Influencing Human Behaviour to Increase Enterprise Social Networking Adoption

[ I originally published this post on the tibbr blog in 2012. ]

In my previous post, I promised to elaborate on one of the three pillars of successful adoption – people. Changing people’s behaviour is hard, but not impossible. It just takes more thought than some blunt incentive scheme or gamification strategy. Successful adoption of an enterprise social platform means influencing human behaviour.

Humans behave in certain ways, sometimes illogical ways. This is the result of evolutionary processes, education, cultural norms and tools. For example, in the absence of better suited tools people have come to use email for everything from private communication, team collaboration to audit trails and task lists. Now many people automatically turn to email without giving it a second thought.
For an organization to grow and evolve with their social network, encouraging positive and discouraging negative behaviour is critical. We need to provide certain stimuli. These stimuli vary greatly and depend heavily on the desired behaviour, the audience, their current behaviour, tools, and culture.

Recently, gamification has moved into the limelight as part of a change management initiative. It describes the application of game mechanics in a non-game environment to nudge people to take certain actions. It is an interesting concept and can indeed be helpful in influencing behaviour in the short-term if applied correctly. However, as with everything there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
If you recently followed the #e2conf hashtag of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, you may have stumbled across the hashtag #badgeburnout. It reflects the view that too often gamification is reduced to handing out badges. That’s the ugly. The bad are tactics that incentivise the wrong behaviour. Companies create leaderboards of people that created the most content, have most comments, likes etc. But how meaningful is that? Have you ever thought about creating a leaderboard for people that wrote the most emails, received the most replies, cc’d the most people? Ask yourself, do you roll out a collaboration and communication platform to create as much content as possible or do you roll out your platform to solve business problems? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to have a good insight into the activity on your enterprise social network, but I think activity data only shows the health of your community. In the quest for showing value organisations turn to data that is easily available and unfortunately use it in the wrong context.

So, what’s the good? A good gamification strategy aims at business metrics and not just project metrics (e.g. engagement, number of visits, most active group and others). For example, if you want to improve the performance of your regional sales teams to increase leads or revenue why not make that kind of data visible? Why not rank them according to those metrics instead of competing based on how many discussions they created last month? In most cases companies have the data. It’s a matter of identifying the right data sets to influence certain behaviour and making it available where it matters.