We are living in the golden age of “gamification.”
Despite my openly expressed concerns for our culture’s infinite appetite for distraction, I’m a fan of gamification. Gamification, as Taige Zhang states, “leverages our natural desire for competition, achievement, status, reward, self-expression, altruism, and completion.” Done well, it helps promote user engagement and has been linked to improved ROI, customer retention, learning and other areas of improvement.
Gamification shouldn’t be confused with games. It is game mechanics used in a non-game context. We used games at my previous venture, J.J. Grace, to successfully train graphic designers how to use keyboard commands more to decrease production time. Zeek Interactive built Monster Commands and Key Commando for us as tools to improve productivity and make the tedious task of memorization fun and exciting. It worked. Our production artists knew every key command available and used them. Those game tools were integral in our winning major newspaper contracts.
We played the games. We didn’t allow the games to play us.
The games were a tool, not an objective. That was more than a decade ago. I’m not sure the term “gamification” was even used then. Today, sites and apps use game mechanics to increase engagement everywhere we look. As a result, it’s valuable to be aware of whether the game is designed to simply engage or train, or whether it is part the goal itself.
Last week on Twitter I couldn’t resist commenting on a tweet from Michael McClure. “Nothing polarizes a population like a conversation about @klout,” He said. “Join the dialogue, if you dare! on.fb.me/UUQbTD” He is right about that, and, of course, I had to dare.
We bantered back and forth a bit and Michael explained that he interpreted the deleting of my Klout profile as me expressing that Klout has no merit. Looking back at it, I can certainly see how he or anyone else could to that conclusion, so I may not have communicated my point effectively. I believe it has merit for anyone who chooses to give it merit, not unlike an IQ score. Like IQ, the weight you place on it is up to you. My response to Michael was that I was simply tired of playing the game.
And that brings me to the part that got me thinking. Thank you, Michael.
Michael: “I don’t see it as a game. I see it as the best measure – to date – of online influence. KNOWING it IS flawed, but still the best.
Me: “I would say all of the +K’ing is a game. And I agree, though flawed, it is probably best.”
Michael: “I don’t know. What if people really give +K to people who truly influence them? Does that qualify as “game-esque?”
Me: “Yes. It’s still a game, even if sincerely played.”
No matter how sincerely and honestly anyone interacts with this gaming element, they’re still playing a game, whether they want to believe it makes a difference or not. And more importantly, when the gamification on a site becomes part of the metric, when the game itself becomes part of the objective, despite player intent, the game is no longer simply an engagement tool, or a learning tool.
The Klout “+K” system, at it’s core, is simply a basic form of gamification. It successfully leverages our natural desires for status and achievement. Where things get cloudy is that Klout uses the +K’s as one of the factors to judge topical expertise, according to a former marketing manager. And since nobody knows for sure how +K’s are really weighted in determining overall Klout score, advice on how to behave around them often sounds like this advice offered just a few days ago: “A little Klout goes a long way! These actions will serve you well by boosting your online engagement levels, adding value to your community and increasing your Klout score! It’s a win-win all around!” My fear has always been this… “We play by their rules long enough and it becomes our game.” – Orson Scott Card.
So, allow me to offer a few suggestions on how one might engage with Klout.
First, never let “increasing your Klout score” become an objective. The Klout score should be reflective of what happens in the social spaces Klout monitors. The score should result from actions you take inside those networks that are specific to the purpose you have in those networks. The moment your actions in those networks are driven by “increasing your Klout score,” you’ve missed the point. The score means nothing if it’s based on actions that only benefit the score.
Second, understand your motivation for any action. If you’re giving out +K’s right and left in the hopes that others will do so in return, hoping they’ll validate your expertise, regardless of their actual experience with it, I seriously question the validity of any of it. So should you. There are both good and bad reasons to give a +K. Intention means something. At least it should.
Lastly, don’t allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that it’s not a game. It is. Recognizing that, you have two options. Your first option, the one I like, is to let the game play itself. Set it and forget it. Link your social channels and let Klout judge your interactions without interfering. Don’t participate in the gamification. Just do what you would do if Klout didn’t exist. If everyone did that, the scores would probably more accurately reflect our relative online “influence.”
Your second option is to play it to win. Embrace the game as a game. Go have fun. Ignore my first suggestion and make raising your Klout score the objective. Focus on the actions that contribute to raising your score or increasing your perceived topical expertise. Distribute +K’s religiously. Retweet the +K’s you get, and be ironic by adding a +1 to your +K retweet. Openly thank those who give you a +K, being careful to put something before the @ symbol so every one of your followers will see the tweet. Reach out to people with high Klout scores and try to get them to engage with you. It will probably help your cause if you tell them you’re giving them +K’s openly, in the hope that they’ll thank you. Participate in the hottest memes to increase your percentage of messages shared, whether it has any relevance to your business or not. Do whatever it takes. Just embrace the game and play it with gusto. It will be fun, like a game should be.
At the very least, if you do either option “right,” it should allow you to enjoy some pretty cool perks. Hey, somebody’s going to get the perks. It might as well be you. 🙂