Team Canada ups its game with fan-driven web site

The Canadian Olympic Committee has revamped its website with gamification and social media to drive fan activity in a way that could prove instructional for CIOs.

The organization commissioned brand and digital agency Zync, which had already redesigned the website in 2014. It tasked the firm with developing Canadian Olympic Club, a digital fan club attached to the main website.

“They looked to gamification, and part of the reason for it was to engage people outside the Olympics,” said Brad Breininger, principal and strategist at Zync. The COC prepares the Olympic team for other events including the recently-finished Pan American Games, and the Youth Olympics.

The core of the website strategy involved developing challenges that would result in rewards, explained Jeremy Linskill, design director at the agency. The site structured a variety of contests and competitions around the acquisition of badges, in a bid to create a longer-term relationship with the fans.

“It isn’t just a contest where they play a game. As they gather these badges, it gives them a longer-term engagement,” Linskill said.

Each challenge is worth different amounts of points, which can be used to redeem contest entries and then eventually get physical rewards. At the moment, this centres around Team Canada merchandise, but rewards from the fledgling initiative will be more “experiential” going forward, he said.

Naturally, the acquisition of badges and points ties into social media, which is a focal point for the web design team. The website prioritizes Facebook authorization above email addresses and passwords, and fans are encouraged to share their achievements on social media.

“Ideally, you gather a whole bunch of points that you put at the top of the leaderboard, which tell you where you rank alongside your friends on Facebook,” Breininger said.

The organization is hoping that the website will give them a more sophisticated set of metrics about visitors than it has had in the past. Originally, it focused on unique visits, but as its social media and gamification push has rolled out, it has added another layer, said Breininger. It will be useful to understand which fans are focused on which kinds of contests and badges, he added.

Metrics on page views, along with many other online behaviours, can be gathered without the help of badges. But gamification could be a useful way to increase engagement among a key audience.

This could cover not only business-to-consumer audiences, but also uses in specific niches, such as health care. Vancouver-based Ayogo, for example, improves patient engagement for its clients through social play. However, CEO Michael Fergusson emphasizes that there is a level of academic rigour involved for these kinds of applications. It isn’t just about badges, but about understanding and applying behavioural psychology properly.

In any case, CIOs need a little more convincing before deploying gamification in their own projects, whether internally or for external, customer-facing apps. In the 2014 Deloitte CIO Survey, the company found that more CIOs were interested in gamification than they had been in 2013, but that overall attention was still minimal. 13% of CIOs had either piloted or fully adopted gamification last year, compared to just 8% the year before.

Significantly, Zync didn’t create the site using the kinds of high-end enterprise-class technology you might expect, such as .Net or Java. The development team pulled it off using WordPress. To be fair, it used WordPress VIP, which is the enterprise-class hosted solution offered by WordPress developer Automattic.

Automattic is strict about what clients can run on the VIP service. “They don’t allow a lot of plugins so we had to custom build,” said Linskill. “We would work back and forth until it worked through their CMS.”

Zync took the site live in early July, and with the Pan American Games only just over, it will be a while before the numbers are in, and it can assess the results of its gamification exercise. Hopefully, it will see higher levels of engagement among fans, and the beginnings of a solid community that will continue to evolve in between major events.

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Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury
Danny Bradbury is a technology journalist with over 20 years' experience writing about security, software development, and networking.

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