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How Halo helped EMC build its network of brand advocates

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Marketers at EMC Corp. have employed a badge award system, modeled after a system popularized by the video game series Halo, to elevate engagement in the technology company's 250,000-member online community. The system, which rewards participants publicly for specific actions they take within the community, has helped to deliver a 21% lift in overall community activity. It has also helped the company build its network of brand ambassadors. EMC introduced its badge award system in late 2011, creating a vehicle that could engage virtual and face-to-face audience members at its hybrid EMC World event. The company worked with Badgeville Inc., a technology provider that specializes in applying game mechanics to business practices, and built a system that awards points for activities. Participants who accrue enough points receive badges that recognize competencies. They might, for example, answer community-generated questions or initiate discussion threads. Community managers also designed “missions”—a series of activities focused on educational initiatives or in support of a product launch, for example—that warranted badges. “It became a hot trend at all of our launches and internal events,” said Brace Rennels, director of community strategy at EMC. While the program did correlate with an uptick in community activity, its core strength lies in its ability to convert anonymous users into contributors, Rennels said. “The number we look at is the fact that we have seen a 25% month-over-month increase in return activity. People are coming back and engaging with the community.” The badges provide an incentive for anonymous visitors to register with the community and interact with other users and with web content. It also helps to convert customers into brand advocates, rewarding community members who answer their peers' questions or share product experiences, for example. That kind of peer-to-peer exchange is valuable in the technology sector, Rennels said. “Peer reviews can shorten your overall sales cycle, and [peers] also can provide recommendations for additional features and functions that can lead to a larger overall purchase.” The company is currently working to integrate the community with its legacy website, adding features over the next six months that will allow visitors to view product information and relevant online discussions on a single screen. EMC is also working to understand the types of interaction members of its community prefer. The company is customizing a measure called the Bartle Test and using it to survey its constituents to better understand their online personas. “The goal is that a mission will serve as many personas as possible,” said Charles Dane, senior manager-community engagement at EMC. EMC will continue to look for new ways to apply its gamification strategy, Rennels said. “We want to build relationships. Game mechanics provide a way to open that door and make it more fun.”
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