My Social Media Week: Food for the Mind, Body & Soul

I can’t recap my first day of Social Media Week NYC without mentioning the night that preceded it. Speakers at 9am always seem more colorful when they’re presenting on the heels of a crazy party. And Social Media Week’s 2012 Opening Reception – hosted by Nokia and held at the Greenwich Village Country Club – included an open bar and competitive sports. I knew I was headed for a great week when I hit, not one, but TWO hole-in-ones over 7 holes of mini golf! Given that we live in a digital world, I’m shocked and saddened that nobody filmed my moments of glory (okay, luck). Nevertheless, the tone was set for a special week – and the following day’s events did not disappoint.


Keynote: Gabe Zichermann on The Business of Fun: How Gamification Will Change Your Organization: I’m in the (green) gamification business and Gabe Zichermann is my guru. While my personal focus centers on leveraging gamification to promote sustainability, if you’re even remotely involved in game-based marketing, you can thank Gabe Z for evangelizing the movement and making it tangible. He literally wrote the book on gamification, which he defines as “the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage people and solve problems.” As always, Gabe’s talk was a mix of thought innovation, business application and unadulterated fun. While I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Gabe speak numerous times, he drops new gems with each appearance. This presentation included my first exposure to the concept of “fluid intelligence,” which characterizes the ability to think critically and solve problems. It’s juxtaposed with “crystalized intelligence,” which essentially translates to book smarts. It turns out that – despite popular conception – children are becoming smarter if you measure wits by fluid intelligence. Early and frequent exposure to games and technology is wiring their brains for multi-tasking and tackling complex challenges. This is one reason why renowned experts ranging from Dr. Jane McGonigal to Raph Koster argue that games have the power to change the world for the better. Considering Social Media Week’s 2012 global theme of Empowering Change Though Collaboration, Gabe was the ideal catalyst to press “game on” and kick off the festivities.


This Game Will Make You Healthier: My next stop spoke directly to my lifestyle. As a vegan and exercise enthusiast, I take great care to manage my diet and health regimen. Along with refreshing my body with Vita Coco, I came away from this event – organized by Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness – with a greater understanding of the intersection between health and information technology. As a perfect segue from my morning session, the panelists discussed how game mechanics like challenges, points, rewards and leaderboards can lead people to better physical fitness and nutrition. The drivers are grounded in principles of behavioral psychology and the innate human desires to achieve, be social and get appreciated. Executives from companies such as MapMyFITNESS and HealthPrize demonstrated how their mobile apps and interactive web platforms provide real-time feedback to keep people motivated and on track toward better health.



Chocolate Tasting Networking Party for NYC’s Social Good Community: Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. The long hours, nonexistent vacations and constant pressure are enough to depress the spirits of even the most passionate founder. But being a social entrepreneur is unique: in addition to making money, we are driven by a mission to create a better world. The most valuable currency for an entrepreneur is inspiration. I received a full plate of it (and ethically-sourced chocolate), courtesy of COMMON, Design for Social Innovation at SVA and the Social Innovators Collective, who collectively brought together a diverse, dynamic and dedicated group of people – most of whom were also dateless, considering it was Valentine’s Day and we were all still “working.” I write “working” in quotes because, as the saying goes, when you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life. This event reminded me how fortunate I am to align my personal values with my professional career, and meet the coolest people in the world along the way.


The bottom-line. My experience at Social Media Week NYC wasn’t business or personal: it was both.


Ashok Kamal is the Co-Founder & CEO of Bennu, which is the leader in green social media marketing. Connect with Bennu at @Bennuworld. Ashok organized and moderated the Social Media Week panel on “Green Gamification: Combining Social Media and Game Mechanics to Promote Sustainability.” The recording can be viewed in its entirety on Livestream.

Green Gamification: Combining Social Media & Game Mechanics to Promote Sustainability

Games are like ketchup: widely loved and diversely applied, with an appeal rooted in childhood. In fact, a new report reveals that over 90% of U.S. kids aged 2- 17 are gaming today. Yet the gaming generation has been on the rise for three decades, leading to not only an army of young gamers, but also an influential adult segment. It is small wonder, then, that “gamification” is the most disruptive force to impact marketing since the arrival of social media.

Typically defined, gamification refers to the use of game mechanics, such as points, badges, leaderboards and challenges in non-game settings. Traditional examples include airline frequent flyer programs and “Buy 10, Get 1 Free” loyalty offers. But the proliferation of social media and smartphones along with the cultural adoption of gaming has increased both the scope and sophistication of gamification.

At its core, gamification is about one thing: fun. In today’s competitive battle for mindshare, games are the most effective tool for leveraging technology, rising above marketing noise and engaging the socially-networked consumer.

Like any marketing strategy, gamification can be applied to encourage frivolous consumption or provide superficial entertainment. But games are also uniquely suited to change the world for the better. As gaming enthusiast and renowned author, Dr. Jane McGonigal, points out, “When we are playing games, we are tapping into our best qualities, our ability to be motivated, to be optimistic, to collaborate with others, to be resilient in the face of failure.”

The power of gaming is derived from the underlying behavioral psychology that motivates people to play. Successful gamification design involves understanding player personality traits that can be identified through models such as Bartle Types and Keirsey Temperaments. A key finding of gaming studies is that the vast majority of players are driven by cooperative social interaction. Gamification guru, Gabe Zichermann, developed the “SAPS” rewards model to further outline the behavioral drivers “Status,” “Access,” “Power” and “Stuff.” While extrinsic rewards, such as free products (Stuff), can be short-term motivators, Zichermann reveals that intrinsic rewards, such as community recognition (Status), are superior mechanisms for fostering engagement and loyalty. The most compelling rewards fulfill innate human desires for achievement, reciprocity and appreciation. Great games make us feel alive.

The Gaming Era is upon us. Gartner analysts predict, “By 2014, a gamified service for consumer goods marketing and customer retention will become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon, and more than 70% of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application.” As a result, gamification presents an exciting opportunity to advance sustainability initiatives. Research from OgilvyEarth suggests that games can be a vehicle to create brand equity while also promoting green behaviors. The synergy between gamification and sustainability is based on the fact that, like gaming, greening is largely a social action that triggers an emotional response. Innovative companies recognize the opportunity to tap into consumer passions and have begun to employ “green gamification” to create shared value for individuals, businesses, communities and the environment.

The recent union of Recyclebank and Greenopolis affirms the traction of two leading platforms that reward people for everyday green actions. Recyclebank’s “Green Your” challenges use quizzes, pledges and social sharing to educate and incentivize players on interactive microsites. Greenopolis’ RecyclePix mobile App encourages users to share pictures of recycling to earn rewards. The interface includes a dynamic photo stream that can be voted on for bonus points.

Solar manufacturer, SunPower, recently ran a Facebook contest to teach people about solar energy in exchange for badges and prizes. Startups such as Simple Energy and Practically Green use the social web to calculate metrics like household energy saving and reward users for their relative performance. These companies validate that people are proud to share eco-conscious habits and that a little friendly competition positively reinforces their green activities.

Traditional industries are green gaming too. The Nissan Leaf includes CARWINGS, which is a digital tracker that both measures fuel consumption and ranks drivers according to fuel-efficiency. The Ford Fusion Hybrid adds graphical flair by incorporating a Tamogochi-style game, in which a small dashboard plant grows and shrinks based on green driving practices. Even social games on Facebook are experiencing a makeover; for instance, Guerillapps and upcycling pioneer, TerraCycle, partnered to introduce Trash Tycoon, which applies Zynga-like gameplay to bridge the gap between virtual and real-world sustainable living.

Gamification and game development are still in their formative years, evolving to exhibit more purpose and tangible impact. As the sustainability movement also matures, it behooves the stakeholders to embrace the potential of green gamification.

In order to propel green into the mainstream, we need to make it enjoyable, accessible and rewarding. As my fellow eco-entrepreneur, Anthony Zolezzi, proclaims, let’s embrace “fun and fame, not guilt and shame.” This is the new spirit of sustainability and green gamification is leading the way.

Ashok Kamal is the Co-Founder & CEO of Bennu, which is the leader in green social media marketing. Connect with Bennu at @Bennuworld. To learn more about green gamification and engage with companies highlighted in this blog, join us at Social Media Week NY’s “Green Gamification” panel on February 15th.