Badges?? We don’t need no stinkin’ social badges!

In a classic scene from Blazing Saddles, a bandit says, “BADGES?? We don’t need no stinking badges!” Lately, I feel like I’m being “badged to death” as companies and brands playing off my desire to compete are offering me seemingly useless online badges if I’ll do exactly what they want.

On-line gaming companies like Zynga, MSN Games, and Kongregate have pushed the concept of on-line badges and ribbons to encourage players to play their games.  This concept was extended into location based social media sites like Foursquare where you can become a “virtual mayor”.  While Foursquare offers networking and discounting benefits, the mayorship badges again seem to be playing on our desire to compete and win awards.  It’s almost less about the discount and more about the bragging rights and recognition.

Many companies are now applying this same concept in other ways:

  • Badgeville is leading the way having created a variety of programs for many verticals including music (Universal Music Group), clothing (Bluefly), sports fans (, and fitness (
  • notified me of a new program this past week where I can get a new stars next to my profile if I write more travel reviews.
  • Klout (an interesting social media rating system into itself) has a variety of badges and achievements that you can aspire to achieve.
  • will similiarly provide achievement badges for social activity by measuring social media experience via points and levels.
  • Even politics is not immune to this phenomenon. Tim Pawlenty just launched a new program called PawlentyAction as part of his Presidential bid where you can earn badges and points for connecting via Facebook/Twitter, volunteering, sharing, donating, etc..

These programs all seem to make perfect sense. Companies and brands get unique engagement analytics and insights into identifying their top customer advocates.  Ideally, customers are motivated to do what you want them to do (e.g. write reviews, spend time on their site, buy things, and talk up their brand).  In addition, as Badgeville argues, “Gamification increases user loyalty” — taking your fans beyond the “like” to a truly engaged advocate.  For the consumer, it can turn even mundane activities into a fun game and a way to socially interact and compete with other people.

However, a word of caution.  Fans of may have noticed a similar badge and reward program on their site that was released a few months back. You received points which translated into levels for reading articles, making comments, etc..  As I was thinking about writing this article, I noticed that the program mysteriously disappeared so I reached out to them to find out what happened.  While they still believe that these reward based systems hold a great deal of value, they shared a few of the major challenges in their particular implementation and why they took it down.

  • Time to Implement:  It took almost 8 months to define the measurable actions and implement the solution.  Capturing some of the point drivers also turned out to be more difficult than originally expected.  It might have been done faster if it was a core priority, but rolling out programs like this takes a good deal of planning, programming, and testing.
  • Web Site Real Estate:  As tight as they tried to make the scoreboard, it still seemed to eat up a lot of valuable space — particularly for readers that didn’t find the program  interesting.
  • Scoring Issues:  There were complaints by engaged participants who felt that the system often did not give them proper credit.  The scoreboard was also confusing — as it showed your weekly score and rank, but your overall “level” was based upon your total number of points.
  • Value For Readers:  While there were some that got into the game, the majority of people did not.  As a site primarily targeted toward busy overwhelmed professionals looking to read good content, it was questionable as to whether people really cared about their level or the number of points they had.
  • Fake Behavior: Although the trial didn’t seem to show this, I wondered if the system caused people to do “fake things” to get points.   You could leave short comments or bounce around the site without really reading an article to help yourself level up.

In the end, did not see more engagement, more readers, or more comments and decided to stop it.

Personally, I think it’s absolutely worth looking at these programs if you’ve got the right audience and time to properly define and implement one.  I recommend this article by Shane Snow that was written for Mashable.  In it, he highlights four key things to help use game mechanics to power your business (read his post for the details).

  1. Start with your vision and work backwards
  2. Make a list of required user actions
  3. Motivate the most important behaviors
  4. Evaluate and adapt

Good advice to follow.

If you subscribe to my blog and like my Facebook page, perhaps I’ll reward you with a golden badge of your very own.

Originally published at under the title “Badges?? We don’t need no stinkin’ social badges!“.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Love this topic Eric. Gamification is a very interesting topic. Social Media addicts seem to be especially prone to the bells and whistles of badges, numbers, scores etc. Today Twitter has been abuzz with talk of Google + and their exclusive invitations. If you don’t have one, you want one. Stellar gamifcation indeed!


  2. […] A1: Gamification is a great promo tool, but it doesn't work for all… e.g. […]


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