Marketing Turnaround - 2017


Social Amplification and Gamification

By Gail Z. Martin

Now that you're putting out better content than ever before on social media to maximize your brand, influence and credibility, you want to make sure it's seen by as many people as possible. Not only that, but wouldn't it be nice if people had fun engaging with your content, so much fun that it felt like play?

Those two elements—extending reach/visibility and making engagement fun—are at the heart of social amplification and Gamification. Not surprisingly, the two often go together.

Social Amplification

Social amplification occurs when your content gets seen by a viewership larger than its original audience. It doesn't have to go “viral" as in crashing the internet. As with audio amplification, there are levels. You start with a conversation among friends. Then use a microphone to reach a larger group in a classroom. Next is a stage at an event, and then maybe an arena in front of a sold-out stadium. Translating that to social media terms, getting beyond your immediate circle of friend and followers is the first hurdle. Reaching the friends and followers of your core audience is the next level of influence, and then beyond that, two or more degrees of separation, to strangers who share common interests.

If you've seen “boosted posts" on Facebook and “promoted tweets" on Twitter, and their like on LinkedIn and other sites, you've seen one level of social amplification. These paid posts have a variety of targeting options. You can specify just your friends and followers (essentially paying to reach the people who have signed up because they want your content, which is somewhat held for ransom by the site's algorithm). You can also specify the friends and followers of your current contacts, or people “like" them in shared interests. Or you can enumerate the specific interests or behaviors of your ideal audience and let Facebook find them for you.

Anecdotal evidence and personal experience with Facebook suggests (although I can't prove it) that paying for amplification gradually yields diminishing returns. Initial boosts seem to reach a larger audience than do later ads, with the same budget and similar content.

I'm not talking about click-throughs, which certainly can decrease as the newness wears off of an ad. I mean reach—the number of people who get to see the ad, something that should be possible to guarantee. It might have to do with a peculiarity of the algorithm, or maybe it's like any addiction—it takes more every time to get the same high. Buyer beware.

Twitter ads don't seem to suffer from the same attrition—at least, not yet. That might be a feature or a bug, and it may not last, but for now “promoted posts" with good content and good targeting deliver pretty consistent numbers.

Amplification offers two key benefits: reaching new people who have enough similar traits to your tribe to be good potential customers; and the possibility that a percentage of those people may not just buy your product, but also follow you on social media, thus increasing your organic reach and influence.

In addition to promoted content, a second form of social amplification occurs when you make your content available in places where others are encouraged to share it. Sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit have taken the place of the office bulletin board, where people used to thumbtack interesting cartoons, articles and bits of information. The whole purpose of these sites is to make good content more easily discoverable and shareable through crowdsourcing. In other words, everyone on the internet now has access to tack up what catches their fancy on the big intangible bulletin board in the cloud. At one point or another, each of these sites has been hailed as the “front page" of the internet, and there's a degree of truth to that, if (keeping to the newspaper analogy) everyone in town got to contribute and vote on what content went on the front page of the paper.

Rules vary by site. In some cases, it's okay to post a link to your own content so long as it is informational and not salesy. On other sites, the very act of posting our own link is considered overtly promotional and may draw ire. Read the rules and observe site etiquette. If you're not supposed to post your own links, hire someone to do it for you. If you can post for yourself, don't abuse the privilege and make sure the articles are truly content-rich.

A third level of amplification occurs on sites like Social Buzz Club. This paid membership site encourages users to share each other's content, making it easy to upload your own blogs and articles and make them available as tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts, and more.

Because it's a membership site, there's a higher level of accountability to post good content. After all, it's pretty obvious if you're posting information no one else deems useful enough to share. Helpful, informative content gets rewarded by being shared more often, which increases the credibility and influence of the author.

As with the rest of social media, the premise of being a good neighbor and giving first will never steer you wrong. Go onto these sites with as much enthusiasm for finding great gems to share with your audience as you have for making your own wisdom easy for others to find and share. Be generous in sharing great content. Not only will that build trust with other site users, but your own followers on other social media sites will begin to see you as the helpful curator of good information, enhancing your credibility.

Others may actually come asking for you to share their content, a measure of growing influence. The shift won't happen overnight, but if you're consistent about posting and sharing great information, it might occur sooner than you imagine.

Social Gamification

People are more likely to do something if it's fun. Why fight human nature? We all know what's good for us but we default to what we enjoy. What if what was good for you was also fun to do?

If you've ever entered an online poll, drawing or contest that collected your email address or opinion, you've tasted Gamification. It's so much more fun to type in social profiling information if the quiz promises to tell us which celebrity is our secret soul mate than it would be if the questions were asked outright.

Participating in a poll or giving up our email addresses for the chance to win a prize is more exciting than just filling out a form. Behind every one of those “games" is someone gathering a list or data mining.

Take a look at the online promotions and email ads from major retailers, and you'll see an increasing trend toward Gamification to encourage higher engagement. A really good “game" with a satisfying payoff (with or without monetary value) will get shared to a wider audience.

Gamification doesn't have to be complicated. Offering a random winner chosen for a prize from each month's new and existing email newsletter subscribers is a type of game. Promising Facebook friends a free downloadable goodie if a post gets a certain number of shares is another easy game. The social excitement of Kickstarter has a lot in common with being at a racetrack, urging on your favorite horse.

Social Buzz Club is a social amplification site built around a Gamification concept. Members sign up because they ultimately want other people to share their content, and are looking for good content to share on their own pages. The game comes in the process.

Members have to share other content ten times to earn enough points to be able to post one piece of their own content. This incentivizes and rewards the kind of behavior the site owners want while making it fun. The goal is to get members out of the rut of over-promoting and to grow their influence by sharing good content from other experts.

In addition to the main website, Social Buzz Club also has a Facebook group where people connect, collaborate and learn strategies for sharing influence. The group organizers bring in speakers, trainers and experts to SocialBuzzU.com and have created a value-added learning center for all Social Buzz Club members.

GISHWES (The Greatest Internet Scavenger Hunt the World has Ever Seen) is an example of Gamification that straddles both the online and offline worlds. Virtual teams compete to complete lists of unusual tasks and upload photos and videos of their results.

Tasks range from silly to difficult, from pure fun to performing random acts of kindness, and have succeeded on a large enough scale to earn seven spots in the Guinness Book of World Records. Winning teams get an exotic (and whimsical) trip with event founder, actor Misha Collins.

Sites like FreeRice.com, RecycleBank.com and KahnAcademy.com are examples of Gamification to encourage and modify behavior to reduce world hunger, increase recycling, and encourage learning. Recipe contests and bake-offs (which encourage the use and purchase of branded products) by food manufacturers are additional examples of Gamification projects that have proven successful over time and exist both online and offline.

Excerpted from The Essential Social Media Marketing Handbook: A New Roadmap for Maximizing Your Brand, Influence and Credibility.