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Does Gamification Really Drive Adoption of Employee Advocacy?

Ed Terpening
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While conducting research for our upcoming Employee Advocacy report, we found that low adoption of employee advocacy tools, and the lack of targeted content were frequently identified as barriers to the success of employee advocacy programs.

To support adoption, employee advocacy vendors like Dynamic Signal, Social Chorus and Hootsuite’s new Amplify product use “gamification” features in their platforms. The assumption is that features like leaderboards and earning badges will motivate employees to share more. Vendors claim gamification features are key to success, but are they? Most brands we spoke to told us that it was a fairly rare motivator for their employees.  Research by IBM and the University of Pittsburgh found that while gamification does initially drive engagement and sharing on social networks (in their study, it was an internal employee network), the benefit decreases over time to the point where it makes no difference. We heard the same result from a major brand that has deployed employee advocacy to tens of thousands of employees.

If you’re evaluating employee advocacy tools and considering gamification as a key feature, consider the following factors that could better influence its impact:

  1. Company Culture. Do you work in a competitive industry with a company culture that reflects that?   In our discussions with brands (and vendors), this came up frequently as a success factor.
  2. Business Complexity. Are you a brand with a wide array of disparate products/services? Do you have a global footprint, with multiple languages in use?   Business complexity points to the need to ensure the tool you ask employees to use has a very targeted focus: content appropriate to their interests, products, role and leaderboards with names they’ll recognize.
  3. Role Diversity. Context is king. If you ask employees with wide-ranging roles to share content, leaderboards could mix apples and oranges.  For example, is it fair to compare the sharing score of factory floor employee to a marketing leader? Look for tools that allow you to target both content and gamification features by role, geography, product team, or any number of attributes that contribute to an employee’s perception of an even playing field where they have a chance of reaching #1.
  4. Pragmatic Impact. Employees will want to know: what’s in it for me to reach the heights of a leaderboard or rack up badges? Does my participation impact my career or employer success? One company we spoke with uses internal influence scores (i.e., their degree of reach/followership and engagement) as a key factor to determine eligibility to be promoted to a leadership position (this was in the context of an internal social network). This makes perfect sense: by measuring the reach and influence of an employee, you gain further insight into their potential for success as a leader.
  5. Transparency. Does the tool make it clear how badges or points are earned? If you want to drive competitive employees, they need to know the rules of the game—but without disclosing so much that they try to game the system. There’s a reason the details of Google’s PageRank algorithm is a secret—it ensures quality and meritocracy win.

Bottom line: Even though the impact of employee advocacy tool gamification features may decline over time, if it gets employees to try it, you’re making progress. So while it’s worth considering vendors that include this feature, don’t count on gamification for long term, sustainable success.

In our upcoming research, we’ll be sharing what motivates employees to participate, what consumers think of work-related posts by friends, and why brands have made creating employee advocacy programs a priority. Watch for our upcoming report next month on this topic for more pragmatic advice.