Engaging Audiences With Social Gaming

The Smithsonian Institute has been going through a year of transition-leaving the dusty archives behind in favor of web and social media projects that engage the public in spreading the Institute’s mission and maybe raising some extra bucks in the process.  A recent article in the New York Times highlighted some of these bold, new crowd-sourcing and knowledge sharing initiatives.

However, the new campaign that really has people talking in Washington DC is, of course, the one where you get to test your smarts against museum experts and your friends.  Are You Smarter Than A Curator? is an interactive 5-question quiz written by a curator at one of the Institute’s museums. Every right answer earns 10 cents for the featured museum, plus bragging rights on Twitter and Facebook to all of your friends. The fundraising element can have a potentially huge impact. Each individual who takes the quiz has an opportunity to generate 50 cents for the featured museum. If 100,000 people participate, that would add up to $50,000-no small amount for the publicly funded Institute.

This month’s featured quiz is written by Louise Cort, Curator for Ceramics at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of Asian Art. Not up to speed on your medieval Chinese pottery glazes? No worries, you’re still eligible for free promotional sticker, and who doesn’t love that?!


But seriously, this campaign has been enormously popular with both earned and social media. Each new quiz release prompts coverage in local DC outlets like The Examiner, NBC Washington, and TBD.com. And with each new article & subsequent post to Twitter-the news goes out to a larger audience. Anecdotally, there seem to be huge spikes in online conversation each time a new quiz is released.

Games and quizzes are extremely effective and “sticky” ways to engage an audience and SI is leveraging the strategy very successfully. I think we’ll see social gaming and interactive advertising become more and more popular, as people’s social feeds are increasingly flooded with more and more information.  Social gaming is even coming into play in the 2012 presidential election with Republican candidate, Tim Pawlenty, introducing a social gaming component borrowed from Farmville and Foursquare. Supporters will be awarded online badges and points for participating more fully in the campaign; 10 points for connecting your Facebook account, 5 points for Twitter.

As we all think about how to create the most engaging online experiences, consider ways to add social gaming elements. Drawing people in, forcing them (in a totally fun way) to engage with your content, and then moving them to share are just some of the potential outcomes of social gaming. The next Are You Smarter Than A Curator? quiz will go out on May 8th-I’m hoping for U.S. History-but either way, I’ll still play and share.