Game theory meets Social Media Marketing

Tom Chatfield spoke last July at Ted about “7 Ways Games Reward the Brain. “While I watched Tom’s speech, I realized that Social Media has more in common with game theory than with content marketing. Here’s my take on his 7 rewarding concepts as applied to Social Media marketing.

While you’re building your online strategy I suggest you use Tom’s concepts to anchor your online interactions in a sound theory that is built on rewarding the brain.

1. Experience bars measure progress

Every Facebook ‘like,’ every new fan, new follower is a social media ‘experience bar.’ They measure your brand’s online success. These measures of your success bring pleasure to your brain – literally. Stop and think for a minute how you can reward your customers, clients, fans and followers with small experience bars of their own.

Think of every single interaction as an opportunity to move your audience along a game path, a story, with an experience bar. What would your ‘experience bar’ look like?

2. Multiple long- and short-term aims

Long-term engagement with a brand isn’t delivered in a short promotional Facebook giveaway or contest. It’s built over time, with each short-term aim a step along a path towards ultimate brand loyalty.

Think of your social media strategy as a continuum, and give your audience short- and long-term reasons to stay engaged in a relationship. What are the long- and short-term aims that will help build and retain that customer’s loyalty over time? It’s not one Twitter contest.

3. Reward effort

Games are wonderfully adept at rewarding effort. “Games don’t care if you fail, they care if you try.” Social media interactions are no different. For every attempt at an interaction (even if a customer needs support), you must reward their attempt at engagement. Give your fans, followers, and even detractors credit for “every little bit of effort” with your own positivity.

4. Rapid, frequent, clear feedback

The online world moves at a rapid pace. Every little engagement must be rapidly rewarded with clear communication, feedback, and appreciation. There’s nothing that annoys me more than to post a comment on a New York Times article, never to see a response from the author. That’s why I stopped commenting. If you want to build your brand online — or offline for that matter — you must deliver rapid, timely, clear feedback to your fans, friends, and followers.

5. An element of uncertainty

As Tom says, “a known reward excites people; an unknown reward ignites the brain.” In games, there’s nothing more exciting than completing a quest and being rewarded with unexpected bounty. This is the kind of social media story that catches on like wildfire.

Think about the goodwill and brand equity you’d build in this scenario: A lonely fan posts a great picture of their new product purchase on Facebook only to be rewarded with free product from the manufacturer for all of their friends and loved ones. This kind of unexpected reward sparks the kind of deep brand and personal relationships that are central to social sharing.

6. Windows of enhanced attention

Tom explains that when building a game and modeling the story, he looks for those moments when the player is more likely to remember the experience. It’s these moments that make a huge impact on the user’s experience. He also looks for the times at play where the user has gained a new level of confidence, where the user is taking a new risk.

These two moments of “enhanced attention” exist in the social sphere as well. Find the times in your consumer’s life (even their virtual life) where they’re making memories. Make their first big brand engagement happen on a personal level. Help them build confidence to try something new online.

These windows of enhanced attention exist at multiple levels in the online world. Find those users that just joined Twitter and give them a reason to engage. Show them the value of the platform by reaching out — even though they only have 5 followers.

Build memories and reward risk taking. Those are the moments of enhanced attention.

7. Other people reward the brain

Obviously, this is at the core of any social media strategy. Engaging with other people in the online world — people who share your passions and interests — is the most basic reward. However, I’d argue as a brand owner or brand manager that the opportunity to collaborate and engage with customers on a level never before possible delivers a new kind of reward. Ten years ago, access to people like Brian Solis or David Meerman Scott or even David Pogue was difficult and frustrating. Today, I have access to those personalities in a very personal way through social media.

Think about how your brand can be more accessible, how you can reward your fans, followers, and friends with interactions never before possible.