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A Former Girl Scout and Current Narcissist on Social Media Badges


Maybe it’s leftover from my days as teacher’s pet or my short stint as a Girl Scout, or perhaps it’s just a human need for positive reinforcement, but social media badges thrill me. I checked into a coffee shop on Foursquare on my way to work this morning and my phone dinged to tell me something new and exciting happened. A well designed, merit badge-type icon appeared, “Look at you, Juan Valdez! That’s an impressive 30 cups of coffee. Now that you’ve had your caffeine fix, get out there and conquer the day – one twitchy step at a time.” With witty text and the satisfaction of having earned something, I felt rewarded for getting my morning coffee. Foursquare, a social media check-in app and website, has gained popularity by “game-ifying” everyday activities. Foursquare also has started to partner with brands like Starbucks so that when a customer checks in they are rewarded with a badge and occasionally other perks like free items or discounts for their loyalty. While offering coupons or discounts to repeat customers may seem predictable, badges are changing how people connect with brands and products while attracting consumer attention and engagement in a saturated advertising environment.

Do you remember when you were given stickers or prizes for reading in grade school? Well, Google News has taken its cue from this old teacher trick and made reading news interactive and even competitive. Google users can earn badges (Bronze, Silver, Gold and Ultimate) based on how many articles they read on a specific topic and then display them on their Google+ profile.  The badges add a competitive edge to an otherwise typical daily activity and encourage readers to puff out their intellectual chests and declare, “Look how well-read I am! See – I have an award to prove it!” Readers vying for virtual bragging rights may then visit Google News more frequently and continue to share what they read on the site.

Speaking of school, education is also getting a bit of a facelift from social media badges. A young start-up called Skillshare empowers people to teach classes on topics on which they are knowledgeable and take classes from others. Classes range from fun (“How to Make Scones”) to more serious (“Learn Microsoft Excel”). Recently, Skillshare revamped its site to include badges that highlight users’ expertise and learning interests. All users' profiles are adorned with the badges and then enhanced with the details of their class attendance or hours taught. By browsing profiles you can easily see who may be a cooking master or a novice from the number of hours they have from teaching or attending culinary classes. Or you can sniff out who is just a Skillshare lurker, with no hours in classes in any capacity.

As an unabashed narcissist, social media badges indulge my desire for reward and praise while also letting me flaunt my achievements and brag about them with status updates and new tweets. Businesses should take a page from these social media badge forerunners because badges give you the best of the social media world - starting conversations and connecting with otherwise elusive groups while driving the conversation back to you.

What else could social media badges do for us? How do you think social media could take advantage of competition and vanity for innovation? 

- Kristi Murphy

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