The value of gamified CSR

Brands and charities are leveraging social gaming as a crucial platform to engage with consumers and donors, as well as showcase their CSR commitments and achievements.

Half the Sky Movement: The Game
Half the Sky Movement: The Game

The gamification market is currently worth more than $430 million annually and is expected to reach $2.8 billion by 2016, according to M2 Research. As rampant adoption builds, gamification is fast becoming a popular CSR mechanism, say experts.

In the energy sector alone, 60% of worldwide retailers will use at least one gamified application by 2016, according to a study by IDC Energy Insights. This is due, in part, to an increasing emphasis on CSR and sustainability, the study says.

"Many consumer brands and charities have embraced games as a cost-effective method to engage consumers, particularly Millennials and casual gamers," says Scott Pansky, cofounder and senior partner, Allison+Partners.

He attributes the rising trend to a plethora of gamification platforms available, including next-generation consoles, smart televisions, and mobile gaming devices. Another growth driver is the sale of virtual goods and consumers’ real-time interaction with others who are participating in their social communities.

"Virtual goods sold, bought, or won for charitable causes are on the rise, establishing social games as a platform for connecting everyday consumers and the causes that interest them," Pansky says. "Consumers often learn about an issue or a cause for the first time through a game and share it, which increases the reach of each of the communities introducing consumers to philanthropy."

Partnering with charities
For instance, social game developer Zynga, through its games such as FarmVille2 and ChefVille, has partnered with leading charities including Save the Children,, the World Food Programme, Direct Relief, and Feeding America.

From a survey of 10,000 FarmVille players, 60% said they had already donated to a charity while tending their virtual crops, and more than one-third of players said they were introduced to a social issue through the game. Furthermore, about one-quarter of players said they were inclined to give to the same cause again, outside of the game.

Half the Sky Movement: The Game, is another example of consumer-focused, CSR-related gamification. Half the Sky, a multi-platform initiative against the oppression of women and girls worldwide, is the first Facebook game with direct virtual to real-life translation; The tasks and issues portrayed in the game all have a real-world equivalent in donations and social action opportunities.

"In just a few months, the game drew more than 1.2 million players and raised about $500,000," explains Pansky.

The secret to a gamified CSR campaign’s success is getting the audience to step out of an online experience and take action in real life, according to Jon Vidar, SVP at Ruder Finn and RFI Studios.

One company doing this is WhiteWave Foods, owner of several dairy brands including Silk and Land O’Lakes. WhiteWave uses gamification to get staff to take part in the company’s Values in Action program through a database called the VIA Tracker.

The initiative, which launched in 2006, encourages employees to log actions relating to volunteerism and community involvement into the database for points, which are accrued at year’s end for prizes. Rewards vary from a free lunch to a mountain bike. 

"We try to keep rewards sustainability-minded, but also create incentives so people want to keep entering into the tracker," says Deanna Bratter, WhiteWave’s senior manager of corporate sustainability.

The program’s purpose is to engage employees in the values of the organization – share what we do well and individuals matter – while also honoring what its employees find value in, Bratter adds. 

Although WhiteWave is a global company, the tracker is used primarily among its 1,894 staffers in North America. To keep staff keen, reminders are sent to employees and an annual awards ceremony is held for participants to get recognition from the company and its leadership.

Staff engagement efforts
WhiteWave also ties the database into its annual Share What We Do Well Month, which encourages staffers, as individuals or teams, to seek volunteer opportunities throughout the month and log them.

In 2013, the company saw roughly 90% participation throughout the year and 10,800 volunteer hours were logged. In addition, 6,500 miles were commuted by bike; 7,000 staffers shared rides or bus commutes; and 101,000 pounds of waste were diverted from landfills. The goal is a 5% overall point increase year over year. Since 2006, points have maintained a steady increase, always exceeding that goal, says Bratter.

The platform’s main focus is staff engagement, so WhiteWave cannot draw a dotted line from the platform’s usage to sales, she notes. But Bratter adds the company’s customers are always looking to partner with organizations that are holistic in their approaches.

"When we meet with customers, the tracker gives us a great opportunity to share our story about employees and our commitment to communities and the environment," she explains.

Identifying CSR leaders
Instead of using gamification as a direct part of CSR efforts to engage customers, Spectrum Health, a nonprofit health system in West Michigan, aims to use it to identify customer-facing CSR leaders within the company. Spectrum will roll out the intranet platform Jive to staffers this fall and hopes to add gamification modules next year, says Janelle Logan, director of community engagement.

"We are working on developing a group of community relations ambassadors, and want to use gamification principles to recognize people taking on that role within our company," she adds. "Participants will be able to earn honors and to show those on the intranet, such as having the community relations ambassador designation, the number of community hours served, and more."

Once identified, ambassadors help to tell the CSR and brand story, but they also get "vital feedback" from the communities in which they serve.

"We will equip and train CSR ambassadors so they are prepared for this dialogue with our members," says Logan. "Community relations and engagement is a key part of our CSR efforts."

A fundamental precept of engaging consumers or staffers in any CSR initiative is you cannot get people to do what they do not want to do, explains Steve Sims, chief design officer of Badgeville, a gamification platform.

However, the psychology behind a gamified CSR effort can certainly make it easier to motivate people to participate.

"Gamification can make people feel like they are part of a group, and valued for their participation, sort of like a tribal affiliation," Sims explains. "But it can also be a pressure mechanism that drives people to do things by making them feel like the odd one out if they aren’t participating."

But when beginning a gamified CSR effort, an organization must first identify its value proposition, context, and the main reason why it wants to initiate it. In the end, Sims adds, it must relate to what users want or the CSR effort will not work.

"People are not stupid," he adds. "If participants don’t feel like they are getting anything out of it, they won’t do it."

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