Michael Wu, Ph.D. is Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.
Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter at mich8elwu.
Welcome back. I just want to say that my first SxSW experience was a blast. Aside from all the parties, our panel was great. The audience were engaged and asked challenging questions, and I believe that is what made the panel fun and informative. If you are interested, SxSW provides a podcast of our panel on The Science of Influence. Someone from the audience also recorded a video, but the sound quality isn’t great. So if you want to watch the video, I recommend playing the podcast in the background, then play the YouTube video with volume turned off. Finally, our panel has been graphically recorded in the Ogilvy visual notes. Pretty cool huh! I am totally missing SxSW already, and I hope to attend again in the future.
By the way, if you are interested in the Science of Influence, I’m happy to inform you that I’ve been invited to speak at SugarCon 2011 on this very topic: The Physics of Influence. It will be a 3-part talk (40 min). I will cover the basics of how influence works, the ROI and some proven repeatable business strategies, and then some advance analytics involving social netowrk analysis. So I think everyone should be able to get something out of it. Hope to see you there in couple weeks.
Alright, now we’re ready for more gamification. This is the fifth article in the science behind gamification mini-series, and we’re ready to talk about the last factor of Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM). If you missed any of the earlier articles in this mini-series, I highly recommend reviewing the following before jumping into today’s post:
Today I will talk about triggers, the final factor of the FBM. From the discussions in my earlier posts, there seems to be some confusion between trigger and motivation. Let’s see if I can make that delineation clearer today.
In my previous two articles, we talked about how game mechanics/dynamics motivate users and increase their ability (or perceived ability through increasing the task’s simplicity). This is important as we should be able to move users to the upper right of the ability-motivation axis above the activation threshold of the desired action. However, the user may still not take the action, even if he is motivated and has the ability.
There can be many reasons for the lack of action. Just to name a few examples, the user may be:
Unaware of his ability (e.g. didn’t know that he can take such action, unaware of the simplicity of the task etc.)
Hesitant (e.g. unsure if it is appropriate, unsure if it is the right time, question his motivation, etc.)
A good trigger is designed to solve these problems. A trigger can take many forms but its function is simple. It prompts the user for action now. The only requirements are that the user must be aware of the trigger and understand what it means.
Since the trigger tells the user to do something, it must indirectly make the user aware of the fact that he can do what he was asked to do, and it is appropriate to do it now. Furthermore, it can even serve to interrupt other routines that the user has been engaged in.
Triggers Depend on the User’s Behavioral Trajectory
Despite the simple function of triggers, there are actually many different types of triggers for people with different behavioral trajectories. This is because there are many possible behavioral trajectories to reach the activation threshold on the upper right of the motivation-ability plane.
If people already have the ability, but they are not motivated, then their behavioral trajectory may look like figure 1a. On the other hand, if they have the motivation but lack the ability, then they will probably reach the activation threshold as in figure 1b.There are also those who have the ability and motivation, but they are just waiting to be triggered to take some action.
For these three types of behavioral trajectories, Prof. B. J. Fogg has outlined three types of triggers:
Spark: for trajectory 1a, people who have ability, but not motivated. This type of trigger is often built-in as part of the motivation mechanism. This is why some people are confused by the difference between motivation and trigger, but triggers are not inherently tied to motivation in FBM.
Facilitator: for trajectory 1b, people who are motivated, but lack ability (or perceived ability). This type of trigger often simplifies the task by highlighting its simplicity. It is often used with the progression dynamics to create anticipation as the user practice and improve his ability towards the final goal.
Signal: for people who have both the motivation and the ability. This type of trigger should only serve as a reminder. It shouldn’t try to motivate users who are already motivated. Otherwise it can easily turn into an annoyance. It shouldn’t simplify the task either. Doing so may actually make the task seem boring and not challenging enough.
In most realistic situation, people’s behavioral trajectory will be somewhere in between these three extremes. Designing the proper triggers requires a good understanding of the users’ motivation level and ability. Although many gamification techniques focus on driving action through motivation, Prof. Fogg found that people are most receptive to facilitator and signal triggers. This is because spark triggers often aim to motivate people to take actions that they wouldn’t otherwise intend to take. This can be annoying when used in the wrong situation or too frequently.
Triggers also depend on Bartle’s Gaming Personality
For example, killers are extremely competitive. A trigger that challenges them can quickly launch them into action (provided that they have the motivation and ability).
On the other extreme, socializers hate confrontation and tend to follow the crowd. So a good trigger for this type of personality would be something like “10 of your friends are doing this now, want to join?”
Achievers are driven by status, so spark triggers that are associated with a raise of status could be very effective for this group.
Finally, explorers are driven by discovery, the uniqueness of their contribution in a timeless and unbounded world. So a trigger that calls upon their unique skill for help without too much time pressure could be very appealing to them.
Today, we talked about the last factor of FBM: the Trigger. We learned that without a proper trigger, motivation and ability may not be sufficient to bring about action. Although a trigger’s function is simply to prompt a user for action, designing an effective trigger is challenging, because a trigger’s efficacy depends on many factors. We discussed two that are used often in game dynamics:
Behavioral trajectory: Based on the trajectory that brings a user to the activation threshold, Prof. Fogg categorized triggers into three types: (a) Spark, (b) Facilitator, and (c) Signal.
This post concludes our theoretical investigation of gamification. Through FBM, we learn that successful gamification is all about driving the user above the activation threshold by:
Increasing their ability (or perceived ability)
And then applying the proper trigger at the right time
This temporal convergence of motivation, ability and trigger is why gamification is able to modify, alter, and manipulate human behaviors.
Now that we have all the theory under our belt, we can start exploring the business application of gamification later. So stay tuned. I hope to see you next time. But for now, let’s have a discussion and explore the subtleties of triggers. I welcome all comments as usual.