Exploring the Intersection of Social Media, Gaming Strategy and Business.

by Elizabeth Henderson | February 10, 2012 | (2)

The White House does it. Siemens does it. SAP, Marriott and Hilton Garden Inns do it. Jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald may have been talking about falling in love when she claimed the same thing for birds, bees and educated fleas in her classic song, but this time we are talking not of love, but of applying game design and mechanics to engage people, drive behavior and solve business problems (yes, “gamification”).

Playing games is serious business—it creates engaged people who can help solve big problems through changed behavior and insights. The last few years have seen steady growth in the number of books on how gaming can change the world through how we perceive and interact with it. One such recommended book is Total Engagement by Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read.

Reeves and Read claim that games are good modifiers for work that is both too easy (alleviates boredom) and too hard (helps structure and filter details). They looked into the intersection of gaming and work and mapped work skills (taken from The Occupational Information Network, or O*NET) to gaming experiences, including the following.

  • Getting information from various sources
  • Monitoring processes and materials
  • Identifying objects, actions and events
  • Judging the quality of service, things or people
  • Processing and evaluating information
  • Analyzing information and making decisions
  • Thinking creatively
  • Updating knowledge
  • Developing objectives and strategies
  • Organizing, planning and prioritizing tasks
  • Communication with various stakeholders to influence them, resolve conflicts, build relationships and teams and for coaching and training

These sound not only like what event professionals do every day, but what the people who attend events do every day, too.

The White House uses this nod to gaming to stimulate innovation; it also allows the administration to pick an approach or a team only after they have demonstrated their capabilities, which mitigates both performance and financial risk. This approach has been so successful that the U.S. Congress now allows all agencies to support challenges and prizes up to US$50 million (http://brev.is/gUT2).

Siemens, a global electronics and electrical engineering company, uses gaming to simulate the best way to run a manufacturing facility. With Plantville, a game starring Pete the Plant Manager, Siemens trains users to become more efficient managers through simulated hiring, plant design, buying and installing new equipment. SAP, a software developer, uses gamification to help their corporate board members prepare more effectively for meetings; using dashboards, progress bars and leaderboards they try to get board members more engaged in looking at data for more engaged participation.

The hospitality industry is also applying gaming techniques—Hilton and Marriott have both done so for training and engagement. In 2009, Hilton Garden Inn developed a training tool called “Ultimate Team Play,” which puts players in charge of key functions including the front desk, housekeeping, maintenance and food and beverage. As the player moves through the virtual hotel, they also interact with customers. Not only does the game give experience with managing a hotel, it also gives customer satisfaction scores. Results help drive brand assessments for each individual property. The technological interface used was the PlayStation Portable (PSP), meaning that each player had to access the technology from a handheld device, potentially a limiting factor for widespread use and engagement.

“The game was a fun way to align job skills, service and gaming,” according to Lynn Smith, director, culture and communications for the Hilton Garden Inn brand. “It was a nice medium for reinforcing job skills and customer service throughout the various roles and responsibilities within hospitality. [But] in 2012, this will no longer be provided as a training tool and resource for Hilton Garden Inn.”

However, it provides a start-date for the entry of gaming into business functions of the meeting and event industry.

Marriott, meanwhile, has recently launched a Facebook game called My Marriott Hotel. Like The Sims or Farmville, two Facebook favorites, My Marriott Hotel requires players to stay on top of things such as ordering supplies, budgeting and human resource management. It is intended primarily as a tool to engage potential employees and get them interested in the hotel business. This is possibly to support growth planned over the next few years into international markets.

The big difference here is the choice of technology; unlike Ultimate Team Play, My Marriott Hotel uses social media, and this is a game-changer. The timing of the launches of each of the games is a key point; in 2008, when Ultimate Team Play was being created and into 2009, when it launched, social media was still on the rise and had not reached the somewhat epic proportions it has today. For example, as of 2011, Facebook has approximately 750 million active users, while Twitter has about 200 million users; in contrast, the PSP was purchased by approximately 72 million. The point here is that social media is essentially free to use for anyone with a smartphone or a computer, making it a more versatile tool for use at meetings and events and increasing the possibility it can be used effectively for engagement and learning.

The intersection of technology and timing has a number of potential business applications for the meeting industry. The use of social technologies, such as social networking sites (Facebook, Foursquare or Google+, for example), video blogging (YouTube) or micro blogging (Twitter) are increasingly being adopted by organizations to enhance operations, take advantage of new markets, manage organizational complexity and improve business processes, according to a recent study by McKinsey. This acts as an extension of the organization on a continuous basis, reaching both internal and external audiences.

Most people think of meetings and events as standalone, discrete entities. If we start to view them instead as part of the strategy and operation of the organization, then incorporating gaming strategy into events can become a continuous process, which gets more intense during the actual event, but is “played” year-round. Depending on your type of organization, and whether you are looking primarily internally or externally, this has different implications.

For example, if you are an association, social media incorporated into a gaming application can act as a way of engaging members year-round and rewarding them for activity that is jointly beneficial. An example of this is awarding a “badge” in specific areas once a certain number of CEU hours have been reached (a method popularized as of late by Foursquare and smartphone app Shopkick). This promotes attendance at educational events throughout the year, rewards participants for their time and allows people to visibly and emotionally recognize their achievement, both to themselves and to their organizations. Activity ramps up during major events, but is active all year.

If you are an industry corporation, in addition to tracking participation in educational or motivational events, a continuous game can be used to reinforce desirable behavior, such as number of meetings booked into a venue or attendance at local industry events. An example of this would be a leaderboard for the internal sales team or even enterprise-wide, to give recognition to outstanding achievers and to foster competition. Events would then provide a hub of activity, adding to the excitement they generate and their importance within the organization.

The meeting and event industry finds itself at a dynamic intersection of two business and social trends: the rise and widespread presence of new, largely adopted technology in the form of social media and the ascension of gamification. The application of these trends to meetings and events could address a number of long-standing issues in the industry, such as attendee engagement, training, motivation, strategic importance of meetings within organizations and even the potential implementation of and engagement with other important global business trends, such as CSR as applied to meetings and events.

The use of social media at events is becoming widespread, whether encouraged by organizations or not. Meeting and event professionals should assess the strategic possibilities of merging this into a gamified application within their organization to engage, inform and reinforce behavior. It’s definitely a way of leveling up. One+

Elizabeth Henderson
Elizabeth is an experienced meetings industry practitioner with specializations in sustainability and business. She has experience in sustainable event design, business ethics, corporate social responsibility (CSR), not-for-profit management, gamification, business planning, community engagement and communications. She has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and in Business Administration. She is the co-author of Ethics and CSR in the Meetings and Events Industry (© Wiley 2013). You can follow her on Twitter at @ehenderson.
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Comments 2

  1. Bob Vaez 15 Feb

    Fantastic article and very well written, really enjoyed reading it. It's great to read about various implementation of gaming in such a diverse area. I think one of the most effective (yet least used) areas that gamification can be very powerful is education. Very simple gaming mechanics can be very effective in getting attendees to pay attention and better comprehend educational session content, specially in highly medical and scientific conferences. There is a very nice video on TED that discusses how Khan Academy is using gamification in educational videos and software. Education is a huge part of every event and I think attendees and event planners can definitely benefit by playing a little quiz game at the end of each sessions on their tablets or phones :)

    PS. checkout our gamification platform for events at : http://www.GamifyApp.com (we are in beta-launch right now)
  2. David Goldstein 11 Sep

    Hi Elizabeth -  

    I enjoyed your article as well.  As an innovator in the team building industry we are looking at gamification in our team building events and as team building events themselves.  We are on the cutting edge offering Smartphone scavenger hunts and have plans to develop apps to continue to build the process of bonding and attachment as it is a learned one gained through the experience of playing, sharing, and having fun.

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