That’s what researchers at IBM’s Center for Social Business discovered when they ran an experiment on some 30,000 IBMers who were using a business-centric IBM Facebook clone called Social Blue, a precursor to the company’s IBM Connections product. If you run a social network inside your business, workers are more likely to participate if you give them the game-like incentives you find on services like Foursquare.
Mayor Dennis is the chubby redheaded dude in an AT&T commercial that’s making the viral rounds this week. When his funny-because-he’s-revealing-the-truth boss says “Dennis, check in everywhere you go on FourSquare,” Dennis corrects him: “That’s Mayor Dennis. Of the water cooler.”
People like the seemingly pointless incentives they’re given on services like Foursquare. And now we have, well, scientific proof backing the conclusion we’d all suspect: If you take away these virtual perks on a business social network, people participate less.
When IBM set up Social Blue, users competed for points on the site. They’d get a five points for a photo upload, 15 points for a comment. If they were active enough, they’d show up on top of a leader board. People with fewer than 110 points were New Bees. Above them were Worker Bees, Busy Bees, and at the top of the hive, Super Bees, with 2,000 or more points.
Then, after 10 months of buzzing, IBM researchers pulled the incentive system. No more Super Bees. No more points.
And activity on Social Blue dropped significantly. “There were a number of people who were motivated by these incentive systems,” says Jennifer Thom-Santelli, one of the IBM researchers who recently co-authored a paper on her team’s findings.
The lesson? Think twice before taking away your workers’ Super Bee badges.
But don’t rely on these gaming systems too much, either, Thom-Santelli says. “We learned that points only go so far. After awhile people who did get into the habit of contributing didn’t necessarily contribute at the same rate that they did in the beginning,” she says. “So you could just see this spike and then a flattening out.”
“But there was still higher activity from the people who had points,” she notes.
IBM Connections is just one many social networks aimed at the business world. Salesforce offers its Chatter services. Oracle recently unveiled its Oracle Social Network. And Google just rolled Google+ into Google Apps, its suite of online office applications. None, including IBM Connections, have embraced game-like incentives in the way IBM describes, but it’s only a matter of time.
(Photo courtesy, NAParish/Flickr)