The Gamification Summit drew 600 attendees to San Francisco April 16–18. In the same way that a conference for chefs begs the question of what was served at the banquet, a conference on gamification makes you wonder what games were used to keep attendees engaged.
Gabe Zichermann can answer that question. Zichermann has built a career on the idea that organizations can improve their relationships with employees, customers, and attendees by adding game mechanics to their interactions. He’s co-author of three books on the topic, the most recent, The Gamification Revolution, was published in March. He’s also CEO at dopamine, a New York–based creative agency focused on “fun, innovative, gamified campaigns for employees and consumers.” And finally, he’s CEO at the Gamification Co., the organization behind the Gamification Summit, or GSummit as it’s known.
A Twitter tool called MemeCube, explains Zichermann, was the key to the gamification of GSummit. The mobile site, designed by dopamine, makes it easy for attendees to “check in” at a session, post comments about the session via Twitter, retweet comments made by other attendees, and weigh in on other attendees’ tweets by voting them up or down.
When users open MemeCube, they’re presented with the conference agenda. Once they select a session and check in, the screen shows tweets only from attendees in that specific session.
Zichermann cites several benefits to turning Twitter into what he calls “a real-time feedback loop for attendees and speakers.” To start, you can see what the tweeting participants consider the most interesting ideas from a particular session in one place, he says, plus the conference gets the benefit of all thepromotion. But, equally important, the system tracks
• which sessions generate the most tweets
• which attendees tweet the most
• which tweets get retweeted the most
• and which speakers are tweeted about the most.
Through the MemeCube mobile site, speakers and attendees can check on the leaders in these categories in real time, and the volume of tweets, Zichermann argues, is a reliable measure of engagement. “If I find something you say interesting enough that I bother to write it down? Yeah, that’s a really good measure.”
During two-day April conference, MemeCube averaged 20 tweets per attendee, with top attendees tweeting nearly 300 times.
Zichermann has turned these MemeCube metrics into a competition for GSummit attendees. The speaker who scores the highest gets to designate the charity to which GSummit makes a donation in lieu of a speaker gifts. (Twitter engagement is also looked at when deciding which speakers are invited back, Zichermann says.) And for attendees, there are daily prizes. “At the end of the first day [at the 2012 GSummit] the top tweeters were invited to play a special game with a couple of our speakers,” Zichermann explains. “We had one of the top card-counters in the world—the protagonist in the movie Bringing Down the House—as well as a top-rated Monopoly player and educator who uses Monopoly in the classroom to teach math. Top tweeters got to play cards with Jeff Ma and a game of Monopoly with Tim Vandenberg.” Some of the prizes this year included free registration at a future GSummit, having your Twitter account followed by the Gamification Co. for three months, and a “secret session” with Zichermann. For the latter, the top 10 tweeters got a chance to pepper Zichermann with questions during a private, 30-minute meeting.
“These special opportunities don’t really cost you anything as a meeting organizer and that’s one of the lessons of the gamification revolution,” Zichermann says. “People are not looking for you to give them free stuff all the time. It’s not about swag or discounts. Smart companies know that people want what we call ‘status, access, and power.’ Those are the three most important rewards, and ‘stuff,’ which is a fourth kind of reward, really falls to the bottom of the list. It’s not that people don’t value free things, it’s just that they value them less than status, access, and power. Event organizers have a real advantage because they easily can create access benefits, status benefits, and power benefits because they are running a live event and people are physically in their presence.”
But do events really need games and prizes to keep the audience focused?
Meeting organizers, Zichermann says, “have the same challenge as any other business: Getting and sustaining people’s engagement is really hard today. There are millions of possible distractions. And it starts with that smartphone in your pocket.”
He cites a 2012 Neilsen survey revealing that, in the U.S., 88 percent of tablet owners and 86 percent of smartphone owners had used their device while watching television at least once during a previous 30-day period. And it’s no different at meetings, he says. “Now it’s common for people to have their iPads, iPhones, computers open during sessions. It’s delusional to think that those people are all taking notes. People are reading their e-mail; people are on Facebook. We have to think past the idea that just because the employee is at their desk, or just because the attendee is in their seat at the plenary means that they’re engaged with it. That’s just not true.”
Another classic challenge Zichermann is addressing through gamification techniques is how to engage attendees between event cycles. “One thing we did was to tie together the [Gamification Co.] Web site with the conference’s gamification.” People who tweeted, retweeted, and otherwise created and shared content about the event earned points that could be traded in for registration discounts. Another reward Zichermann is considering: premium seating for the sessions. “If you earn your way into those rewards by doing things between event cycles, that’s a key connection,” he says.
Zichermann has produced four U.S. GSummit events since the conference launched in 2011, plus smaller gsummitX events in Tel Aviv and Berlin, and he says companies are now contacting dopamine to license and customize the MemeCube tool. (View the GSummit MemeCube at m.gsummit.com.) He plans an East Coast GSummit in the fall that will include, among other sessions, a case study of the gamification of a large-scale corporate sales kickoff event, and he’s working on a series of hybrid events tied in with a seven-city global roadshow.