McCullough Discusses Gamification with The National Law Review

This article originally appeared on NatLawReview.com and can be found here.

Gamification in Thought Leadership; not Just a Game: Education, Good Habits and Competition

For the past few weeks, Pokémon Go has been a conversation starter. The game has made headlines for getting kids out of the house bike riding and taking walks, and everyone seems caught up in the craze. If you’ve been to a museum, or a park, or a shopping mall lately, you’ve most likely seen people bent over their phones wandering around talking about Pikachus and Rattatas. If the game has taught us anything, besides the location of the nearest PokéStop, it’s the motivational power of games.

It’s no secret that it can be a challenge to get attorneys to commit to a thought leadership strategy. It takes time away from billable hours and it can take awhile to see results. One intriguing strategy is gamification—game mechanics applied to non-game situations to encourage users to behave in a certain, desired way—to get marketing initiatives off the ground. Heather McCullough of Society 54 is an expert on gamification platforms, so NLR reached out to her to get our questions about gamification and thought leadership answered.

An important ingredient in any gamification initiative is buy-in. Heather says, “It is important to have an internal champion who will help to lead the effort and encourage participation. I have seen time and again efforts fail because they are being led by the Marketing or Business Development department with little to no visible support from management or other attorney(s).” It is key that firm leadership indicate their support for the efforts, and nothing communicates that better than consistent, active participation in the efforts. This visible approval and leadership can help encourage buy-in. Having an enthusiastic participant in a leadership role can encourage participation firm-wide. This helps get the ball rolling before the fun of the game –and the spirit of competition– takes over. Heather shares, “ We have a client whose managing partner is the champion for their gamified business development efforts and he communicates regularly with the attorneys about the competition – who is doing well, who needs to improve and then sharing some best practices which can help everyone improve their efforts. This firm not only seen tremendous buy in from the attorneys but also are realizing real monetary returns from their efforts.”

McCullough made it clear that any gamification strategy had to be clearly thought out—it is not just a game. It is important to understand your goals: what do you want the final product to be? McCullough says, “It is incredibly important to know what the firm is hoping to accomplish with the increased effort around writing thought leadership and design the gamification strategy with that at the center.”

For a thoughtful, effective, educational gamification strategy, it’s important to remember the unique challenges of thought leadership development, as well as the best practices for content. Folding good thought leadership principles into any game is an important tool to maximize the efforts. Heather says, “When we design gaming platforms for our clients, we always include thought leadership efforts into the activities available. . . this includes research, writing, publishing, repurposing and educating his/her peers on the issues discussed.” Breaking down a large task—like writing for a blog—into smaller pieces—and rewarding those pieces can make it easier to get started. If it’s easier to get started, more content is created. Additionally, breaking the process down allows attorneys to see opportunities to create content on their own, again increasing the amount of content produced. As McCullough points out, “The effort of writing is most important because there are many avenues to distribute content, even simply adding it to the individual attorney’s bio. With more content for a firm to choose from for distribution, the success will come.”

Creating thought leadership can be a very solitary process–but that doesn’t mean that it can’t get competitive. Heather says, “Attorneys are amazingly competitive and while the actual act of writing is a solitary endeavor, game-like elements can be incorporated into the process and competition can happen among the individuals and points can be awarded for a variety of different components.” What those components are can be up to the individual goals of the firm–but it is a solid strategy to reward good habits so the game encourages good habits–and also educates attorneys about what those good habits are. For example, McCullough says,

There is a plethora of ways that writing can be rewarded and rewarding for the attorneys involved. For example, writing for a business audience vs. a legal audience (no legal-ease, please), keeping the article under a certain number of words, writing one article and then providing the specific content that can be used on various platforms (e.g. condensing the message to 140 characters for Twitter and also providing a solid synopsis to be included on LinkedIn), or co-writing with an attorney from another practice area.

Along with encouraging behavior, gamification is a great way to encourage attorneys to educate themselves about good practices. Heather says, “I believe that you could use gamification elements, such as badges and status symbols, to ‘reward’ attorneys for participating in educational sessions. Additional badges and status symbols could be provided to attorneys who chose to lead the educational sessions which encourages enhanced participation and preparation.” The educational sessions are great chances for top-content producers at the firm to share their secrets, and to share the firm’s overall strategy for content production.

As with any initiative, gamification is not something to set into motion and then walk away. It requires nurturing and re-evaluation to make sure your original goals are still being met by the game. Heather says, “Many companies who have used game elements to improve or increase desired behaviors have reported fantastic results. The gamification aspect served to not only motivate the individual(s) initially but also proved to help sustain the efforts longer term. That being said, there is a natural fatigue that happens with any new effort so steps should be taken to regularly shift the parameters of any of game, reset certain elements and also maintain consistent dialogue with participants to uncover areas of improvement.”

Understanding your goals and defining them can simplify the design process and bring your efforts to bear on the behaviors you want to encourage. The sky’s the limit–creativity is a tremendous asset in designing a gamification program, and generating something that helps meet your needs and brings fun, excitement and competition into the firm is completely within reach.