Gamification Ideas for Digital Signage

EPISODE 14 | Host: Derek DeWitt, communications specialist for Visix

Digital signage is all about engagement. And to engage your audience, you have to offer them something interesting and compelling on screens.

Adding game elements to digital signage messages and campaigns greatly increases engagement, and give you measurable ROI at the same time. You’re already asking viewers to do something with a call to action in your messages. Why not make it fun? Gamification done right can boost both engagement and productivity, because it creates a sense of play and offers a reward. That’s a win for both the viewer and the organization.

We’ll give you gamification ideas with step-by-step advice on how to structure a contest, what kinds of rewards to offer, and examples of how to gamify messages you already have.

  • Learn what gamification is and why you should care about it
  • Understand the four basic steps basic of gamification
  • Get specific tips on how to apply gamification to digital signage
  • Discover different types of incentives to boost participation
  • Explore gamification ideas for seven markets

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Learn more about this topic in our Masterclass Guide 3: Digital Signage Content


Derek DeWitt: Digital signage is a communications tool. In the modern age that implies a two-way flow of information and communications. One way to encourage people to participate and to communicate back is through gamification. We’re going to talk about this. It’s been a hot new word for a few years now, and it really does pay dividends that can be measured and have even bottom-line effects. I’m Derek DeWitt, communications specialist for Visix, and I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

Derek DeWitt: Gamification, gamified solutions, gamify your communications: these phrases pop up all the time. What does it mean? Basically, what it means is you’re taking game design elements and applying them into non-game contexts. So what we’re talking about is – there are rules, there’s some kind of a scoring system or some way to show achievements, there’s competition, either just sort of against certain metrics or against each other. And this somehow gets people actively involved and interacting with the communications efforts, interacting with the organization and so on and so forth.

So, what do you need to create a gamified solution, to take a communications effort and turn it into a game? First, you need some kind of rules. They need to be clear. They need to be simple. They need to be outlined. Don’t make them too complicated.

You need a finite period of time. The game clearly starts at a certain time on a certain day and ends at a certain time on a certain day. People need to be able to measure their progress. And you as the people running the game also need to be able to measure their progress. You need to be able to display that progress in some way using the digital signage. So as the game is going on, you’re updating and getting people excited, maybe getting more people involved and so on.

You need to measure success, and that means you need to have a winner or winners of some sort. And then you need some sort of rewards for those winners. So, that’s the overview of what gamification is.

The basics of gamification is four basic steps. First, go ahead and create your game. Create a goal. Your game has some kind of a goal, something that’s tangible that you want to achieve. Make sure that your game somehow aligns with this goal.

Advertise it on your digital signs as well as rules and instructions. Or if you don’t think you can fit that in two, maybe three digital signage messages, then have a QR code or a short URL that takes people out to a webpage or an intranet page that has the rules. Show the progress on the screens.

Use graphics that are easy to read and understand at a glance. Use data visualizations, things like this. And then again, use your digital signs to recognize those winners. Tout what they’ve won. Let other people see, hey, this team or this person won the game; this is what they got. This will probably encourage future participation. These incentives need to be tangible and they need to be attractive. You’re going to have just a basic “Do these things and you win”, or you can have some kind of a progressive system as well. That’s sort of a vague general overview. We’ll get into specifics in a minute.

But the next question is “Why should I take the time and effort to gamify my communications? I’ve already got my messages up. I’ve already got a call to action. Who cares?” Well, there have been studies on gamification. Garnett says that companies that use gamification techniques see a growth of over 250% over companies that do not. Aberdeen Group says companies with quote good unquote gamification techniques have a workforce that’s 48% more engaged and has 35% less employee turnover.

This is the communications version of that cliché from back in the early days of the first dot-com bubble where workplaces had basketball hoops and skateboards and Segways and onsite chefs and so on. It made the workplace a fun place to be, but it also cost quite a bit of money. Gamifying some of your communications efforts accomplishes much the same thing but is a lot less expensive.

It’s also pretty easy, honestly. I mean basically, management or whoever it is sets up the game, figures out the rewards and then the audience does all the rest of the work all by themselves. And they’re happy to do it. They’re willing participants. Nobody’s forcing them to participate. They choose to do it and they’re happy to do it.

So, let’s talk about some specifics and some tips on how to do this. So first off, think about that goal. And you need to make this as specific and as tangible as you possibly can. So, let’s say that you want to increase environmental efforts. It’s very important to a lot of modern workers that companies be seen to care about sustainability and environmental efforts and progress. Throwing up messages saying, “Hey, be green!” – what am I supposed to do with that? That’s awfully vague.

Come up with a really specific goal. Like “Let’s reduce 75% of all paper use this week”, or “Let’s knock our power usage down to this amount. We want to reduce power usage by 30% over the next seven days.” So that’s the goal. The game is then designed around that. So, how are you going to do this?

You need to do some kind of a point system. For example, let’s use that recycling thing. We want to reduce 75% of all paper this week being used. So you can have at 10%, that’s a benchmark; 20% that’s another benchmark, 30, 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 75. Somehow you get points, or you get badges or something along the way. And by the way, you’re getting immediate ROI back, because you’re entering this information in, the departments are reporting back to you, “Hey, we’ve done this”, “Hey we did this.” And remember they’re happy to report. You’re not just adding another layer of duties on top of them. They’re happy to do this because they’re playing the game, because they want that reward because they like to compete.

So, let’s say it’s, I don’t know, the mar-com department against the accounting department – two very paper heavy departments usually, right? So, they’re having a “paper off” to see how little paper they can get away with during this seven-day period. And you’re measuring that. You’re showing that using some kind of data visualization on the digital signs, so people can see it’s almost like a race. Boom, “Mar-com’s here. Oh, now accounting’s saved more paper, they’re ahead” and so on. And like I said, at different points and different stages, you could mark, “Okay, you’ve achieved level one” and maybe there’s some kind of a small reward there and at level two there’s another reward. And then whoever ends first, whoever gets the 75% first, gets the big grand prize of some sort .

When it comes to prizes, make sure these rewards are clearly defined, so people know exactly what it is that they’re going to get, and make it something that they want. Don’t make it a silly trophy. I mean you could, it depends really on your audience. You could make it a silly trophy of some sort if you wanted to. Or a not-silly trophy, a really nice trophy. But even better is, again let’s say it’s accounting versus marketing and communications trying to reduce that paper. So once they achieve level one, they’ve reduced 10% over last week or last month’s paper usage, they get 10 points, and then at 20, they get another 10 points. So the prize could be a variety of different things. It could be the grand prize, whoever wins gets a half a day off of work. Or some companies have casual Fridays, “Well, we’re also going to have a casual Thursday” or “Hey, we’re going to hire a food truck to come in at lunch for you guys because you won.” And that’s the reward that you get there. Or, I don’t know, gift cards to a local popular coffee shop or a place where you know that people go for lunch. Or maybe you could have lunch delivered in, so people can dine al desko or something like this.

Another option is you can allow, at each stage they accumulate the points and then you’ll have kind of an online shop. It’s very easy to set up. It takes very little time to just set this up, and then they can cash in their points on the shop page. So there are, I don’t know, ten things in there that cost a certain number of points and people can then go, “Okay, I’m going to spend 100 points to get this.”

This is very much like a how airlines incentivize people to use them over their competitors, through the use of quote unquote miles or points or however they work, right? We know that a mile isn’t an actual physical mile, but it’s a point system, and over time you accumulate so many of these points that you can get…I mean, you can get a free flight! Same idea here.

If you’ve got this kind of online store where you’ve got a variety of things – cinema tickets, concert tickets, free Uber Rides, free pizza, free daycare. It could be anything. It could be physical things – plush toys, swag from the company shop, things for people’s kids, whatever. They can then decide what they want to spend those points on. And maybe there are a couple of prizes on there that are really good, but there’s no way for any one person or one department or one team to accumulate enough points in a single game to get that big prize. And so, they’re going to want to participate two, three, four different times. Because you’re going to repeat these games over and over as you continue at it throughout the year.

When it comes time to give those rewards, don’t delay. If you’ve got a week-long game, don’t take five weeks to get around to giving people the rewards. Give them the rewards immediately. If you don’t do that, people are not going to feel satisfied and they’re not going to be encouraged. Plus if the rewards or gifts are physical or even like I said, it could be a food truck that comes in, the other departments see that food truck is there, they see those people having that nice free lunch and they think, “Wow, we would like to have that. Maybe we should participate in the next game. And maybe we can win.”

If the game involves any kind of repetitive tasks: do this, do this again, like I say with the saving paper, you’re saving paper continuously, so this is a repetitive task really. That kind of a level system is great, and as I said, you can award points at each level or you can unlock a small reward of some sort, things like this.

However, make sure that your gamified tasks, they’re not too hard, because you’re asking people to do something in addition to their normal duties, and many people are kind of pushing the envelope as far as being maxed out already. Don’t make them too hard, but don’t make them too easy either. And obviously what’s going to happen is, you’re going to have to think about your audience first and then you’re going to have to experiment. You’re going to have to evaluate how it went, and then you’re going to have to adjust for the next game.

And make it easy for people to participate. Don’t send them to a webpage where they have to fill out a form, and then they have to get a confirmation email, and then they have to click on the link, and then they have to fill out another form – who’s going to want to do this? Make it easy. Either they can go boom, fill out a form, they’re entered, or they can use their mobile device to go to an intranet page or a dedicated webpage. Or maybe there’s a button if you’re using interactive screens right there that they can tap and go, “Yes, sign me up.” Or it could be a photo, take a picture of this or send a text to this number, but make it so that the moment that they see that this game is coming up: it’s Wednesday and the message says on “Monday this game starts (the paper challenge starts). Sign up today!” Boom. Let them sign up right then and there in some way, and you’ll probably find that participation is much, much greater.

Remember the rewards, the points, badges, however you’re marking progress throughout the duration of the game; it measures participation and progress and it also, as I said earlier, it gives you automatic ROI. You can see immediately what people are doing. How hard are they trying? As the game progresses, if it’s Monday through Friday and it’s Thursday, do you see more participation as more people rush, rush, rush – that’s usually the case: you’ll see that participation is a little slower in the beginning of the week, and then it takes off at the end because people really, really want to get that prize.

Again, those prizes, they don’t have to be thematically tied to the game at all. If you’re reducing paper, don’t give a ream of paper as a reward. That just makes no sense. It can be anything. Make sure it’s something that they would be interested in. And you know what you can do? You can ask them before you run your first game or your next game or whatever. You can tell people, “Hey, this is going to happen in a couple of weeks. Here’s a list of potential prizes. Which of these would be interesting to you?” and choose the top one or two or three or four from their responses. They’re going to want those prizes, because they told you that they want those prizes.

Make sure to really celebrate success publicly. I mean, we’re not talking about…don’t set off a fireworks display, but make sure that everybody knows these are the people who won, here’s how they did it, why don’t you try your luck next time we run one of these?

One nice idea is to gamify KPIs, key performance indicators. If you’re already using them, and many organizations are, they’re already throwing up KPIs on their digital signage, so why not gamify them, right? They’re already visual. You’re using pie charts and bar graphs and funnel graphs and all this kind of stuff. It’s way more engaging and information-rich than just a bullet list. Obviously again, data visualizations make it very clear who’s ahead, who’s not, how it’s all going. I mean, this is perfect for an audience that’s transitory and walking past your screens.

So, you’re showing those progress towards goals, so everybody can see what’s going on. And especially if it’s departmental. If you’re doing marcom versus accounting, well maybe one person’s been doing the bulk of the work and then, you know, it’s Wednesday and they can see on the screens marcom’s beating them. Maybe that encourages people who were perhaps a little less enthusiastic, a little more reluctant to participate, to participate. And again, you as management, you don’t have to do anything. The people in that department will encourage them, “Hey man, come on, help us out.” You know, “Don’t print that!”

Put current trends up on your screens. This is always a nice thing to do, even if you’re not running a game per se. This kind of gives this idea of low-stakes competition with others. So, how is your company stacking up against your competitors? What about your ratings and reviews on social media, Google maps, Yelp, wherever you are? Are you winning awards? How about the awards that you’re winning versus your competitors? What kind of press coverage are you getting? All of this stuff can be shown on digital signs visually, and it gives this kind of competitive element to things, which is kind of fun.

Again, to actually have real competitions – that raises the stakes, and everybody gets really excited about it. And more importantly, as the week progresses or as the time period progresses for the game, people talk about it. There’s break room buzz, people are talking about it, they’ll compete with each other, they’ll brag, they’ll tease each other, they’ll try and get other people to get in there.

Another interesting idea is to get your staff to use and promote your own products if that’s appropriate for your organization. A term sometimes you may have come across in marketing copy, it’s called “dogfooding”. Meaning, you know, do they eat their own dog food?

So, for example, one way you could do it is – let’s say you have a cafeteria on site at the university, and you’re rather proud – you’ve got quality foods, you think you’ve got some great chefs or some great cooks there –  and you want to get more people to use that onsite cafeteria. Well, the game can be show to your supervisor, or whomever, receipts that you get from that and at the end of the week, whoever has the most receipts…or the people, the cafeteria, can have a special stamp and they stamp your receipt… and whoever has the most stamped receipts at the end of the game wins. And they get something cool. For example, they could get a free meal at that wonderful cafeteria that you’ve been promoting.

But if you have products or services, you can also do it like this. You can have them promote your stuff on social media, on their own social media feeds. So, you can create a dedicated hashtag of some sort, and when they promote it on their own Twitter, their own Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, whatever, they use that hashtag. It’s super easy for you to track, because you just click on that hashtag and you’ll see all the instances in which has been used.

Make sure it’s a unique hashtag. Don’t make #food, because you’re going to get 17 quadrillion different hits. Make it something really, really, really specific. You know, #OurUniversityCafeteria, something like that, that no one else is using, and you’ll very quickly be able to track what’s happening. People can turn in the number of hashtags. So you can say, “Use our hashtag 15 times and get this, use it 20 times and you get this” and so on. And again, what do they get? Well, they could get a free lunch, or they could get travel vouchers. Sometimes people want to take a vacation. Make it easier for them. A lot of people have families. If you’ve got a lot of family people in your organization, what would help them? Toys for the kids, daycare, cheaper travel, things like this.

You can even use it for training purposes. You can reinforce training and sort of encourage microlearning with quick quizzes up on the screen. So, you ask a question that…maybe there’s been some kind of a training recently or there’s a training module online. Maybe people have forgotten about it, and you’re noticing performance is not where we’d like it to be, because we think a lot of people have either forgotten the training from two, three years ago when they watched our training video, or they just never bothered to watch it in the first place. So, how do you encourage them to do it? Yes, you could have managers say, “No, you need to do this!” but this isn’t really a positive way to do things. It just makes people resentful and makes it feel like work. Make it feel like fun.

Throw a quick quiz (one, two questions) up on your digital signs. Some kind of a simple system for people to answer the question. Again, QR codes and short URLs are great, or have them email or SMS answers to a dedicated number or email address. And again, if you’re using touchscreens, maybe they can do it right then and there at the screen. And then have a reward for people who answer it correctly, or answer a certain number correctly. And then they either get a prize, or another great way if you want to have one really kind of higher-end prize is, all the people who meet a certain threshold, who in this case answer a certain number of questions correctly over the course of five days or 10 days or what have you, they’re entered into a raffle, and then the winner is randomly chosen. Or, I don’t know, have some kind of a slot machine or something like that people can play for prizes.

And don’t forget, these gamified solutions to things, these efforts, they always need to be voluntary. You can’t make people do it. You’ll probably find the first one or two or three times that participation is a little lower than you were hoping for. But if it’s fun and the rewards are worthwhile, then early adopters will talk about it. And more and more people will start getting involved, right? People play games because they’re fun, not because somebody told them to. This is especially true with millennials, who now are well over half the workforce and Gen Zers, who are coming up. I mean they’re 23, 24 years old at the time that I’m saying this, and they’re entering the workforce as well.

And don’t forget – change it up. Don’t always just run the same game over and over and over. Don’t overcrowd things either. Don’t run more than one, maybe two, in a given week. And of course, different games will appeal to different audience types. And so the more you mix it up, the greater chance you have of appealing to somebody and increasing participation.

Make sure that your visuals for advertising, for showing progress, for showing rewards, make sure they look seriously professional. Really, really, really nice. If, for example, the prize is a voucher for lunch at a local Mexican restaurant that you happen to know a lot of people on staff like to go to, then make sure that you’re using really nice high-quality pictures. Don’t just take a quick snapshot. Make it a nice picture of that food. That food picture is going to make people go, “Oh my God, I really, really want the tamale platter at that place!” and then they’re going to participate so that they can get it.

Let’s talk about some specific ideas for different markets. Let’s look at the corporate environment. Get people to enroll in the benefits program by offering raffle prizes within a certain time limit. You want people to sign up, you want them to do it quickly. So, within a certain time limit, people can be entered into raffles. Or you could also use as your success measure when a certain enrollment goal has been met, then everybody who did this, including people who are already members of the scheme, get entered into a raffle of some sort for some cool prize.

This encourages people who…in this kind of a situation, not everybody can participate because some people have already joined the benefits program. But they might encourage others who haven’t joined to do so because they themselves will also be entered into the raffle and could win. Show progress towards quotas for different teams. This is great for salesmen. Heck for sales, why not do it either regionally or even just salesperson against salesperson? First person to reach quota gets an award, largest numbers in a quarter gets an award. Something like this.

Higher education is an interesting one. These younger people, they’re already kind of used to this kind of way of doing things. A lot of what they’re interacting with on their phones and tablets is already kind of gamified, if not outright games. A lot of schools have created a school app, and they have a really hard time getting people to download it. So why not create a prize drawing for people who download the school app? You could do this one time, or it could be weekly until you get your target. And that way you know a lot of people have the school app on their phones. Will they keep them? Maybe, maybe not. But anyway, at least you got them to download it and try it out, which is all you can really ask for.

Schools almost always have some kind of a mascot or an iconic statue or something like this. So one thing you can do is have them take a picture of it. Send the school mascot out at certain times of the day, certain areas of the school. And if people get a picture of the mascot and show it to the, I don’t know, the university bookstore, maybe they get 10% off on books. Or you can have them upload to, let’s say the school has an Instagram page or something like that, you can have people upload it or just email them in or text the images. The most interesting or best one gets featured on social media and gets a prize. You can actually use these images for further games.

So, let’s say that Bob and Barbara took a fantastic picture of the school mascot and everybody loved it. They won a prize during that game. Later on, use that image in some kind of an onscreen collage – “Find the picture of the mascot hidden among these other 20 pictures. Take a picture of that picture on the screen, and then show it to the cafeteria and get yourself a free muffin” or something like that.

K-12 schools, always trying to get kids to read, right? Why not have a sort of a gradiated reading challenge? Kids read a certain number of books, or a certain difficulty level, different tiers of achievement, prizes at each level of achievement, getting them used to the concept of reading books for pleasure.

These kids have sometimes been called “digital natives”. Give them some hands-on experience creating digital signage messages. Let them have access. Again, hopefully you’ve got some kind of templates or create some templates to set up. Let the kids get in there. Let them have fun as teams or individuals or what have you, or different classes, creating digital signage messages. The best one wins a prize and goes up on the screens. For younger kids, sometimes just peer recognition is a prize in and of itself, as well as a very strong motivator. Show as much as you can on your digital signs. Show your school ranking, show student individual achievements, awards, honors, accomplishments – individuals, groups, classes, everything. Constantly be showing how your school and your students are doing.

Let’s say you have a manufacturing facility. Data visualizations, like progress towards goals or, say quality or delivery goals, certain things. You’re going to have a number of things that require certain targets – “We’re trying to move this many units in this amount of time.” Why not gamify that and just give small prizes for hitting those targets? Safety is always an important thing there. You want people to take those safety training courses.

So again, if you’ve got some kind of a system, for example, let’s say you have a bunch of training modules, offer points – you get, for completing module one, you get one point; two, two points; three, three points. Once you’ve got 10 points, you can get these accumulated points and then “buy” a prize for yourself or a friend or whatever.

You can even gamify employee profiles. You can stick up employee profiles with a couple of salient facts: this is where they’re from, this is what they like, this is what they don’t like, this is their favorite movie and so on. And then after a week or so of that, you could have a little quiz on the digital signs, and whoever answered, whoever was paying attention, and whoever answers those questions correctly, they get some sort of a prize.

Let’s say you’re a government office. Very often government officials or people working in government offices, they don’t get a casual Friday. Maybe allowing the occasional casual Friday as a reward for achieving certain goals would be a nice incentive. You can certainly encourage conservation. This is always very important that government offices are not seen to be wasteful in any way. So, show current usage stats for things like how much water the facility’s using, how much power, how much gas, how much they’re recycling and so on. Again, once the team or teams achieve certain levels, then “Hey, lunch is on us today.” Bring in a food truck, bring in some delivery, what have you.

Obviously, one of the most obvious gamified things out there is the Fitbit. A lot of people have one; millions and millions of people have them. Let’s say you’re a healthcare facility. It’s in your interest to make the people around you healthier. So try Fitbit challenges for individuals or teams on staff with some kind of a healthy award as the prize for winning.

Interactive games are great for patients and visitors, especially kids. Sometimes those poor kids are stuck in that waiting area for an awfully long time. Right there, that reduces stress, it occupies the kids and the rewards themselves don’t even have to be tangible. Very often, small children especially will play a game just to get that bronze badge and then a silver badge and then a gold badge and then a platinum badge and then a diamond badge. It makes them happy.

Touchscreens or even webpages or any digital interactive system can feature things like online nutrition quizzes. Maybe the person, or couple of people, who do the best on this, they get a free health screening. Something like this. It’s not terribly expensive for you. It’s good for your visitors. It’s good for your staff. It’s good for everybody.

Let’s say you’re a hospitality facility, a hotel of some sort. Well, you can get feedback from guests by offering discounts for onsite services in exchange for filling out comment cards or writing online ratings and reviews. When they do this, they let you know and here’s your prize. You can’t say “Only for five-star reviews.” If they give you a one-star review, they give you a one-star review. But they gave you the review, and that’s what you’re rewarding them for; not for what they said, but just the fact that they said anything.

Loyalty programs are always a big thing. Create a limited time…try to get people to sign up. A point system’s usually already sort of built in there, so give them some sort of a sign-on bonus. Give them a bonus for encouraging somebody else to sign on, things like this. Again, those points can be converted into prizes. You can boost referrals by offering all sorts of good stuff – discounts on an onsite spa, services, or loyalty programs, free nights in the hotel, things like this for people who bring new guests to your hotel.

These are just a few of the many, many, many ways that you can gamify, and you can gamify anything. There’s no communications push that you can’t gamify in some way, shape or form. By doing this, you transform your digital signage into something that’s not just pushing out information, and not just throwing up a call to action and hoping they take it, but actually encourages them to take a call to action and interact with your organization and your specific goals in real measurable ways.

So, that’s a little bit about gamification, and how you can use digital signage to promote it and encourage it. I’d like to thank everybody out there for listening. Thank you.