Just the Tip of the “Gamification” Iceberg

Earlier this year, I was exposed to Seth Priebatsch via assigned reading/viewing for my Immersive Media & Mobile Advocacy class at Fielding. His TED Talk got me thinking; how is my life like a game? How could it be? As a gamer, are there ways to take what I know of my gaming motivations and use them as motivations for success in the real world? Can that work for motivating others around me? The contemplation is really endless; considering types of games and how they can be implemented into real life, what type of gamer you are and why, and how realistic would it be to implement gaming elements into you real life routine? I could go on and on.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me to see an article about a prison using gaming elements as reinforcement for desired behaviors. Scoop.it, how you know what I’m craving to read. I was also, surprised (again… shouldn’t have been) to see that it was written by Seth. He describes a prison (Louisiana State Pen) using various rewards (e.g., an annual rodeo, pet ownership, the opportunity to hold a job, etc.) as reinforcement for desired behavior. Some of the rewards require years of work and appropriate behavior to earn. Seth describes the reasons the game works: pride and meaning. He notes that the rewards (particularly the rodeo) means freedom, accomplishment, and notoriety. He also explains that these accomplishments are similar to levels in a game. Sometimes, we play games just to say we got to that unreachable level, or to see what came after reaching the top. The same elements can be applied to real life situations if we consider “gamification” fully and take its potential and power seriously.

References:

Priebatsch, S. (2012, August). Gaming reality. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/08/tech/gaming.series/prison.html

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The Birthday Massacre

See on Scoop.itOomph! Media Garage

Not only do I love the idea of SoundCloud, I LOVE LOVE LOVE this group! They remind me of Tangerine Dream but with a modern twist. Please check them out!

See on soundcloud.com

Desperately Seeking Future

This is the portion of the show where we contemplate what our dream social technology would do. I’m not great at dreaming big (the hazard of being a realist). I am, however, great at explaining why I like what I like; we start there.

First and foremost, my favorite social media is Google; all of it. The reason being that there are so many ways to connect, types of uses, and useful media all under one roof. That being said, Google doesn’t work under one application (at least on my phone), so moving from one to the other can be challenging. Google, as a company, seems to be mindful of ways in which the internet COULD be used better, rather than just coming up with more options for current use (although Google+ did kinda do that).

I love Skype because it allows me to see and hear friends who are far away (same reason I enjoy Google Hangouts). I like Twitter because it allows me to connect with people I don’t otherwise know via networking and like-minded communities. Most of my new friends come from Twitter. Twitter, for the record, is also where my secret venting account is. Control over who sees you ginger rage is good. Facebook allows me to keep contact with friends from long ago, keep up on current events (because that’s where they get posted… sadly), and keep in (distant) touch with family that is, well… family. StumbleUpon and Pinterest allow me to explore sites and places on the interwebs that I would likely never find on my own, as well as connect with people who are like minded. Foursquare feeds my competitive side while I’m out doing chores I would be doing otherwise, helps me connect with people in my community who frequent similar places, and gives great access to great tips and discounts. I love texting because it allows me to have instant access to my friends and let’s me word things deliberately. Email gives me a similar outlet, but I tend to use it more formally, and typically when I don’t need an immediate response. I love Pandora because it let’s me discover new music for when I’m studying or gaming, as well as let’s me customize a playlist of music I don’t necessarily own. Dropbox allows me to share things that I don’t want everyone else to see. Gaming let’s me socialize, achieve, and escape. And I love the skills I develop from gaming as well. Finally, WordPress, of course, gives me a place to share my passion, as nerdy as they tend to be. 😉

So, now that I’ve nearly exhausted my list of social technologies I love already, what can be better? Having them all in one place. While the cell phone is nearly that (and allows for immediate and mobile access to boot), I’m talking about an all in one, open source (Apple and Microsoft give me a headache with their exclusivity and partnering), simply designed but fully customizable, social technology that allows for all of my contacts, venting, exploring, connecting,  sharing, etc.

Oh… and here’s the kicker; the reason it’s a dream: I want it to be ad free. No sponsors begging me to allow them to control all of my doohickies… none of that.  I know it’s a lot to ask. But this is MY dream, right?

OOH! And since we ARE dreaming… I want it all to be in an AR contact lens that allows me to drive and still wear my vision correcting lenses. 🙂

Skullgirls: This Ain’t Your Momma’s Fighting Game

Let me start by saying this game is a field day for the senses. It appeals to nearly every one of my identities: girl, gamer, musician, media psychology student, analyst, and voyeur. Okay, while I’m not a voyeur in the psychological sense of the word, I do like to look at pretty art/graphics. But still, you catch my drift. This game has it all. It also has, however, a difficulty that any hard core, mortal kombat raving, fighting gamer would drool over like someone was ringing Pavlov’s bell. But, as frustrated as I tend to get when I actually have to put EFFORT into advancing in a game (RPG gamer much?), the art, sound, immersion storytelling, and all over style of this game mean I’ll never put it down; even if I never beat it.

Very reminiscent of Sucker Punch, this game is a 2D fighting game featuring a (VERY RANDOM) variety of somewhat jacked up girls all seeking to defeat the Skullgirl in the hopes of obtaining the Skull Heart. This elusive Skull Heart grants the girl who finds it, any wish she can come up with. The catch, as always, is that the girl be pure of heart (hey, this IS a girl gamers’ paradise, afterall). If the girl is in any way NOT pure of heart, the Skull Heart contorts their wish into something vile and repugnant (the loved one who is returned comes back as an undead monster? Blech!). As for the impure girl, the Skull Heart changes her into the Skullgirl, and she is the one who makes the horrors of her twisted dream come to pass. As you can probably imagine, the girls all have different wishes in mind, or some of them are simply doing their duty (whatever that might be) and protecting the innocent people of Canopy Kingdom from the monstrosity.

When I say that this game is a ‘girl gamers’ paradise’, I am in no way insinuating that males will find this boring. Quite the contrary. The adjustments on reality that are introduced via the characters’ special powers, are very creative, powerful, and crass (to some extent). From a symbiotic hair monster and an undead cat, to a militant princess and gadgets that would make Maxwell Smart proud, this game allows every character to have nearly endless combination possibilities, as well as the ability to combine 1, 2, or 3 characters per player to create a powerhouse team for you to control. Multiplayer is available online, as well as locally, so if you can’t beat the arcade storyline (/me hangs head in shame), there are still options for honing your skills against your less than worthy friends. If, however, you’re socially inept and have no friends (or maybe just don’t have the nerve to challenge them), you can play in the EXTENSIVE (3 chapters and over 20 lessons) tutorials. There is also an option for a training room, in which you can toggle options such as death, number of characters for you and the AI, and whether the AI even bothers to make any moves. This is helpful for working out combos, which, btw, are only listed online (for those of you who are constantly pausing MK to check out the moves list… you know who you are).

Which brings me to my next point: the website for this game is incredibly immersive, the developers of which should be sought out and applauded. Transmedia storytelling is storytelling which uses the strengths of various media, each of which tell stories that combine to create one large, all encompassing story. The Skullgirls site includes social networking via blogs, twitter, and facebook feeds, makes the soundtrack available on Amazon and iTunes, provides videos introducing each character and showcasing her skills, maintains a community for updates to the various platforms and news about developments to come. The game, then, becomes part of a much bigger picture; it becomes another way to enter the somewhat noir world of Canopy Kingdom.

Inside that noir world, whether you’re experiencing it via game or website, you find music and art which have the ability to steal the breath from your lungs. The music is very vibrant, while simultaneously being somewhat eerie, while the voice acting and audio clips sound like something from Bioshock. The art is hand drawn with vibrant colors during the fights, and chalk board type drawings on load screens. The site and game are consistently drawn, however, the site also encourages fan art (for ‘Fan Art Friday’) and features ‘White Board Wednesdays’. The raw art in some places, clashing with the incredibly detailed art in others, makes for an experience not unlike steampunk. The music fits the art theme brilliantly, and the entire experience, including the storyline and the difficulty, is intuitive; right down to the verbage on the tutorial instructions.

As far as the game, itself goes, the controls are adjustable but they’re preset with light, medium, and hard punches and kicks, as well as combos on LB and LT. In arcade mode, each girl has her own storyline which the fighting advances. Who the girls fight on their way to Skullgirl doesn’t seem to be ordered in any particular way, other than the unlockable characters come later in the lineup (obviously).  While you do get an idea of a day in the life of your girls in their initial movie sequences, the site provides information about each of them, down to their body measurements and personal likes and dislikes. The thumbstick and D pad seemed less responsive than I would have liked, but that could have just been the excessive speed with which the AI combo’d the bejeebus out of me. Difficulty modes range from ‘Sleepwalking’ to ‘Ridiculous’, but the bar set by even the easiest mode, tends to be more difficult than any other fighting game I’ve ever played. There is room for the most experienced player to struggle, while allowing every casual gamer to find some enjoyment as well.

This game is stylistically stunning, very creative, features immersive transmedia storytelling, and allows players at all levels a challenge. While the controls are somewhat frustrating, and players enjoying this game should NEVER volunteer for studies correlating aggression and gaming, only the very young or very naive should hesitate to grab this game. If you aren’t sure whether this bold style is for you, a quick stop at the website will tell you all you need to know. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must be on my way to New Merdian as I AM pure of heart and I have a wish to make.

A Social Marketing Proposal to TBA Theatre

Proposal Companion Prezi (A summary of the prezi, with photos, videos, and links)

TBA Marketing Proposal (The PDF version of this proposal, in case you like the double spaced goodness of APA formatting)

  TBA Harnessing the Transformational Power of Theatre

            Augusto Boal introduced the concept of Forum Theatre in his book Theatre of the Oppressed. Forum Theatre is a type of play which encourages audiences to participate in the resolution of some social issue. The core of the story is scripted and presents a protagonist with a conflict. However, the protagonist is unable to overcome the conflict, and the audience is brought in to suggest possible solutions to the conflict, turning the audience into what Boal referred to as spect-actors.  Those solutions are then played out by the actors. (Forum Theatre, n.d.)

This type of theatre was originally created to deal with sources of external oppression (in Boal’s case the Brazilian government), however, it has since evolved for use in things such as employment training and problem solving. Boal extended his theories in his book The Rainbow of Desire, which focused on the individual and dealing with internal oppressions. The techniques and theories in this book are the basis for drama therapy.

An example of how Forum Theatre has effected positive change in global communities may be seen in the Youth Theatre for Peace (YTP) (2011) project. This IREX supported project was created to train educators, implement student participation in Drama for Conflict Transformation (DCT), and facilitate the presentation of these forum theatre performances throughout communities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The stated goal of the YTP is to successfully affect a sustainable community change in the prevention of conflicts via forum theatre. Additional examples of how forum theatre has affected change include conflict resolution in Philadelphia, Kosovo, and Amani. These examples, along with innumerable others, only begin to scratch the surface of our understanding as to how, and why, theatre has the ability to affect global, community, and personal change.

 Transformational Powers of Theatre

Theatre affects the lives of those who experience it not only via patronage, but also as a result of the creation of the art. Though this may be easily illustrated by performing an internet search, hearing stories directly from the individuals who have experienced them, allows for the emotion which accompanied the experience to become palpable.

Becky Sheridan (personal communication, 2012), a local actress specializing in comedy, recalled a play she performed in while attending college. When Scott Comes Home, based on a true story, is a show about a kid who goes to college in the 80’s for a few years. Upon returning home, he comes out as a homosexual to his parents; this doesn’t go well for him. Eventually, he dies of AIDS. This play was written by Becky’s college professor; the adaptation of a book Scott’s mother wrote. Becky recalls performing the play and being protested by other Christian groups. She remembers feeling very profoundly influenced by the message of the show, as well as the reaction of the others around her. She says it was this show that exemplified the acceptance of others as a part of the Christian life that she strives daily to live. (B. Sheridan, personal communication, 2012)

Justin Oller (personal communication, 2012), another actor in Anchorage, has been involved in theatre since elementary school. Justin fondly remembers an experience in which he travelled to Scotland with an unusually varied group of actors: different theatre backgrounds, incomes, experiences levels, etc. Justin notes how the coming together of artists who varied this intensely, simply for the love of the art, solidified theatre as his career objective. Justin also mentions that every show he is in opens his eyes to some aspect of life or himself. For example, having grown up with a single mother, his work with TBA and, specifically the artistic director, Shane Mitchell, helped guide him towards becoming a gentleman. Shane also affected his perception of what theatre was for: art as a means to communicate, problem solve, and better a community rather than just to entertain from on stage.

Rhiannon Johnson (personal communication, 2012) agrees with Justin. She reflected on her perception of theatre before starting classes with TBA and how they compare to her perception now. She describes Shane’s philosophy on theatre as she has come to understand it: one shouldn’t do theatre to show off, but instead should do it to affect positive change. She says she has learned that the more you learn and embrace art, the more good you do for your community and for others; you facilitate less conflict. Being in theatre has made Rhiannon think more about the effect theatre has on people, and it’s long term effects as well.

Anthony Cruz (personal communication, 2012), who specializes in dance, remembers a yearly HIV/AIDS play that was performed in order to help the students understand the severity of the disease, and what it might be like to live with it. His recollection of this show, exemplifies how theatre that takes on a social cause may affect those who are exposed to it. Anthony also recalls the first time he saw To Kill A Mockingbird. He says he was very taken aback by the transportive feeling that came with the set and the attention to detail. He notes that reading the book didn’t convey the feel or perspective of the time like experiencing the play did. He said it was like history right in front of him.

A Community Based Approach

TBA Theatre’s mission statement is, ” To enrich our community by providing innovative and comprehensive theatre arts experiences through which artists of all ages can develop their creativity and self-expression; and in so doing stimulate human potential.” (TBA Theatre, 2012) It is clear, through numerous interviews with individuals involved in TBA that artists of all ages are, in fact, developing creativity and self-expression. Additionally, they are clearly stimulating human potential. Justin, Becky, Anthony, and Rhiannon are only a few examples of individuals associated with TBA who have uncovered what may have otherwise been a very abstract truth about life, who they are, who they want to be, and how to become that self.

In performing shows during the daytime, and charging minimal rates, TBA also allows for students of all ages to attend shows, as well as providing educational resources for teachers, parents, and students alike. TBA also provides course through the Theatre Store during the winter months, as well as a Summer Academy, and Spring Break Academy, which not only allow students to enrich their understanding of theatre, art, and creativity, but provide a safe place to do so. Parents can rest assured that there is a safe place for their child to play, think, and grow during the long Summer days in Anchorage. These are certainly ways in which TBA enriches the Anchorage community.

Imagine, however, combining the enriching and educating power of TBA with the community based and conflict resolving power of forum theatre. Using TBA’s existing educational structure as the foundation for a week-long intensive, forum theatre could be used to exemplify the mission of one or more of Anchorage’s local community based organizations (CBOs) (see Appendix A). Not only does this afford TBA cross-promotional opportunities in which they gain additional exposure in the community, but they are furthering the enrichment of their community by supporting family based causes similar to their own.

Furthering Theatre’s Reach in Anchorage

Strategy

This plan suggests that TBA include a one week intensive in their existing curriculum structure. This intensive would teach students to write short scripts, based on the mission of a local CBO, in which the protagonist becomes unable to resolve the driving conflict. The students would then sell tickets to the show at the end of the week, in which they act out the scripted parts of the shows and encourage audience members to suggest resolutions for the protagonist. Those resolutions would then be acted out. CBOs would be encouraged to supply TBA with information to be disseminated to audience members who are interested in more information, or volunteering.

Perceived Barriers

As is often the case with CBOs, monetary cost of any marketing strategy is a concern. Costs for this plan may include space rental for the performance and for the class itself, script printing, and light design.

Time may also be a concern, as volunteers are needed to run light and sound, stage management, direction, and, of course, teachers. Though students would be selling tickets, volunteers would be needed to organize tickets, man the box office, and process any monies involved. Additionally, a volunteer to be the liaison between TBA and involved CBOs would be necessary in order to ensure the promotion of TBAs production by the CBO(s) being represented.

Resources Maximized

Several of these barriers may be overcome easily by taking advantage of the existing structure. If students are charged tuition for admittance into the intensive, several costs may already be covered. Also, as this would be presented as a performance, admittance fees may help cover the costs of things such as space rental. Scripts would be minimal, as they are meant to be unresolved in script. This will save on the costs of reproduction, but also environmental costs associated with extensive copying.

By grouping the intensive in with an already volunteer rich educational structure, volunteers may be asked to include paperwork, money transactions, and data entry in with efforts for pre-existing classes at a minimal time/effort increase. Because social marketing is a function of both media studies and psychological studies, volunteers from those fields may be sought after to act as liaisons between TBA and any involved CBOs.

Benefitting Us All

Possible benefits to incorporating the missions of local CBOs into the TBA curriculum may be the desirability that TBA be involved in future social marketing campaigns. Not only does working with local charities and social betterment efforts make TBA an example to the community, but it also makes TBA a commodity which parents, adults, teachers, professionals, and corporations alike, would be desirous to be aligned with. Ensuring that funders may feel secure in their donations bettering not only the arts community in Anchorage, but by association other family based charities and organizations, sponsors and donors are given more incentive to support TBA.

Financial benefits may be reaped as well. By reaching out to a CBO, you are also reaching out to their existing supporters, funders, volunteers, and the families involved or affected by the charity. In the vein of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours,” assisting CBOs in achieving their goals, creates a bond through which they are likely to help TBA achieve theirs. The financial benefit may come in the form of additional donations, corporate sponsors, or patronage in the form of students or attendees.

Measuring Success

Because the measure of success, regardless of the level of integrity the group, is necessary for the evaluation of any plan, a measure for the success of this plan must be put into effect. Where the goal is to cross-promote with another CBO for the furthering of both groups’ agendas, the attendance for all classes, and shows performed using the forum theatre format should be recorded and compared. If the desirability of the courses and performances climb, or remain at a level which produces a profit, rather than a deficit, it should be considered a success. The initial goal, however, should be to implement the plan, and begin immediately measuring attendance and profit above the costs induced. A record should then be kept comparing subsequent years’ attendance and profit.

In Conclusion

It is true that maintaining an already established habit is easier than affecting change. However, transitioning ways of thinking, learning, and creating, allow for the introduction of forward thinking and problem solving techniques. In a post-modern world, where education means self-directed research, stories are told by thousands of people who have never met, and the advancement of technology creates new venues for storytelling, theatre remains an emotionally charged medium for the stories, myths, and journeys which define us as individuals, families, communities, and nations. Continuing to use the transformational power of theatre to focus on positively affecting those who are exposed to it, ensures its survival and secures its foothold in the future of storytelling.

TBA Theatre, already the gold standard in entertainment in Anchorage, also maintains the unique ability to spread its influence to those in need by using the emotional connection inherent in theatre, to connect supporters with causes worthy of their support.

Appendix A

Community Based Organizations in Anchorage, AK

Friends of Alaska CASA

Target: Children, Youth, & Adults

Mission: More than 2,000 of Alaska’s children are victims of abuse and neglect and are living in foster care. Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) speak out to help abused and neglected children. Our Goal: Help CASA programs achieve the goal of providing a CASA volunteer for every child who needs one by 2016.

Anchorage CASA

Target Audience: Youth, Children, & Adults

Mission: The mission of CASA is to speak for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the courts. We promote and support quality volunteer representation for children to provide each child a safe, permanent, nurturing home.

Challenge Alaska

Target Audience: Youth, Adults, & Disabled

Mission: Improving the lives of people with disabilities and the whole community through recreation, sports and education. Through the programs offered by Challenge Alaska, participants can develop skills, expand their social horizons, become physically healthier, and increase their self-esteem.

Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Target Audience: Youth, Adult, & Blind

Mission: Equipping Alaskans who are Blind and Visually Impaired for Success in Life and Work. The Center helps youth grow in independence and capability through a summer training, career development, and enrichment program. The Center also supports blind and visually impaired students in Alaska school districts thanks to a grant program providing up-to-date technology and staff training to ensure accessible learning materials.

RurAL Cap

Target Audience: Low income, & Families

Mission: RurAL CAP encourages the efforts of low-income people attempting to break the cycle of dependency and gain control of the changes affecting their lives. Its mission is to protect and improve the quality of life for low-income Alaskans through education, training, direct services, decent and affordable housing, advocacy, and strengthen the ability of low-income people to advocate for themselves.

Standing together Against Rape

Target Audience: Youth & Women

Mission: The Mission of STAR is: To provide the best quality of crisis intervention and advocacy services to victims of sexual assault and sexual abuse, and to provide education on these issues to the community.

Access Alaska

Target Audience: Youth, Families, & Disabled

Mission: Access Alaska is a private, non-profit, consumer-controlled organization that provides independent living services to people who experience a disability. As an Independent Living Center, our mission is to encourage and promote the total integration of people who experience a disability to live independently in the community of their choice. Through our assistance and support individuals with disabilities can identify and obtain needed services in an effort to maintain their independence as opposed to living in an institution.

Stone Soup Group

Target Audience: Youth, Families, & Disabled

Mission: Stone Soup Group exists to sustain the health and well-being of Alaskan children with special needs and their families. Through listening to the stories of families, we identify areas of need and work with communities to find solutions.

Friends of Pets

Target Audience: Families

Mission: Friends of Pets provides vital animal welfare and protective services for abandoned animals, with respect, compassion and integrity.  We intervene to reduce the euthanasia rates at the Anchorage Animal Care & Control Center, to promote responsible pet ownership and to improve the quality of life for companion animals. FOP is a non-profit organization staffed entirely by volunteers and supported by donations.

Intervention Helpline

Target Audience: Families

Mission: Intervention Helpline is a non-profit organization based in Anchorage, whose sole focus is to bring hope, help and solutions to those battling addiction and provide support to those in recovery. We actively work to find a solution for every person who calls us asking for help—whether they are looking for a place to detox and receive treatment, a safe place to stay, some words of encouragement, or calling about a family member they are desperate to save and want to know what they should do.

Alaska Cares

Target Audience: Children, Youth, & Families

Mission: Alaska CARES is an outpatient clinic located near Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The clinic provides sexual and physical abuse evaluations for children, newborn to age 18 years, and 24-hour on-call services for cases that are considered emergent. These cases usually come to the attention of law enforcement or the emergency departments of local hospitals.

The Alaska Zoo

Target Audience: Families

Mission: The Alaska Zoo is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing homes for orphaned and injured wildlife. We pride ourselves on providing educational opportunities for visitors, both Alaskans and tourists.

References

Amani Peoples Theatre. (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.aptkenya.org/

Boal, A. (1979). Theatre of the oppressed. New York, NY.: Urizen.

Boal, A. (1995). The rainbow of desire. London, England: Routledge.

Chadwick, J. (2005) The Longest Winter and post-conflict theatre in Kosovo. Az
Theatre
. Retrieved from:
http://www.phila.gov/recreation/conflict_resolution/Conflict_Resolution_10.html

Forum Theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved
from http://www.attempteu.org/uploads/media/FORUM_THEATRE.pdf

Houston, S., Magill, T., McCollum, M., & Spratt, T. (2001). Developing creative
solutions to the problems of children and their families: Communicative reason and
the use of forum theatre. Child and Family Social Work
6, 285-293.

Ingraham, D. M., & Nelson, J. (2012). Finding the fun in conflict resolution.
Retrieved from:
http://www.phila.gov/recreation/conflict_resolution/Conflict_Resolution_10.html

Paterson, D. (2008). Three stories from the trenches: The theatre of the oppressed in
the midst of war. TDR: The Drama Review: A Journal of Performance Studies,
52, 110-117.

Solomon, A. (2001). Theatre of the recruits: Boal techniques in the New York police
academy. Theatre, 31(3), 54-61.

TBA Theatre. (2012). Retrieved from: http://www.tbatheatre.org

Youth Drama Clubs Shed Light on North-South Tensions. (n.d.). USAID. Retrieved
from: http://www.irex.org/sites/default/files/USAID%20Success%20Story.pdf

Youth Theatre for Peace. (2011). IREX. Retrieved from:
http://www.irex.org/project/youth-theater-peace

Cause An Uproar: Social Marketing Strategies for National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative

A friend of mine, Crystal Cierlak, and I created a social marketing campaign improvement proposal for National Geographic’s Cause An Uproar campaign. Also, please check out our companion prezi for graphics and visuals representative of the content and suggestions in the proposal. This was SUPER fun. Also, we got 110% on it. That is fun too!

Cause An Uproar: Social Marketing Strategies for National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative

            National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative is a campaign aimed at preserving the world’s declining big cat population using education, various conservation efforts, incentives, and awareness. The program suggests several steps, the first of which is to halt the decline of lions by 2015, and to facilitate the growth of the population to self-sustaining levels thereafter. With a variety of partnered groups, including the IUCN Lion Working Group and conservationists from various groups in Botswana, members of local and national groups are encouraged to join the efforts. As such, we have worked to facilitate the growth of this important effort, by producing a social marketing campaign analysis including a constructive and critical look at the current campaign website, as well as offering research supported ideas for improvement and growth.

Gardner’s Seven R’s

Howard Gardner, a noted cognitive psychologist, in his book Changing Minds (2006), suggests that encouraging change includes steps which he calls the seven R’s. An effective campaign for behavior, and ultimately attitude, change successfully utilizes these principles. We have used these principles as the backbone of our analysis. Understanding how these principles affect change allows us to continue to reassess the effectiveness of any attitude and behavior change campaign. That is, after all, the purpose of social marketing.

Reason gives the consumer a focus; it communicates the purpose for the change. Reason appeals to those who deal in logic. Tools such as analogies, comparisons, cause and effect relations, and debates may lead consumers to the conclusions sought after. In this case, the Big Cat Initiative (BCI) stresses the decay of the big cat population. An example of this can be found in the ‘About’ section of the Cause An Uproar site. While this site includes reasons for big cat conservation, this is an area which lacks in content.

Research is defined by the amount of information collected to support the reasons given. If an argument does not have supporting documentation, it has nothing to stand on. Research provides this documentation. Though the arguments given for facilitating this change are somewhat weak, the research has clearly been done by the BCI. On the ‘Main’ page, towards the bottom, facts about big cats are separated by cat type. However, as one of the goals of this campaign is global education, information could be more clearly disseminated throughout the site; educating readers at every point in their journey.

Resonance relates to the emotional connection that the consumer has to the material or change. Making the information relevant to the consumer encourages a personal interest in the cause. When someone sees themselves as directly affected, they are more likely to join the fight. This site features two notable activities which bring the big cats home to the consumer. First, the activity “Little Kitties for Big Cats” collects five dollars for the upload of a picture of a consumer’s kitten. This project simultaneously collects monetary donations, and allows consumers to connect the attachment to their kittens at home with the big cats elsewhere. Second, the site invites consumers (specifically children in this case) to write letters to the big cats. In doing so, children are afforded the opportunity to feel a personal connection with the animals. These are  brilliant examples of bringing home the message, and using conditioning to create resonance.

Redescriptions are reiterations of the story being told. This is important because, just as there are several types of learners, there are several ways to present an argument. The BCI uses videos, pictures, and case studies to reinforce the need for action. However, the layout of the site makes these redescriptions difficult to find, and somewhat labor intensive to experience.

Resources and Rewards relate to the gain that a consumer receives from participation; whether it is informational, emotional, or tangible. Sometimes, getting someone to change their attitudes or behaviors is as easy is helping them understand, or see the value in what they personally receive from the change. Just as with resonance, if a change is personally connected to them, they are more likely to partake. There are small rewards for donation and participation included in the BCI. These include descriptions and pictures of grants and their impact, and the pictures of the kittens which appear when the five dollars are donated to the little kitten effort. Another small incentive is the presentation of the avatars of Facebook users who have ‘liked’ the site. Seeing their faces on the front page of the site, and knowing that others see your face as well, gives consumers the emotional reward gained from prosocial behavior.

Real World Events include the utilization of situations which occur on broader scales which facilitate change. The BCI has, on their ‘Main’ page, news articles from around the globe which relate to their efforts. Though real world events are not always plentiful, taking advantage of the learning experiences, or changes which those events inadvertently cause, strengthens the argument made by the campaign. There is not much control over the availability of content in this area, so the news sections, though small and somewhat under exposed, is a thoughtful inclusion.

Resistances denote the reasons why this change may not take place; things which work against a cause. Resistances may include ease of use of the product, reward availability, monetary insufficiencies, etc. Careful contemplation of these resistances, and planning contingencies for them, allows the campaign to overcome many of them. The BCI does this by the inclusion of a variety of ways to contribute and clearly articulating the needs/goals of the campaign. Again, the site format reduces the visibility and ease of use, which is, in and of itself, a major resistance.

Reinforcing the Seven R’s: Suggestions for Improvement

While a sense of urgency is certainly important, educating the public about why big cat species need swift and lasting conservation efforts  must instead appeal to their reasonable intellect. The information in the ‘About’ section should include answers to questions such as ‘What happens to an area’s ecological system when these cats are gone?’, ‘What other species are affected by the declining numbers of big cats?’, and ‘How does even a little bit of support help in the long term?’ In the commercials for Cause an Uproar, the narration states that if we do not act now to protect species of big cats, we will one day speak of them the way we speak of dinosaurs now. This reasonable line of thinking is a good starting place but deserves explication on the website.

It is also unclear who the target audience is. The same approach to educating adults does not necessarily apply to children, for obvious reasons. While there is a section ‘For Kids’, much of the content on the site seems to be a combination of adult and youth content. Separation of the site for kids from the site for adults (e.g., rather than a tab for children, redirecting the user to a completely separate site just for children), allows the reasoning to be clear for each target demographic. Where the urgent message currently presented might work for a child’s level of reasoning, more specific information, such as that turned up by research, could be advantageously aimed to reason with the adult demographic.

Documented research need not be confined to a column of text and an accompanying cartographic image. A great majority of the website appears to be targeted at children, perhaps with the aim of eliciting their young minds to adopt a stance on big cats early in life. This may also ensure they will be long-time partners of positive change for the Big Cat Initiative. As such, research presented to children should appeal to their young minds by being interactive as well as educational.

Again, being mindful of the target audience allows the research collected to be representative of what appeals to that audience. If the target audience is children, research presented on the website should be two-pronged: fun and educational. Alternatively, if the target audience is the adult demographic, the research collected should appeal to them. This is another aspect in which separating out the sites may benefit the cause: two sites, two demographics, more room to affect change in more consumers. This also, however, means potentially more work and more capital invested. The good news is that BCI has seemingly done most of the research necessary for both demographics.

Also inherent in the separation of sites, is the opportunity to create content that further resonates with two varied target audiences. Utilizing the varying sensibilities and concerns of each demographic, to convey the most appropriate message, would allow BCI to resonate with target audiences appropriately. If a consumer isn’t exposed to a resonating message immediately, there is nothing keeping them interested, and therefore nothing encouraging them to contribute.

In fact, resonance may well be the most important principle where consistent repeat donations are concerned. Consider the “foot-in-the-door” concept: ask something small of a consumer first, and once they have committed to that small request, they are more likely to commit to something more substantial. Take, for example, ‘Little Kitties for Big Cats’. In this scenario, the initial commitment (i.e., paying five dollars to upload a picture of their kitten) has been made. The consumer is therefore more likely to engage in a second activity (were one to be plainly and readily available) because they were a part of, and saw results from, the first commitment. In tandem with the “foot-in-the-door” concept, producing more and varied content that resonates with the consumer on a deeper level that is appropriate to their particular demographic, will create an opportunity to increase consistent and repeated donor support.

While it is clear that a large variety of resistances were considered by the BCI team, we have found one that consistently affected our research: website build. While there is a plethora of valuable and educational content on the website, it is difficult to find and, in most cases, seems haphazardly placed. Rather than indirectly forcing the user to explore the website like some puzzle with an unknown picture, content should be made readily available from a top-level portion of the website. While pages are currently labeled, the menus are layered with menus from other parts of the National Geographic website. This makes redirecting an accidental click, or attempting to further self-explore the site, very challenging.

In general, it should not take more than two clicks to find the most relevant information and content on the website. There are two consequences to not making this content readily available: 1) if a user does not know the content exists and they don’t happen to come upon it, they will miss out on what valuable information the content has to offer, and 2) if a user spends too much time trying to find content they may give up and leave the website altogether. In order to facilitate the separation of content by target demographic, as well as ease of site use, we propose the following adjustments.

Cause An Uproar: A Site Focused on Kids

Cause An Uproar has a tremendous opportunity to create an awareness campaign that will not only appeal to adults who are able to help now, but also to children and young adults who can create a lasting bond with, and facilitate the continued presence of, big cats throughout the world. Done properly, a social media and networking campaign targeted towards children and young adults can be the catalyst of that desired lasting bond.

The proposed campaign addition is comprised of five main components: character, story, game, socialization, and awareness. Each component is explained below in detail, along with examples of how each component can be accomplished. These changes are based on readily available content from the Cause An Uproar site, and necessitate only a small amount of extra work for implementation.

Character

We’ve created a character to serve as an amalgamation of everything The Big Cat Initiative and Cause An Uproar stands for: Teagan Tigress. Teagan is a young tigress with an appetite for knowledge and a passion for big cats. She travels the globe to study various species of big cats with the purpose of finding solutions to their declining populations. She can serve as a role model to young minds who want to make a difference in the lives of big cats everywhere. Allowing for a role model or authority, someone children (and even adults where appropriate) can look up to or identify with, adds not only resonance, but helps to act as an easily identifiable resource for guidance along the learning and helping path. The creation of a heroic character may also serve as a springboard for developing a transmedia promotional campaign incorporating a cartoon show, products, further games, and much, much more!

Story

Teagan Tigress is an example of a character that could be the heroic narrator of the story which introduces youth to the plight of the big cats worldwide. In her various travels around the world – from the Americas to explore Puma concolor, a.k.a., the cougar, to Southeast Asia to explore Neofelis nebulosa, a.k.a., the clouded leopard – she has amassed a generous amount of information in the journal she travels with. The journal itself can be utilized as an encyclopedic reference guide; something akin to a Wikipedia-like resource, and would encourage students to participate in post modernistic information gathering and distribution, as well as media literacy. This is very useful for kids and young adults who are stronger learners visually and proactively, as well as reinforcing traditional literacy. These additional elements take little to no additional effort, but encourage a more hands on approach to learning, allow youth to better articulate and share the message implicit in the campaign, and creates a learning environment that parents can be comfortable letting their children explore. With a few beautiful graphics, information can be shared in a visually pleasing way that facilitates a variety of learning and processing styles.

Game

Design a game that anyone can play on the website: The Chronicles of Teagan Tigress! Imagine a storyline such as the following:

Have you seen Teagan Tigress? The last time we heard from Teagan, she was camping out by the Amur River. However, that was almost a week ago! We sent out an expedition team to search for Teagan, but all they were able to recover was her trusty journal. Can you help us? Take her journal and look for clues as to where Teagan might be. Don’t worry! We’re sure you won’t go missing too! (At least, we hope you don’t.)

Using one clue from the game prompt (i.e., Teagan was last seen camping along the Amur River), is the first of many steps that will create a tangential learning experience. In order for the player to begin their journey, they must know where to start. They can search through Teagan’s journal to find a reference to Amur River. This tells them where to start, and the clues lead them on a scavenger hunt. Maybe they’ll have an extremely rare sighting of an Amur leopard while they’re there, and maybe they’ll have to learn something about the Amur leopard being the most endangered big cat in the world, in order to discover the next clue about where Teagan is! Including facts, images, an engaging storyline, and other opportunities for tangential learning (e.g., not one, but two Amur leopards are at the Santa Barbara Zoo in California), can create a deeper learning experience, which can, in turn, be further augmented by visiting real and accessible places throughout the country (in the form of pictures, videos, or wiki entries).

Socialization

With a heroic character in place, a story for her to tell, and a game in which kids can be transported to a rich learning environment, an element of socialization adds to the higher end of the target audience age range. The game itself can serve as a large component of a social network site where young explorers (users) can get together to share clues about where Teagan may be, what they have discovered about big cats, and share ideas they’ve come up with to combat the various issues affecting the population of big cats (e.g., poaching and a variety of human and environmental factors). Another approach may be utilizing already existing social networking sites, such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter. Allowing users to share their progress, facts that they found interesting, or hints about Teagan’s whereabouts allows not only socialization, but word of mouth advertising, and positive reinforcement; it enhances the feeling of resonance. Best of all, these sites are already a part of the Cause An Uproar campaign.

Conclusion

By creating a tangential experience for the user, as well as enhanced and separated sites with content aimed at specified target audiences, Cause An Uproar and the Big Cat Initiative will promote awareness in a manner unlike most other campaigns. When learning and awareness is fostered via means of entertainment, the capacity for growth is exponential. Consumers are spending a great deal of time online. Appropriating a small chunk of that precious time for the much needed opening of hearts and minds to the issues plaguing big cats across the globe, allows for the global awareness articulated in the goals of the BCI. With some minor adjustments to the current content, the addition of a website specifically aimed at youth, and continual reinforcement of support, the Big Cat Initiative can implement a campaign that will provide edutainment to the future minds of our nation while encouraging continued support, of an adult target audience, for the preservation of the beautiful big cats we all love so much.

References

Floyd, D. (Writer) (2008). Brain training: Video games and tangential learning [Web]. Retrieved

from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rN0qRKjfX3s

Gardner, H. (2006). Changing minds: The art and science of changing our own and other

people’s minds. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.

Kotler, P., & Lee, N. R. (2008). Social marketing: Influencing behaviors for good. (3 ed.).

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Think Geek: Oh, Trust Me… I DO!

I'm a 'Smart Mass'!

Social validation occurs when we feel as though what we’re doing follows the social norm. When we have the ‘approval’ (implicitly or explicitly) of our peers, we are more likely to want/do/say something. Social validation can work on websites as well. User ratings, comments, and feedback in whatever other form it may take, influences our decisions whether we know it or not. (Weinschenk, 2009)

One website that uses social validation very effectively, is Thinkgeek.com.

A purveyor of all things g33ky, Thinkgeek.com uses several forms of social validation; some that are mentioned by Weinschenk (2009) and some that are not. For example, Thinkgeek.com uses Facebook “liking”, and announces how many people have “liked” each item. They also have customer comments just under the product. Thinkgeek.com also promotes the idea tthat the customers are all a family of sorts; wayward nerds in search of a place to call home, and they’ve provided that home along with our own monkey, Timmy. Following this lead, which not only Thinkgeek.com utilizes for social validation (e.g., Timmy and the staff think you’ll like a Spiderman hoodie, etc.), but the customers also use it in comments (e.g., A Think Geek girl knows when to ‘Bazinga’, etc.).

One very unique social validation technique Thinkgeek.com uses, is that hey actually encourage and promote photos of customers using the products they sell. The call this ‘Customer Action Shots’. On every item’s page, as well as the home page, there are photos that customers have sent in to model the product they’ve purchased from Thinkgeek.com. Weinschenk (2009) notes that the more we feel we know someone, and can relate to them, the more we trust their judgement. She notes that when we don’t have enough information about them, we tend to take their comments and suggestions into consideration less than we would have (2009). How better to “get to know” someone, than to see a picture of them in their natural setting? In addition, encouraging us to take pictures of ourselves using our products, promotes the feeling of family that Thinkgeek.com works so hard to provide.

Knowing that others are buying or using the same products that we are interested in, helps us feel confident in our decisions; particularly as consumers. Thinkgeek.com uses social validation to nearly its full extent. Many of Weinschenk’s suggestions to web designers, for how social validation can be used to promote sales, customer loyaly, and customer satisfaction, can be found here; a notion that Thinkgeek.com would take g33ky pride in.

References:

Thinkgeek.com. (2011). Retrieved from: http://www.thinkgeek.com/

Weinschenk, S. (2009). Neuro web design: What makes them click? Berkeley: New Riders.