The integration of game dynamics seems to be much more than an isolated LBS fad now. TheDealMap is using them as a way to get consumers to identify and promote local deals. And now local directory and social network MerchantCircle has implemented “gaming” and “mayors” to boost merchant engagement and activity levels and bring in new SMB members.
Because it is aimed at SMBs and not consumers the “game” in this case is slightly different than on Foursquare, Yelp and elsewhere. The “mayor” of a city on MerchantCircle is the most connected SMB in that area. Connected means: connected to other MerchantCircle SMBs. And just like other sites using game dynamics there’s a public leaderboard for each city.
I spoke briefly yesterday with MerchantCircle product VP Jeremy Kreilter (formerly of Yahoo) and asked him about the merchant incentive (beyond ego) for doing this. He said that ego plays a role but that the mayor gets more exposure across the site, so there’s a “free advertising” angle here. When you do a search for a category the mayor shows up as a tile ad (at no cost to the merchant).
The same thing happens at the profile page level.
Because MerchantCircle gets so much traffic from SEO in search results this will also be a major SEO play for the SMB that is the mayor of his/her particular city. Kreilter told me that this program, which has been in beta for a little while, was having the desired effect: boosting merchant activity levels generally and generating new members as SMBs reach out to other business owners in their area to build connections.
As an interesting aside, FatDoor, the precursor to Center’d/TheDealMap, had this sort of gaming dynamic long before Foursquare emerged. I’m sure there are other examples too. But here’s what I wrote in Q1 2007 when FatDoor originally launched:
One of the most interesting aspects of the site is the way that it tries to parallel the “real world.” For example, there will be a virtual “mayor” of fatdoor San Francisco and a virtual “governor” of California based on participation in the network and other factors. These individuals may be able to wield power and influence over the community (and potentially the real world) like actual politicians do.