your products.”

“Offer special badges to the super users in your community, and even swag with your logo on it to wear at a conference or event so they’re easier to distinguish. Offer them product access during a beta phase, and be willing to give them products for free in exchange for feedback and usability studies.

If possible, grant free access to an otherwise costly or exclusive certification program to highly engaged members. Take care in balancing what you ask of them and what you offer in exchange — more on the latter if you can.

In cases where your community is brand new and you’re working to increase engagement and adoption, think big and offer rewards for a short period that may not scale in the future.”

3. Design the “game” so anyone can play.

Gamification isn’t for everyone, and doesn’t always provide the right incentive — it only serves those that want to play, which is good unless your engagement numbers are low. If you find yourself in that predicament, don’t be afraid to go old school and flash a little competitive edge.

Imagine a community where members earn points and badges for their participation. If those rewards are only displayed on their personal profiles, their value may not be immediately apparent. However, if those rewards were displayed on a leaderboard that tracked super users and highly active newcomers, they may hold a higher value.

To take it another step further, as Niki explained, “Take those top 5 super users and the 5 highly active newcomers, and send them a handwritten thank you note. Small efforts and investments yield big results in which members could easily grow from an active user to a power user.

In essence, when you begin to evaluate or develop your approach to the Participation and Reward stages of the Commitment Curve, consider authentic and interesting ways for members to move up from level to level. Give dedicated thought to the types of perks and rewards you’re offering in exchange for participation. And don’t forget to take time to deeply understand and align with your community’s identity when developing the rules of the game they’ll play to achieve higher status.

You can find even more insights from Niki on her website, Content Potluck, and on Twitter at @nikschen. Niki’s team at TransAmerica will be hiring soon, so keep checking the CMX Job Board for updates.

Don’t miss the next Slack AMA. To join the community-run CMX Slack channel today, click here.

Alexandra Bowen

Alexandra Bowen | @AlexandraABowen

I have a passion for tech, community, design/cities & sustainability. Looking to change the world where those intersect. Little things make all the difference