Gamified: How gamification can augment user retention

Who here has a smartphone? Wearable fitness technology like a  fitbit, apple watch? And how about social media applications on those devices? Facebook? Snapchat? Instagram? And how good does it feel when you post a pic and those notifications start rolling on in?

Maybe you even time your posts to a day and time to get the most exposure to your audience? Maybe you share it across your social platforms? Do you feel like a loser when you and a friend post similar pics and it gets more likes than your own? A-ha! a loser and a winner. But Instagram isn’t a game, is it? Nope, it’s gamified. And this is an essential motivator to keep users coming back, posting, sharing and engaging. This is what we call intrinsic motivation — the essence of gamification.

So what did I want to accomplish with this project? Well, first I think I should tell you a bit about myself. Professionally, I have always been a writer, a journalist. And in my life since completing university in the states I have strived to find ways I can incorporate writing with my love for travel. After  a year long work exchange of living in Barcelona, I developed the idea of Border Tramp. A web site for young people traveling on a tight budget, specifically in Central America — where I had my sights set next. So off I went to Central America. And using WordPress I developed Border Tramp.com

Border Tramp began 5 years ago, since then I have indexed nearly 300 pages, spent over 1,000 hours traveling in Central America and most recently have published one ebook now available for purchase through Amazon. I spent nearly evening and early morning updating the site with prices and reviews. Long bus trips turned into moments of reflection and to this day my laptop automatically connects to wifi networks from Cancun to Panama City. I have invested a lot of time and effort. I want to see the site thrive, and if possible, make a profit. I knew that gamification is a powerful motivator in getting a loyal and active user base, and I wanted to explore how I could exploit gamification to increase user engagement and retention on my own travel website Border Tramp.

What does that mean? Well for a content site to have value, it must have an audience. And the more loyal and engaged an audience is, the more valuable it is. I choose to measure this value in terms of user retention. If visitors find the site and like it, they should come back for more.

So here we take a look at the existing user retention curve and the curve I would like to see. Notice the y axis, the numbers have very different values. At the moment, it’s practically non-existent. That’s what I would like to change.

retention rate actual vs. forecast
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The idea was to gain a full understanding of who the Border Tramp users were and where they were coming from. And this was done by having an in-depth look into the google analytics data of the page. As it turned out, the average user was who I had targeted since the start: young, English-speaking men and women. But the way how and why they were using the page had some interesting reveals.

Among the most utile lessons taken from this process was hacking the (not set) filter that hinders so much important data on how users are finding the site. Because of Google logins we often can’t know search queries that deliver users to a page, but with a workaround I was able to find out user landing pages. I may not know the majority of search queries, but I do know where they are landing. And after the home page, the most common landing was a photo of a bus schedule in itty-bitty, middle of nowhere Penas Blancas Nicaragua. Go figure.  Not only is this a provocative anecdote, but it also highlights an opportunity. Making local bus schedules more accessible.

I then constructed a business case I developed for a gamified feature to achieve the user retention I would like. With this feature I incorporated a social login process that would be a measurable value. Using industry standards I was able to increase the retention rates of the first days, however without a means of projecting how engaging the proposed feature would be, I wasn’t able to forecast the retention curve I had set out to achieve.

Which bring us to the next steps. As Border Tramp is a living site, still being updated by travelers every couple of months, this is a very important aspect of my project. And because I don’t have capital to invest on developing a technically demanding feature I aim to scale the project to my capabilities. Border Tramp has always been focused on having the most thorough and dependable content, while lacking innovation technologically speaking. I plan to take advantage of what I have learned of intrinsic motivation. And tap into that to engage my audience to share Border Tramp and engage more.

Knowing the audience well, and zeroing in on who they are as both individually and as a group of traveling youths, tapping into what motivates is the key to keep them coming back to the site. I plan to use existing tools to measure specific KPIs, using social media and existing on-site interactions that are available to engage them in a meaningful and quantifiable way. With social networks integrated into the site I can monitor certain KPIs and with Google analytics I can create certain events and goals to monitor others.  And work with the main objective to bring that retention curve up to where I want it. The key to a truly successful and sustainable gamified experience is to unlock the potential of intrinsic motivation. And that is what I intend to test going forward.

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