Behind the Scenes Experimentation with Social Gaming for Social Good from HandsOn Network | Beth's Blog

Behind the Scenes Experimentation with Social Gaming for Social Good from HandsOn Network

Digital Strategy

Note from Beth: As you read this post,  I’ll be at the Ushahidi Board Meeting in Kenya.   I thought it would be a great opportunity to share a couple of guest posts this week.  I’m very interested how nonprofits are approaching their social media strategies with a little bit of science to propel best practices.     Jessica Kirkwood, VP for Social Media,HandsOn Network agreed to write this about their latest social media experiment and what they were learning.

Behind the Scenes Experimentation with Social Gaming for Social Good from HandsOn Network by Jessica Kirkwood

Before the rise in popularity of online social networks, HandsOn Network recruited, trained and worked with service leaders – the kind of people who see a problem in their community, organize an effort to fix it and recruit their friends to help – exclusively through our local affiliates. These volunteer service leaders have enabled the scale we’ve reached by providing volunteer leadership and management capacity to our more than 70,000 nonprofit partners.

The explosion of online networking encouraged us to ask how we could do more, achieve greater scale and, ultimately, greater impact.

Social media and social networking suddenly made it possible for HandsOn Network, at the national level, to speak directly to individuals and, intriguingly, for them to speak to each other.

We began to wonder what might happen if there were an online community of service leaders from all over the country – or the world – talking about the volunteer work they were doing, sharing best practices and thinking collectively about how to achieve greater impact. Some might be working with our local affiliates, some with other volunteer organizations and others might be leading efforts on their own.

Regardless, we wondered if an online community of natural leaders would gel and work collectively to increase the impact volunteers can have on issues they care about.

With a “launch and learn” mandate from our CEO, we began an experiment in social gaming for social good 16 days ago which is an online game of Tag.

The idea is that people come to the site, commit to make a difference in their community and then tag their friends to join them – either by adding themselves to an existing commitment or by starting their own. Prizes like Jet Blue tickets, iPads and small cash donations to the player’s cause of choice are offered as incentives.

Our hope is that Tag will pull natural volunteer leaders together and seed an online community.

Since the game launched, more than 9,000 people have been asked to play via e-mail, twitter and Facebook and more than 2,700 have made commitments and tagged others. `About 23% of those tagged are joining the game.

Is that good? I’m not sure how to answer that.

Some might say that 2,700 is a small number given the size and scope of our organization. Perhaps that’s true. Our affiliates organize projects for more than 2 million volunteers each year.

On the other hand, it seems like a great number of people with whom we can explore the idea of a connected community of service leaders.

I’ve received interesting feedback from Tag players – and those who’ve decided not to play.

Some have found the site confusing and have expressed frustration about it. Some don’t understand why we’re doing it – they like the game, but don’t know where HandsOn Network is going with it.

We’ve had all kinds of trouble with the social pluggins.

For the first few days, you could tag 20 Facebook friends at a time by posting a Tag challenge to their Wall. This was going gangbusters for a few days and then Facebook identified as a spam site. Facebook shut down all of the site’s Facebook interactivity. We appealed to Facebook and they eventually restored some of the functionality, but now Tag players can only Tag one friend at a time.

Similarly, we’ve had trouble with our Twitter functionality in that unique player URL IDs generated in the Tag site were shortened again through various Twitter applications so that the player’s ID was lost and they weren’t credited for successful Tags they’d made. We fixed that too, but my heart was hammering hard for a few days. Our social media game wasn’t working in social media. (Gah!!!)

I’ve also heard some of the commitments players have made criticized as being too light. This doesn’t worry me much. People who want to contribute their time and energy have to start somewhere. I think it is one of the key responsibilities of any volunteer organization or volunteer manager to help volunteers move from an initial, light action to deeper levels of engagement. The burden is on us.

For me, the true test of whether or not this virtual game of Tag can be called a success won’t be defined by how many players it attracts, but rather by the level of engagement of the people who stay with us after it’s over.

Once the players who simply wanted airline tickets or iPads depart, what will those who remain do to change their communities? Our nation? Our world? And what will HandsOn Network do to support them?

The true measure of Tag’s success will be born out over time in the vibrancy of the community that emerges.

I’d be tremendously grateful for any feedback and ideas, so if you haven’t been tagged, then, “Tag! You’re it!” Visit Get () and give the game a try.

Please let me know what you liked, what you’d do differently and what you’d do next. You can leave a comment below or  I can be reached by e-mail at connect(at)handsonnetwork(dot)org.

Jessica Kirkwood is VIP for Social Media at HandsOn Network.  The organization  inspires equips and mobilizes people to change lives through service. Their vision is that one day every person will discover their power to make a difference, creating healthy communities and vibrant democracies around the world. HandsOn Network, the volunteer-focused arm of Points of Light Institute , is the largest volunteer network in the nation and includes more than 250 HandsOn Action Centers in 16 countries. Follow them on Twitter @HandsOnNetwork.

5 Responses

  1. Kelly Hinson says:

    Thanks for sharing Jessica. Its nice that you brought awareness of the Pros and the Cons of such innovation in the sector.

  2. Great inside look! I’ve been very curious about the success and challenges of this campaign–considering some of the very concerns that you’ve mentioned above. It seems like such a great idea, and I love how you’ve brought together the natures of service and play to an online community. As the campaign continues, I’m curious what type of community it draws–the demographics and how they use it. Good luck!

  3. Thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek at the program, Jessica — the VolunteerMatch team has been watching with interest!

    These are crazy, Wild West days for social media and volunteer engagement. Super kudos to you and your team for taking some risks and going big on a campaign… and then being transparent about the challenges!

    (Twitter: @volmatch)

  4. […] experiment from HandsOn Networka and Points of Light Institute.  As Jessica explained in a recent blog post, it’s an online game of Tag designed to encourage people “to make a difference in their […]

  5. […] If nothing else, read this great article on experimenting, what happens when things go wrong (and right): “Behind the Scenes Experimentation with Social Gaming for Social Good from HandsOn Network&#82… […]

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