Social Pro Files: An interview with Kris Duggan of Badgeville

We recently had the opportunity to interview Kris Duggan, co-founder of Badgeville, the Social Rewards & Analytics Platform, named a top 2011 startup by Laptop Magazine. Kris is a Social Pro, so we wanted to share this entire interview with everyone. Enjoy!

Badgeville is a white label social rewards & analytics platform. Kris Duggan is a serial entrepreneur and thought leader of innovative ways to incorporate game mechanics and real-time loyalty programs into web and mobile experiences. Prior to founding Badgeville, Duggan worked in leadership roles at a variety of successful companies, including WebEx.

Badgeville allows companies to reward site visitors with ‘status’ and ‘reputation’ for participating on the site in various ways.  How to status and reputation differ? Can you provide an example of each?
Duggan: Status and reputation are tightly linked together. What’s key about driving behavior is that everyone wants to be recognized for their loyalty and want to be surface as the best contributors to a site community. Loyalty 1.0 was all about redemption and merchandise, Loyalty 2.0 is about reputation and status. Badges are nothing more than a visual depiction of status and reputation. Our social mechanics includes a lot more than badges like points, trophies, levels, social comparison, real-time activity, and more.

In what ways are status and reputation rewarded?
Duggan: Status and reputation are rewarded in similar ways. Some users are motivated by status while others by reputation. The rewards program implementation on a specific site may lean towards status or reputation, or may be a combination of both. For instance, a user may have their status listed on their profile page. Having “top fan” listed on their profile page, along with badges for performing specific actions on the site, is a powerful driver of behavior. Reputation is rewarded in a similar way, but is integrated with visible social comparison, such as site leaderboards.

Badgeville is part ‘game’ and part ‘loyalty program’. Can you describe how these parts differ? And, how they compliment each other?
Duggan: Badgeville is a white-label rewards engine that can reward any behavior or series of behaviors in real time. Our customers dictate whether they want their experience to be seen as a loyalty program, game, or mix of both. We work with retail customers that want to reward shopper loyalty by offering real-time points for virtual window shopping. Like any good loyalty program, users who frequent the store, and purchase items will gain points that can be used for tangible rewards like discounts and free samples. Some of our customers lean much more towards the game side, creating challenges for their users to complete to earn rewards like points and badges. If a customer wanted, they could build an entire game layer on their site using Badgeville. The Badgeville system is extremely flexible to support both of these diverse cases. At our heart, we see ourselves as a loyalty platform, as we exist to drive loyalty and repeat visits for brand’s online and mobile experiences.

When someone participates on a site using badgeville, is their participation automatic/involuntary? They begin earning points, status, trophies, etc, without knowing it — just by interacting?
Duggan: People who participate in Badgeville do not know that they are participating in Badgeville. Our API integration and widgets are completely configurable so every implementation can be skinned to blend into a site experience. Our platform hooks into existing site communities, so users who are registered automatically start earning points, status and trophies just by interacting.

Is it an advantage that users don’t have to ‘check in’ to earn status/badges, etc
Duggan: For websites, yes. Why should a user have to check in to tell you that they are on your site? Check-ins make sense for location-based services, but for online experiences, asking users to check in just gets in the way of their interaction with your site, and ultimately hurts loyalty. Instead, Badgeville rewards real-time behaviors that users are already doing. This is a very powerful way to drive behavior.

How effective are badges/ and trophies for changing human behavior?
Duggan: Virtual rewards like badges, trophies, levels, status and rank are very effective for changing human behavior. We recently saw one customer announce that they would give away a limited-time badge for users who watched an entire music video by an artist they were promoting. Thousands of users watched the video in order to earn that badge. Humans, at our core, are competitive and driven to compete for our status, and collect rewards for the things we do. We see that in traditional loyalty programs, in the success of companies like Foursquare, sports, and in many other examples.

Are badges a better tool for retaining customers versus attracting customers?
Duggan: The good thing about badges is that they work for both of these. They work very well in retaining customers and helping make these customers more loyal and active, as you can choose which behaviors users need to do to win the badges. They also work well for attracting new customers in two ways. First, users on the site are always prompted to share their badges and rewards into Facebook and Twitter. As we see many of these badges shared, all of the current user’s friends in their social graph see the badges and visit the site to learn more. Secondly, Badgeville encourages new visitors who find the site through other means to register to participate in the rewards program. Once registered, it is much easier to turn these casual visitors into highly loyal and active users.

How does badgeville compare to foursquare?  Facebook places? One true fan?
Duggan: Foursquare and Facebook Places are location-based services, and are very much B2C plays designed to be individual games that users can play. Badgeville is not a location-based checkin service. We primarily work with web and mobile behaviors that occur on sites or apps like commenting, sharing links, watching videos, etc. We are, however, working with some customers who are building their own location-based services platform, and we are powering the rewards experience for these programs. If a customer wants to use Foursquare checkins in their own app, we can also power rewards for this program. One True Fan is also a very different company. They focus on site check-ins as a game across multiple sites with a toolbar. Badgeville is very different from this as our platform is entirely white label, and as noted previously, is implemented in many different ways on multiple sites that skin our platform and build the real-time rewards experience into their entire site.

Badges, causes, and coupons are all popular incentives for user participation and engagement.  How would you compare the effectiveness of badges to coupons? To causes?
Duggan: This is an interesting question. I know our name is “Badgeville” but our badges and rewards can easily be hooked into causes and coupons to drive engagement. Virtual rewards alone drive engagement because — going back to the idea of status and reputation — people like to collect things and compete to be the best fan of their favorite websites. The effectiveness of a program designed to drive behavior really depends on the implementation. All of these programs work well in different situations.

Given the heightened privacy concerns of facebook users and twitter users, are people less willing to share the badges they receive with others?
Duggan: Highly active users on websites are often excited to receive rewards for their behaviors, and to share these rewards on Facebook and Twitter. There will always be users who are not interested in the social web and want everything they do to be private, however, this is only a small handful of users. We find that most users, especially those on the sites we work with in entertainment, publishing, retail, fitness, education and gaming, are proud of their accomplishments and want to share their rewards with their friends.

Anything else you’d like to add on this topic or share about yourself?

Since we launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in Sept and won the Audience Choice award, we’ve been working with over 40 customers in 8 countries to drive behavior using game mechanics. Our customers span across many verticals — entertainment, retail, education, fitness, online communities, publishing (newspapers, magazines, blogs), and more. (Badgeville customers include, TechCrunch,, and many others. We are heavily investing in our analytics components as well, and see ourselves as the next generation of analytics based on user behavior, both in tracking behavior and using game mechanics to drive behavior using a light-weight, quick to implement and fully configurable platform. Our highly configurable and skinnable turn-key widgets have seen customers up and running within a matter of weeks.