Gamification in Content Marketing: The Progress Bar at Work

progress bar in gamificationWhen I started researching gamification in content marketing, I wasn’t expecting to be so taken by the power of something as simple as the progress bar, but the bar has proven to be a lot more versatile than I’d originally expected.

This rectangular, gradually moving indicator of progress serves a primary function, but there are ways to re-contextualize the bar to make it a very different kind of tool.

The power of gamification in content can be exemplified through the gamification of something as simple as the progress bar, converting it from indicator to challenger, a tool of inspiration to users.

Simply put: the trick to a solid implementation of a progress bar comes with the understanding that a bar can encourage users to not only complete, but compete.

Use #1: The Practical

The purpose of the progress bar is obvious: it’s a bar that shows progress.

In terms of the content creator, a progress bar shows a forward move towards finishing a project.

From updating a computer to downloading a file, there is a myriad of practical uses for the progress bar, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it work for you.

The most critical function of the bar, showing progress, can be gamified. Think about the implications of a progress bar in your content.

Consider the following:

  • What does progress mean to your clients?
  • What does progress mean to the project you’re working on?
  • How can you make a progress bar something that influences, rather than being influenced?
  • How can you use the power of the progress bar to increase interest and input?

Even when moving the progress bar into gamified space, it should still be practical. As Gavin Davies notes, a progress bar must be accurate, responsive, precise, and appropriate.

Davies goes into more detail on each of those progress bar properties, but the basic version is that the thing needs to work as advertised. What’s the point of a progress bar without progress?

Use #2: The Road to Completion

When it comes to the tweaking of a tool of progress into an entry point to gamification, few have a better lock than social media site LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is a social media site for professionals, free of gimmicks like Pokes or Likes, but rife with all sorts of integration with other populist social media sites like Twitter and Facebook for those craving that sort of thing.

The more professional side of LinkedIn comes from the listing of jobs in a resume-style profile, as well as the ability to “network” with friends and colleagues into a growing web of social-style connections with the primary goal of career advancement.

Where the real genius of LinkedIn strikes is the use of the progress bar in relation to the building of that profile. A better profile will bring more views and more interest from potential employers, so LinkedIn encourages viewers to fill in more information in the profile with the promise of “profile completion,” as indicated by a progress bar and a percentage.

Every job adds to the progress bar and grows the percentage.

Adding your college? A piece of progress.

Adding your birthday? Well, LinkedIn won’t get you a cake, but you’ll at least get another extra slice of progress bar as a reward.

Completion: Even Facebook is Getting Into It!

In case you think the progress-bar-as-completion-tool is just a pretty graphic to add to your website, consider that even social media juggernaut Facebook experimented with the power of the progress bar, likely influenced by LinkedIn’s success.

This feature seems to have faded into the background on Facebook, but if a massive site like it is willing to try, why not experiment with the progress bar in your gamification strategy?

Use #3: There’s Nothing Like Instant Gratification

Speaking of Facebook and progress bars, another great use of the progress bar in social media comes from Facebook add-on Buffer. Buffer allows users to pre-schedule posts for the future, rewarding users who add to their Buffers on Facebook with a piece of progress bar.

This bar shows both the addition of the post to the Buffer and how much of the Buffer you have left (free users have a limited storage capacity). If you think that an upper limit on the Buffer might be a problem, don’t worry. Buffer reminds users to “top off” their pre-scheduled posts at regular intervals, converting the bar into both a warning and a challenge.

One of the other big advantages of Buffer’s integration of the progress bar into its interface on Facebook is that it provides an immediate, visual confirmation that you’ve added to the content on the site.

At its most basic, this instant gratification gives you the feeling of accomplishing something. That feeling, that sense of pure accomplishment, is as potent and powerful reward as you can hope for when it comes to gamification.

It adds to the power of the progress bar. The bar brings you in with the promise of progress, shows that you’ve added something to a whole, and gives you an instant reward for your (or your client’s) work.

This sort of threefold form factor is rarely replicated in content marketing at large and is definitely worth looking into.

What do you think of the progress bar?


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Michael is a graduate of New York University’s Film and Television program. He specialized in writing, channeling a passion for storytelling, no matter the medium. In addition to his work at CEM, Michael primarily works in web content production, including projects like Geek Crash Course, a geek-educational series, the Ansible, a comics-based interview show, live performance series The Next Lab Sessions, and many more. In addition, he’s written and edited for the digitally distributed Champion! Magazine.

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