Does Gamification Work for Employee Advocacy? [A Look at the Research]

How do you get your employees to adopt your advocacy program?

Many bloggers and vendors want employee advocacy to appear easy. Your employees will participate if you turn social sharing into a game, they tell you. Make it a competition, they advise you. Assign points. Create a leaderboard, and whoever shares the most, wins a few swanky perks.

But do points and leaderboards work for employee advocacy? Does gamification really promote the adoption of your program? Let’s take a look at what the research tells us.

What Is Gamification?

In a nutshell, gamification happens when you take elements of a game and plop them into a non-game context.

For example, let’s imagine that you’re in second grade again. You’re learning your multiplication tables, and at the end of each week, you have to take a test. During the first week, the test involves multiplying by two. Two times two equals four. Two times three equals six.

Easy, right? You’re totally going to get a 100%, and when you do, the teacher rewards you with a gold star on the classroom leaderboard.

After acing the twos, you progress to multiplying by three. Then, by four. Then, by five. Finally, when you can multiply by 10, not only do you get a gold star, but you get one of your teacher’s famous chocolate chip cookies. And if you’re the first person to get a 100% on the 10 test, you get one chocolate chip cookie, every day, for a whole month.

That’s gamification in all its yumminess.

The Research: Does Gamification Work for Employees on Social Media?

Gartner predicted that, by 2015, gamified services for marketing would be as big as Facebook, eBay, or Amazon. Yet, despite the hype, as of 2014, there were no empirical studies on gamification in marketing – much less on employee advocacy, specifically.


So, how can we tell if gamification will work for employee advocacy? Well, researchers have looked at gamification on internal social networks, and they have asked a similar question: How do you get employees to use social networks for business purposes?

IBM created something called the Beehive. It’s a network that allows IBMers to form deeper connections with the people they work with, keep in touch with their friends and colleagues, and reconnect with people who worked on projects with them in the past.

Of course, IBM wanted people to use Beehive. (Why else would you spend money creating the network?) And given the buzz around gamification, IBM was keen to know if a point system could encourage people to use Beehive. So, the company did an experiment. The researchers created a point system, and they gave one set of Beehive users access to the point system. The other set of users didn’t have a point system.

Here’s what IBM found: When employees could see how many points they had, they tended to participate more. They posted more. They contributed more content. However, the effects of the point system quickly wore off.

For IBM, gamification had a positive effect on some users – for a short amount of time. But using a point system didn’t sustain their employees’ interest in the long haul.

What Does This Mean for Employee Advocacy?

It’s easy to brush off the IBM study and say, “Well, that’s only one study, and it isn’t even about employee advocacy. How could this be relevant to me?”

Well, you see, gamification researchers have their doubts about the long-term benefits of point systems and leaderboards. Scott Nicholson of Syracuse University has written:

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself whether your goals for employee advocacy are short-term or long-term. If it is the former, then, try gamification. By using a point system or leaderboard, you’ll be able to interest some employees for a short period of time. Mission accomplished.

But if you want to build a long-term employee advocacy program, think twice before instituting a point system or a leaderboard. Chances are good that neither tactic will sustain your employees’ interest in the long run.

Looking for a long-term employee advocacy solution without gamification?

Contact us. We’d love to show you our product and discuss your company’s specific needs.

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