As hundreds of thousands of businesses make big investments in social enterprise technologies, they know that the promise of social business is only realized if employees actually use and engage with the technology. It’s a lot like buying a beautiful, fast and powerful sports car: even if it’s built with nothing but the highest quality components, loaded with the latest features and assembled with the utmost craftsmanship, it won’t move an inch if you don’t add fuel.  It will just sit, in the driveway, looking pretty, and getting you nowhere fast.

Gamification provides a powerful type of “engagement fuel” that ignites the social enterprise engine and keeps it running fast and smoothly, and last week we announced an exciting new partnership with Bluewolf to bring this fuel to businesses. Before I explain how, let’s take a quick look at what’s driving all the fuss around the “social enterprise,” anyway.

Ask any CEO “What’s your most important and valuable asset?”  and the smartest and most successful will always answer the same way: “Our people.  The people who create our products, connect with our customers, build our partnerships, manage our technology, handle our finances, design our strategies and organize our business are ultimately what make us successful as a company and separate us from our competitors. Our people are our competitive advantage.”

That may just sound like the right thing for a CEO to say, but it’s not a stretch to see how true this really is; we’ve all made decisions to buy - or not buy - from a business based on the interactions we’ve had with the people at that company, be it the service experience at a restaurant or the interactions we’ve had with the sales organization of a technology company.  In fact, in business-to-business scenarios, where product parity is common, it’s often the interaction with the people at each company that ultimately decides who gets the business. People buy from people.  I blogged about this years ago when I was at LinkedIn, and would argue it’s even more true today. 

Until recently, it’s been really hard for a company to fully leverage this asset. For the most part, your customers and partners have only had access to your sales people, your customer service departments, and maybe your corporate communications departments. The rest of your employees were typically walled off from customers, partners, and potential employees.  And it’s been hard for employees to collaborate with one another to make great things happen for customers; the people in your New York office can’t walk down the hall and physically huddle up with your San Francisco team, the product team has no idea what sales is hearing from customers, etc.

Fortunately, a number of tools have arrived in the past few years to address those issues. Salesforce, IBM, Jive and many others now provide powerful platforms that businesses can use to foster internal collaboration and develop dynamic customer communities. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest and other tools allow businesses to showcase their talent, and the smartest companies are aggressively embracing these tools and encouraging their employees to participate. While they realize that creates some risk of having their best people recruited, they also know that their retention strategy needs to involve far more than just hiding their people, and the benefits of exposing their talented employees outweighs that risk.  

But here’s the problem: these tools can be incredibly intimidating to use. Not only are you typically staring at a big white box begging you to “share something,” the very thought of broadcasting and sharing with thousands of customers, peers, partners, competitors and others is scary for people not familiar with the tools. Companies find themselves faced with a myriad of questions from employees: How do I use LinkedIn? What should I say on Twitter? Why should I use Chatter?  How do I follow one of my colleagues on Jive? How do I participate in communities on IBM Connections? Since the interactions taking place on these platforms will reflect on the brand of both the individual and their employer, it’s understandable that there’s some apprehension, especially considering that social ink is indelible.

That’s where gamification comes into play. By adding the same ingredients that motivate hundreds of millions of people to deeply engage in gameplay, you can help them learn, embrace and sustainably use these social platforms. Today’s game designers have realized that the most effective way to engage people is to introduce them to a series of simple, basic “missions” that get progressively more advanced until the user has completely mastered how to play the game. Now those same techniques are being applied to social enterprise technologies.

Here’s an example: imagine opening up an enterprise software application and seeing a series of missions organized across 4 levels. The level 1 missions are very simple: Add Your Profile Photo, Join a Community, Follow a Colleague. As you complete the missions and advance to the next level, you’re presented with more advanced tasks, like Post a Comment, Share an Article, Start your own Blog. By the time you’ve completed Level 4, you’ve become an expert user of the platform, and are now presented with a set of missions related to your specific role: Close 5 Deals, Collect 5 Outstanding Invoices, Squash 25 Bugs.  All the while, you’ll see progress bars showing you how close you are to the next milestone, along with leaderboards showing how well your colleagues are doing.  An example of how this has been implemented in IBM’s Connections platform can be seen here.

Bluewolf is a great example of a company embracing this approach.  As a technology consulting firm, they know their most important asset is the army of brilliant people they’ve recruited to join their company, and they want Bluewolf’ers to embrace and use social technologies to showcase their individual skills, expertise, thought leadership, and overall value. So they created an internal initiative called #GoingSocial, designed to teach their employees how best to leverage these tools. Employees are given a series of missions, implemented within Salesforce.com, to expose and engage them in the program. The results were so impressive right out of the gate that they’re now offering this service to their customers to help them achieve the same results, using gamification at the core to drive the behaviors.

So after you’ve assembled your dream social enterprise vehicle, don’t forget to fuel it with engagement elements to drive adoption. It’s best to do it right from the beginning when you’re rolling it out, but it works just as well with an existing implementation.  Whether you’re using Salesforce.com, IBM Connections, Jive, or any other social platform, Bunchball can help you use gamification to realize the full potential of the social enterprise.

It’s an understandable perception: you hear the word gamification, and when pronounced correctly [gay-muh-fi-kay-shuhn], the word “game” slaps you right in the face. It must be about making games and playing and having fun, right?

Wrong.  In fact, it’s the exact opposite. To understand why, let’s start by turning back the clock a bit.

In 2005, Rajat Paharia founded Bunchball as a social games company, long before people were planting virtual corn or throwing birds at pigs.  He noticed that every time he was making a game, he was using a similar set of techniques to engage players: he would give people a clear problem to solve like completing a puzzle in a defined period of time, he would give them a measure of progress like points and levels, he gave them a sense of social status like high score tables, and he would provide some degree of reward, like unlocking new levels or getting new abilities.  None of these were revolutionary concepts - in fact, game designers had been exploiting these same exact techniques for years, particularly in the video game space, and as a result millions of people would devote hours and hours trying to save princesses from gorillas, collect pellets in a maze or help a frog cross a busy freeway.

This made sense: the game designers knew that if you satisfied very basic human needs and motivators around progress, status, and reward, people would become deeply engaged in your programs.  And they weren’t the only ones who knew this: for decades, martial arts instructors have given their students colored belts as a measure of progress, they’ve bestowed status in the form of rank relative to students with lesser belts, and they’ve rewarded students with ceremonies and recognition when they’ve “leveled up” to a new belt.  The travel industry has also known this: give people miles as a measure of progress against acquiring a new level like “Premier Executive,” give them status with early boarding, and reward them with better seats and upgrades, and you will get people to not only engage with your loyalty program, but they will buy seats on your airline over others.

But for some reason, these game mechanics that so deeply engaged people were completely missing from where they were desperately needed: consumer and enterprise digital experiences. In a world where hundreds of thousands of sites launch every month vying for user engagement, and where millions of people are asked to use enterprise software for hours a day at work, none of these proven engagement techniques were present, in large part because it wasn’t easy to implement them.

But what if we had the technology to add these game mechanics that the game designers (and others) have exploited for years, and applied them to consumer facing web sites and enterprise software applications?  Would we get the same levels of engagement? Rajat wanted to find out, so in 2007 he built a cloud-based “gamification engine” that would allow businesses to add missions, levels, points, leaderboards, and rewards to any digital experience to drive high value user behaviors, with rich analytics to understand what was happening. He called it Nitro, and signed up NBC as a customer. They didn’t want a game, they wanted high levels of engagement on the website for their hit show The Office. And they got it, big time - to the point where, 5 years later, NBCU uses Nitro today across the majority of their marquee brands like Bravo, USA Network, SyFy, Telemundo, and others.  And thus the Gamification movement was born. Not making games, but borrowing the techniques that game designers have always used to engage audiences.

Fast forward to today, and gamification is now being applied in the enterprise: not so that employees can goof off, but to help them be more productive.  Again, these techniques aren’t new: the notions of progress, like completing milestones in a project, status, like your reputation in a company, and rewards, like recognition in front of peers or a promotion, are nothing new and have been proven time and again to motivate workers, but they are completely missing from the tools we’re being asked to use on a daily basis at work.  As a result, the tools go unused and employees become disengaged. 

That’s all changing. Companies large and small are beginning to see a massive opportunity to leverage game mechanics in the enterprise to engage employees in initiatives and applications to get better work done faster - to increase productivity in a way that actually motivates, engages and retains their employee base.  

Here’s an example. Imagine opening up Salesforce.com and seeing a mission titled “President’s Club.” To earn the “Presidents Club” award, you need to complete the following missions in Salesforce:

- Hit 110% of quota

- Close 5 opportunities worth $150K or more

- Add 10 new accounts

- Enter 5 new C-Level contacts with complete records

- Be one of the first 5 people to complete the above missions

The employee would not only have a clear problem to solve, but, in real time, can track the progress he or she is making, right in Salesforce.com, without the need for any manual tracking - its all automatically being tracked as work is being done. That progress is completely transparent to others in the company, bestowing a degree of status compared to those who will also be competing for the President’s Club reward. Most business leaders would love to have their employees focused on and completing those missions in the enterprise software tools that the company has invested time and money in deploying.  They clearly map to business results and smack of productivity.

Which is the exact opposite of what many people think of when they hear the word gamification.

At Bunchball, we’re partnering with a number of companies to make all of this a reality. Our Nitro for Salesforce solution makes the above scenario completely possible, today.  We’ve brought gamification to Jive and IBM Connections to help employees quickly learn how to use these applications to be more productive, faster. And we’re just getting started.

So for now, while we’re still in the early days, it’s understandable that the term gamification conjures up images of employees playing games, even if that’s the exact opposite of what’s happening.  But at Bunchball, we proudly stand behind the term and always have, and believe that over the course of the next two years, gamification in the enterprise context will, by default, be associated with highly engaged, highly productive employees.  We’re looking forward to playing a big part in making that happen.