Mini-tactics to boost engagement

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Place your starting sign carefully. Often the best place is one with high foot traffic, or better yet, where many people are pausing already (like a bench along a busy path). It is hard to get people to stop, but easy to give a bored person something to do. Good options include park entrances, popular walking paths, or even historical markers attracting out of town guests. 

Consider live recruiting on stage or with a microphone. If your activity will be part of a festival, movie night, farmers market (etc.!) – consider live announcements. Signs often fail to attract attention in busy events. Can you get the DJ or host to ask everyone to take out their phones and call or text your number?

Hide content in a raffle. A neat tactic we discovered was to embed history content in a charity raffle for local goods! They can enter by text message and the entry confirmation can include a free history photo with a keyword to see more or start the game.

Postcards can trigger future participation. People you recruit — especially on the fly — may need to take care of an errand or another activity before trying yours. Handing them a postcard can help remind them the activity exists and take away the feeling they need to immediately participate in it.

Pre-fill the initial text message with your QR code. Many people are surprised to learn that QR codes can “pre-fill” text messages. Set the tone right by being conversational with text like “Hello sculpture!” rather than “Start activity.”

Posters are part of the activity, and can start the dialog. Print is often the most important start of your dialog. Consider including a drawing of your activity’s lead character, or a speech bubble that begins the conversation with a first question; your participants might then begin by responding to dialog, which is more immersive than beginning with pre-game instructions.

Give life to inanimate objects. Give the object of your activity a personality with stories and feelings about what they have experienced. How did the river feel when they flooded the park in 1996? This helps to avoid the informational tendency to write in the third person and passive voice.

Use mythical and historical figures to guide the activity. Connect participants to a specific person from history and humanize your storytelling. What was their perspective? In general, it is often better to be arbitrarily specific than to be all voices generically.

Pick a few locations near each other. Start with 2-3 locations, and beware the temptation to have 5-10. Proximal locations along a walking path or in a park will make players think less about the time it will take to complete the game and focus more on the content. This is especially helpful when refining the core experience to make sure each stop is highly satisfying. Less content is usually better!

Pick a genre for your narratives. Will your activity be a dramatic detective story looking for clues? Will it be a comedy filled with wacky characters and events? Avoid falling into the default genre of ‘informational website.’ People are more likely to engage with something that presents itself with narrative tensions and conventions, rather than neutral facts alone.

Consider a scavenger hunt, or other game forms. Send the player looking for clues in the surrounding area and have them text back when they find a specific object somewhere. You can also have them send back selfies of them next to the object they found.

Create your activity around lesser known facts — and avoid the obvious. If the place you are creating an activity for is well known for the river walk downtown, create a game on the lesser known industries or businesses that benefited from the river instead. This will provide visitors with new information related to what they already know about.

Points give players feedback and guidance (not just motivation). You can keep track of the points a player earns in situations like a trivia game. This can breed competition between players as they compare their scores. And more generally, points are a way to signal what you value for players as they make choices.

Divide information between multiple players. You can send multiple players different clues or information. This will require the players to have to work together in order to assemble the correct information from their pieces in order to proceed through the game.

Give different dialogue to each participant — or randomly pick between several similar phrases. You can have your game send the player random versions of the dialogue to give the game more dimension. If the player keeps hearing or seeing the same responses to their inputs they can become bored with the game.

Save messages, photos and voicemail from your participants. You can store messages and multimedia from participants. For example, you might have the player text back with their personal experience at a landmark, or a better name for a sculpture. Game moderators can respond to such messages in real time, or collect them after the experience for research or community input (e.g., in urban planning with our game Hard Choices). You can also detect when an image is received, and start a new conversational branch.