How gaming boosted a software company’s customer engagement by 55 percent

Eloqua had a captive audience for gaming mechanics in its Topliners community. Adding leaderboards and game elements energized its community.

When marketing software firm Eloqua launched its customer community called Topliners a few years ago, people were engaged, but only somewhat. The level of engagement on the site essentially plateaued, according to Heather Foeh, the company’s director of customer culture.

As it turns out, all the community’s members needed was a little incentive. With the addition of a gamification module from Bunchball, engagement improved by 55 percent, and stayed high.

“It’s not like it took a dip after the newness wore off,” Foeh says.

Not only did adding gaming elements give members of the community something to reach for, she says, they also helped build personal relationships so strong that members figured out ways to meet in person.

An easy sell

The Topliners community runs on a Jive platform. It was running for about 18 months before Eloqua added in gamification elements, Foeh says.

“Built into the Jive platform, out of the box, there is the concept that you can earn points for your contributions, but you can only earn points off, like, six things,” she says. “People would often email me to say, ‘Could we earn points for this or that?’ It was completely impossible to do in the system.”

As soon as the Bunchball gamification module was available on the Jive platform, Foeh’s representative at Jive called her to say he had something that could help with those requests.

“I think I signed the very next day. It was the easiest sales cycle he’s ever had,” she says.

About two months later, in July 2012, the module was up and running. Eloqua’s team tested the module in its “sandbox environment” to make sure the badges were appropriately named and the point values for actions were just right.

A big motivator

Topliners is a community of marketers, who tended to be “fairly highly motivated by the concept of leaderboards and badges,” Foeh says.

“Overnight, people were all about it,” she says.” Some people earned all the badges in one month.”

Badges and points are such a driver of activity on Topliners that Foeh can guide behavior by offering more of them for certain actions. For instance, Foeh encouraged testimonial blog posts from customers by offering 200 points for one, when most actions award 50 or so. She also drove users to upvote comments or “like” answers to questions. Assigning points to Twitter-like updates has given new life to that section of the community, she says.

“We really didn’t see very much activity on those,” Foeh says. “It just skyrocketed.”

What’s really amazing is that there aren’t any huge, tangible rewards for earning points or badges in the community. There’s an option within Jive to open a store to coincide with the gaming module, where people can spend points on discounted conference tickets and the like, but Foeh hasn’t opened that area yet.

“They’re really competing for the status,” she says.

That status might have real-world value, though. Foeh says one of the community’s top members put his “ninja” level—the community’s initial top tier until Foeh raised it to “rock star”—on his resume to impress a potential employer as a way of validating his Eloqua credentials.

For those community members who don’t necessarily go crazy over the gaming elements, the features are unobtrusive, Foeh says. The interface is basically the same. All that’s been added is a leaderboard on the home page and badges in user profiles.

“It really didn’t change the overall experience they’d been having,” Foeh says.

Foeh says quite a few Eloqua employees also compete in the community for badges, but they tend to simply answer questions and concerns rather than start their own threads.

The impact

Adding the gaming module has raised engagement—blog posts, status updates, comments, and so on—by 55 percent, according to Jive’s own measurement tools, but it’s also improved the quality of the interaction.

People who previously would have swooped in, found an answer to a question, and left are now compelled to post, Foeh says. Lots of people who aren’t even customers check out the community.

“The community is open,” she says. “It’s actually helped us close a lot of deals.”

Topliners’ users have taken ownership of the community, Foeh says, and it’s become self-moderating. Whereas lots of questions went unanswered in its early incarnation—Foeh would direct questions to employees or customers through emails to get them answered—now, there’s no need. People direct questions to the top experts.

“On the leaderboard, you can see the top 10 people, so you know who has knowledge,” Foeh says.

Messages, particularly the status updates, are increasingly personal as well. One of the people atop the leaderboard announced her pregnancy through a status update, Foeh says. It’s a real community with people who care about each other.

Bonds have gotten so strong that some community members have scheduled live meet-ups, the biggest of which was at the Eloqua Experience conference last fall. Folks gathered at the welcome reception for a photo, and the members at the top of the leaderboards were regarded as celebrities, Foeh says.

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