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How Companies Use Gamification for PR

Ping. You’ve got a Facebook alert on your mobile. It figures that the one moment of the day that you are not tethered to your phone is the one moment when Facebook blows up.

Gamification of PR

Who sent you a message? Who liked your selfie? Is it your birthday?

You rush to the phone and open the app:

Jim Dougherty invites you to play Candy Crush

Jim Dougherty invites you to play FarmVille

Jim Dougherty invites you to play Ghoulish Monday

You may not be happy to see these notifications. I may not be thrilled that you know that I play Ghoulish Monday (or that I listen to the euro dance 100 on Spotify). But the creators of Ghoulish Monday are thrilled that I invited you to play, because they got an earned media impression without having to change their game at all.

You’ve probably seen examples like this type of gamification everywhere. WPP defines gamification as “the use of game play mechanics or non-game applications, particularly consumer-oriented web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications.”

But for our purposes, I want to show you how gamification generates media impressions, both on social media and earned media platforms.

First, a caveat: generally I hate to use huge corporations as case studies in a blog intended for small- and medium-sized businesses, but I think in each case described there are aspects of their campaigns that are scalable and illustrative.

McDonald’s monopoly

McDonald's - Gamification of PR

Have you ever played Monopoly at McDonald’s? It is one of their most popular marketing promotions, circulating game pieces that offer both instant prizes and prizes for accumulating property sets on a Monopoly board. There are websites devoted to McDonald’s Monopoly and some customers who eat at McDonald’s nearly every day during the campaign.

In 2013, McDonald’s introduced another element to their already addictive game: social media. Participants were encouraged to follow @mcdonalds on Twitter and to use the hashtag #McDMonopoly in order to gain additional game incentives.

The social media impressions worked more or less like Facebook notifications: media impressions were generated by enthusiasts incentivized by the possibility for greater reward.

The earned media impressions were generated by highlighting the past success of the game and the new enticements.

Here is the press release that McDonalds sent out for this campaign.

Here is a brand co-opt press release for the same campaign.

You’ll also note that this is a pretty great example of cross-channel marketing.

The lucrative coffee consumption game

Starbucks - Gamification of PR

Odds are that if you enter a Starbucks every once in a while, you see people using the Starbucks Card. “Card” is probably a bit of a misnomer as a lot of people use the Starbucks App on their phone to pay for their coffee. (I am one of these people, incidentally.)

This is a form of gamification. Starbucks offers perks and free drinks to entice customers to spend money with their cards (that are often automatically reloaded) promoting frequent consumption of coffee. This is great from a marketing perspective, but where do the media impressions come from?

First, there is a traditional earned media opportunity for any changes in the program. For example, last December a limited silver Starbucks card was introduced and Starbucks generated some media coverage with its release.

Here’s the press release.

And when they added digital tipping and “shake to pay” options to their phone app, they were able to generate some additional buzz. Here’s that press release.

The terms of the rewards cards change often enough that this is a decent strategy to generate media hits, especially in light of the interest level around Starbucks cards. But there is another public relations opportunity around this.

Starbucks uses its gamification program in its financial public relations as a metric to describe its financial well-being.

Now, if you think about it for two seconds: sales from a loyalty card aren’t especially informative of the specific financial health of an organization. I’m no accountant, but I don’t expect loyalty card growth to be included in GAAP anytime soon. But as an indicator of future financial health, there is probably a case to be made that card users are more reliable repeat customers, with a greater psychological investment in the company than your average joe (pun intended). And if I were a potential investor in Starbucks I might feel optimistic at the growth of customers using a card rather than other methods of payment.

That review is outstanding – share it

Amazon Vine - Gamification of PR

I buy a lot of stuff from One of the features that I find so powerful about the site is how the recommendations are voluminous. The most helpful good review and critical review on top, aggregate ratings easily accessible. It’s a great program.

A large reason that there is such a rich set of reviews is the Amazon Vine program. Amazon Vine is a program that rewards the top reviewers on the site with opportunities to choose gratis items to keep in exchange for a timely review. The criteria for invitation to Vine is a secret – volume of reviews helps, helpfulness of reviews helps, and timeliness of reviews helps. This probably explains why there are so many thorough and timely reviews on Amazon.

If you don’t know about the Vine program, you’re not alone. It almost seems clandestine even though Amazon is pretty transparent about it. And aside from the marketing value of all of those reviews, Amazon also generates a substantial amount of media coverage from this program.

If you’ve ever left a review on Amazon, it always asks you if you want to share your review with your social networks. The most immediate media benefit is that every single review has the potential to broadcast to a well-receiving audience: friends of the reviewer.

Additionally, Amazon is able to leverage their literary army of critiquing scribes in unique ways, such as contributing to the judge of a contest to determine a literary prize.

My intention with this piece was to describe different ways that businesses are using gamification for PR. Although the examples are big, they are scalable and could be low-cost, high-reward opportunities to generate media coverage.

(Disclaimer: I made up the game Ghoulish Monday. If you get an invitation to play, it may be bogus.)

Want to learn more about PR in 2014? Get your free State of Public Relations report now!

Jim Dougherty is an expert on social media and technology who blogs at Leaders WestFor more marketing advice from Jim, click here.

Image: PublicDomainPictures, Katy Warner, Jason Howie, John Nakamura Remy (Creative Commons)

About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.

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