Google+ is many things to many people. To me, it is simply genius. It has taken my Internet experience to a whole new level, open doors to new realms and connected me with a multi-faceted social experience. In this way, Google+ is not a social network, it is our social existence played out within a more rich and complex technological environment than ever before.
So, then, could Google+ be considered as a social gaming? Let’s explore this from a few angles and from both the personal and business/brand perspective.
One this is for sure: Google+ can be a lot of fun, and highly rewarding. As such, many people will see achievements along the way in terms of their progress, however we may like to consider it. The list below is neither definitive, sequential or necessarily generalisable, but it does give some idea of the mechanisms within the system that lead to what we could on a personal level consider an ‘achievement’. So, here are a few examples…
- Getting your first +1s and comments
- Having a thread of comments come alive
- Getting something shared, once, 10 times, 50+ times…
- Having well known people appear on your threads and engage
- Creation of a community that becomes popular
The question of whether these are high levels and how harder to are to achieve is all up for grabs, but one thing is certain, when people get posts on ‘What’s Hot’ they tend to get excited, certainly for the first few (hundred) times! The same goes for creating memes that turn into ‘trends’ that take on a life of there own within Google+
There is also the aspect of people getting ‘circled’ by people. Depending upon the value of the ‘circling’ this could certainly be considered as part of a social game where people engage in a way that is more likely to encourage relatability (put simply – ‘you get on’) and, in turn, a connection being formed. In this way being ‘circled’ is the symbol of being connected.
Keep leveling up!
Now some people may not care about this so much, but creation of a topic that trends in the top 10, or may getting verified (that little tick next to a person’s name), custom URLs for Profile and Pages, may also be achievement. Some would even suggest getting your Profile or Pages or Community on the Suggested User List for content (which can give you a considerable uplift in followers) could be considered as part of the gaming experience, where users and interface dance together in a positive fashion. Each stage potentially being harder to achieve and each prior stage no longer being as satisfying to the most series of gamers.
Changing in the platform can change the rules of the game
Then we have the way in which the platform itself (i.e. Google as a business) changes aspects of the experience itself. This is clearly seen when the ‘cover image’ i.e. the large image on a person or Page Profile was changed. People quickly rallied around, with some talented designers building new maps of the environment to how the images would be displayed on different devices; some people offered new tools in the form of free images for others to use that matched the new spec; many shared on thoughts and examples for us to model, and then, of course, some people even complained that they weren’t consulted. All of these actions increase conversation, increase engagement and make the trending topic stay ‘up there’ as #profile for a couple of days. One relatively small shift has led to a huge difference in how people engage with each other and the platform itself. It is worth noting that the gaming experience but be ‘achievable’, whilst ideally a stretch in order for most people to engage in a process.
I know what you are thinking “no way!” I don’t game the system…” but the social game has been going on for at least the last 20,000 years, it is just now in a new, more evolved form. There are different types of gamers, of course, and some are more competitive for themselves, where others like to ‘play’ for the benefit of social cohesion. And then we how people can use this to a social benefit for themselves, others and for business in general…
Gamification and brands
You can probably see the social play as one engages in the some or all of the above challenges. But what could be the benefit of such ‘gaming’ for companies or brands or charities? Well, this could well boil down to the concept of engagement. Every time someone engages with you, they give you attention.
The quality of attention will vary, of course, and a +1 can mean many things when one considers the nature of the intent behind it. Ultimately, however, brands will talk about one thing – the return on investment from their social activities. So, what would be the measurable nature of the gamification process? What outcomes could a business experience from engaging in this social game? Well, here are a few good reasons:
Google Authorship: The author’s Google+ profile link, they’re portrait, and links to other items they’ve authored display on SERPs (search engine results pages)
Google Publisher markup on the other hand, the Authorship markup attributed to business and brand pages, isn’t as prominent in search results.
But if a person (with a linked Google+ profile) has authored the brand’s content, even a guest blogger assuming proper authorship markup, that does show up. Also, if a person has shared the site/blog posts then that person’s post sharing your link can show up in search as well. Remember, Google+ posts are present in Google’s search index. So, in this way, a person who didn’t author the content will have, effectively, have given it the chance to appear in search through their sponsorship. Handy.
Search results of thousands of people – putting it simply, when people with Google Authorship share such content onwards, they too are propagating the content into search results. And as long as they have a clear head shot on their Google+ profile, that could well be enough for authorship.
Gaining +1s for the website itself – when a link is shared as the ‘main link’ (i.e. not in the body text of a post) it accumulate the +1s relating to that post. ‘Shares’, in effect, send out the message but it is through the +1s that engagement is being measured. Presumably, the more +1s a post/site gets, the more relevant they will be considered by the algorithm and in turn will yield positive results for search.
Gaining attention of the brand’s single share can lead to tens or even hundreds of onwards shares.
Verified Profiles and trust – as a brand, if they can gain the attention of these people as well, then they may find their search results improve even more. (This will relate to ‘author rank’.)
All of the above can be used to drive quality traffic to your website.
Gaining +1s on the brand page and linked website can give an advantage in a) brand perception and b) directly through increase in click through rate for Google Adwords campaigns, c) Google Local reviews that appear in search (and can be added in as social extensions in Adwords as well).
i.e. the brand can gain through an interest in social trust. And people will buy when people trust.
It would appear this social game suits us social animals. Our brains, with the reward systems of neuro chemicals being catered for rather well, ‘get off’ on getting attention, achieving goals, getting unexpected rewards (as sometimes, positive things ‘just happen’) etc.
If you want a prime example of gamification at its best the you need look no further than Google’s “If I Had Glass” campaign where thousands of people engaged on Google+ and Twitter with the tag #IfIHadGlass. In essence, the ‘gamers’ were playing to get Google’s attention to be able to access Google Glass (Google’s new augmented reality wearable coolness) before they get released through becoming an ‘Explorer’. They would do so by giving the best reason’s why they should have access first, often using humour or compassion to engage the Google competition panel.
This meme spread incredibly quickly and within days even morphed into mainstream TV with comedic twist when Conan O’Brien show created a video of a dog with a tag #IfIhadAss. You may wonder whether this is desirable? Well, considering there were Google employees were quick to share, it would suggest the latter simply tends to embed the original meme stronger in people’s minds i.e. the second meme becomes a meta meme where the first meme still is a reference point and reinforces the brand campaign.
In normal speak: people still know it was about Google Glass.
The great news is, this kind of campaign can be implemented without a huge budget and could even give smaller brands an enormous lift. As long as the game stretches the player, but is still achievable for the player, at that ‘level’ of capability, then the player can enter into a desirable flow state and enjoy the gaming experience.
One can play a game for personal gratification, setting targets (consciously or unconsciously) and achieving, with rewards inherent in the activity itself. And I have to admit I still love to see #StarWarsTuesday trending as it was today (a trend I kicked off June 2012). After all, it is fun to play with people with whom you relate around the things you enjoy and love.
When it comes to ‘brands’, now we have reached the end of this article, I will point out we are all our personal brands. So everything in this article can be applied on a personal level as well. Through building trust with the people who we respect and want to connect, we are enabling the social game to flow in a positive direction – we reciprocate in the relationships and enable all parties involved to continue an enjoyable social play through the spreading of ideas.
Google+ for myself (and I suspect many others as well) is ‘play’ taken to the next level.