by Kris Duggan

 The psychology behind keeping teens and suburban housewives hooked on social games could help you better engage customers on your Web site.

 “Gamification” is a top trend for virtually every industry. The term describes applying techniques taken from social gaming and traditional loyalty programs to non-gaming Web, mobile and enterprise experiences.

These may focus on rewarding select behaviors, rating performance or highlighting user reputation and influence across a community. In 2010, for example, corporations around the world, most of which were in the United States, spent $100 million on gamification. This number is expected to rise to $2.8 billion by 2016, according to M2 Research.

You’ve likely already encountered a gamified experience, although you might not have noticed. Gamification has been around for a long time in the form of customer rewards and simple behavior-feedback visualizations like progress bars.  The modern gamification of a fully integrated loyalty and reputation program across a brand’s Web and mobile presence is the advanced evolution of these humble roots.  

The popularity of gamification in 2012 represents the convergence of multiple trends in today’s online and customer environments. Here are a few things you might consider if you’re looking for ways to better interact with your customers:

 ● The exponential growth of available content and online experiences means brands need to work even harder to sustain user loyalty and increase key behaviors.

●Users of the modern Web have come to expect instant positive feedback for actions. While we don’t think “I want a reward” for every action we take on a Web site, a small piece of positive feedback increases the likelihood that we will repeat that or other incentivized actions in the future.

●Social gaming, at the height of its growing popularity, is successful due to sophisticated understanding of user psychology and behavior analytics. These proven techniques are now being borrowed to drive user behavior in non-gaming experiences.

● Traditional loyalty programs that reward only transactions are no longer relevant in today’s digital world with multiple brand touch points. Being able to track and reward behaviors outside of pure transactions increases lifetime user loyalty and can significantly lift metrics such as social referrals, user-generated content, media views, product ratings and more.

●The era of big data has yielded important technology innovations that allow you to track, store and influence specific user actions on your sites. One is around the process of “sharding.” Sharding is a modern database architecture technique to secure and reliably store large amounts of data. Instead of storing data in one database, the technique distributes the application data across multiple databases.

It also increases performance when storing and accessing data, which is key for businesses that want to get the most from their gamification programs. NoSQL, a modern database architecture, also allows us to capture context around behaviors efficiently. Some of the world’s largest enterprises, such as Intuit, Foursquare, Disney, Craigslist and MTV Networks, use this relatively new technology to handle massive amounts of data.

●Early adopters of gamification techniques have already shown increases in user behavior metrics, such as conversions, referrals and user-generated content, 20 percent or more, and ins some cases as high as 500 percent.

Ultimately, smart gamification requires sophisticated program design to support sustainable and engaging user experiences. These experiences must integrate across all of a brand’s touch points, whether that’s a social community, reviews experience, online product catalog, blog, mobile application or third party service.

 Gamification, like any popular trend, will see its share of misuse. Some people think of gamification as adding a few badges to one area of a Web site with no social context, or use the wrong game mechanics for their particular user experience and demographic. While adding a few badges to a site to reward a handful of behaviors may motivate limited behavior over the short term, it will not have any sustainable long-term impact on your business objectives. We’ve extensively tested this when designing our platform, and early on discovered that it is very important to think of social user experiences and game mechanics as holistic programs to influence behavior.

Status and virtual rewards are only as valuable as the community in which they are awarded and displayed. Smart gamification requires a deep integration of a rewards program across a brand’s entire user experience, whether that be on its main homepage, mobile app, community, blog or any other digital touchpoint with the brand.

The tangible results gamification produce will likely spur more businesses to give it a try this year.

Kris Duggan is chief executive of Badgeville, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm that provides a gamification platform for marketers and brand strategists in businesses to increase and measure conversions, referrals and retention from social gaming, social media and social analytics.