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The Great Employee Advocacy Debate: Should You Reward Employees? [Podcast]

By 17/06/2022February 14th, 2023No Comments
The Great Employee Advocacy Debate: Should You Reward Employees? [Podcast]

[Episode Three of ‘The Employee Advocacy and Influence Podcast] 🎧👇

Empower your employees like NEVER before!

Organizations all over the world in every sector are driving strategic competitive advantage by scaling the impact of their employees’ voices… and now YOU can too! As we delve beyond the why and get straight to the how so that you can put employee-driven growth at the heart of your organization.

Hosted by employee advocacy practitioner and CEO of DSMN8, Bradley Keenan.


Welcome to episode number three of the Employee Advocacy and Influence podcast. My name is Bradley Keenan and I am the Founder and CEO of DSMN8.

In this episode of our podcast, we’re going to be talking about if gamification is needed to run a successful advocacy program and like most questions in business, the answer is it depends.

We’ve been providing gamification as part of our offering for about four years. When we first launched our gamification offering, to say we learned a few lessons in week one would be somewhat of an understatement.

It was around 2018, and the original version of our gamification offering was essentially first, second and third place and clients could add prizes to those positions inside a leaderboard. The leaderboard was created by things like how many website visitors were created from the advocates sharing content.

We always knew that adding gamification to our offering would increase the engagement in the platform, but to say that we weren’t prepared for how much that would drive engagement would be somewhat of an understatement.

When Gamification Goes Wrong

Now, clearly, I can’t tell you the specific client in the story, but let me tell you what happened…

The client themselves work in the travel sector and their product would be desirable by most people’s standards. With a retail price of about $1,000, this client decided to add their products as a reward for first, second and third place. Naturally, this created a huge amount of engagement in the program, and everyone wanted to participate and we had increased share numbers, we had increased user numbers, but I guess most importantly, we had a huge increase in the amount of traffic that the advocacy program was delivering.

Good, right?

Unfortunately, something didn’t add up. We had a huge amount of new users in the platform. The average amount of content that was being shared was increasing, but the amount of traffic to the content grew significantly.

So as we started to explore this, we noticed that a lot of the clicks were coming from either the same device or the same IP address, and in some circumstances, both. So what we had created was we had moved the advocacy program from a tool that was used to become an advocate for a company, to actually turning it into a game. And that game was essentially being cheated by the people who were participating.

The following few weeks were really stressful for us. We had to invest a huge amount of time in building new technology to de-duplicate clicks when they came from the same device and from the same IP address. Naturally, having accurate data is really important to us because our clients rely on this to calculate the ROI of running an advocacy program.

The lesson to be learned here is that when it comes to gamification, there’s a really fine balance between encouraging someone to do something that they already see value in versus them participating in something purely because they’re receiving a reward.

Gamification Goals!

The role of gamification should be to encourage behavior that benefits the user. For instance, I use Duolingo to learn Spanish and their gamification encourages me to use the program every single day because my Spanish will improve, or it should improve anyway. I would encourage you to think about gamification as a nice to have and if you feel that you need to use gamification to get people to use the program at all, then they’re probably not the advocates that you actually want inside your program.

Interesting fact for you, The top five DSMN8 clients both from the amount of advocates they have in their program and the amount of traffic that they generate do not use gamification to encourage people to participate.

Gamification consists of two main components. That’s leaderboards and rewards. and as you start to think about whether gamification is needed for your program, I would encourage you to think about these two parts.

Traditional gamification typically involves ranking people in some form of leaderboard and rewarding behavior. Whether that’s the amount of times somebody shares a piece of content or the amount of traffic that the content generates when they share it. I would encourage you to think about leaderboards more from an action perspective than an outcome perspective. So if you think about the people inside your company, naturally, people who are at the later stages of their career will have a much larger professional network. So if your leaderboards are based purely on outcomes, whether that’s content clicks or comments, for instance. The people who have been in their career longer stand a better chance of being at the top of those leaderboards. So if you reward actions, it creates a level playing field. So even somebody who is in the first year of their career has the potential to get to that top spot in a leaderboard.

The way that I explain this to people is that I use the fitness app Strava as my example and if you’ve used Strava, you’ll be familiar with the concept of segments. A segment is essentially a distance somewhere in the world that you can either run through or cycle through, and the faster you go through that segment, the higher you rank on the leaderboard. Now, I am not a very fast cyclist and I’m even slower at running. So segments are not something that interests me. However, what does encourage me is tracking my own statistics and improving them over time, even if I’m never going to be on that leaderboard.

Should Gamification Include Rewards?

Now, let’s talk about rewards.

It’s very difficult to find a reward that motivates everyone equally because a $10 Amazon voucher means a lot more to somebody who’s on a lower salary than say, somebody in your senior leadership or your CEO as an example. So focusing on monetary prizes can backfire because the advocate starts to see the program as a transaction between them and the company and not using the advocacy program to benefit them in their career.

The other thing to consider with monetary prizes is that many of the advocates that you’re going to be looking to attract to your program are going to be senior-level executives and high-performing salespeople. Now, given that those people are probably pretty well paid already. Adding a monetary prize really won’t move the needle.

The other complication with offering rewards is that taxation can play a part. For instance, if you decide to give somebody a $20 Amazon voucher in the UK, that would be considered to be giving somebody $20 and because of that, it’s taxable income. So, not only does this create a tax exposure for the employee, it creates an administrative task for you as a program leader because now you need to coordinate with HR and payroll.

Gamification should be an added value to the program and definitely shouldn’t be seen as a transaction between the company and the employee. The last thing that you want as a program leader is to start to see every single person who participates in your program as a balance sheet and if somebody doesn’t provide enough attributable value then you start to want to remove them from the program.

So we do see a huge amount of success with rewards and gamification and you just need to be aware that as you add prizes engagement naturally goes up, but if you can’t afford to have those prizes all year round then you have to expect that the activity will drop when the prizes aren’t in the platform.

We recommend that people use more of a points-based system and reward points based on the quality of the content that they share and not just the quantity of it because we want people to be driving authentic conversation and not just sharing content for the sake of it.

The way that our points-based system works is that we give two points every time somebody shares a piece of content, ten points for every website visitor that that share creates, and then we also incentivise the amount of engagement that happens on the social platforms. So if the content generates a like that’s ten points and a comment is twenty-five points. So we’re really trying to incentivise authentic content engagement. As these points are accumulated inside the platform, they essentially get stored as almost the social currency that the advocate can use to spend against the prizes that have been uploaded by the program leader.

As I said before, I’m not a big fan of huge monetary prizes but, I think there is a way of doing it and we’ve seen clients even use things like raffle tickets. So, every say 100 points you generate in the platform you get one raffle ticket and then at the company meeting, they do a draw and that draw might be for a single prize that does have a good monetary value. So something like an iPad or an Apple Watch and that way, it’s more of a chance-based system so it’s still keeping the element of fun, and again, it’s not becoming a transaction between the company and the employee.

Don’t Place All Your Bets on Gamification

Personally, I think gamification gets massively overstated when it comes to running an employee advocacy program and I think, as I’ve explained, it really isn’t needed.

Sometimes when you start to think about running an advocacy program you might take the idea to other stakeholders inside your organisation and if you link the hopes of the program being successful on the back of funding rewards, it doesn’t take very long to calculate that that can actually get really expensive and as I said, it’s really not essential to running a successful advocacy program.

Remember that 80% of the success that will come from your advocacy program will actually come from 20% of the users. So the idea is to find the right people in your company, where your advocacy program essentially becomes a service that you’re offering to the employee to help them be positioned as thought leaders in their industry.

So in answer to the original question of is gamification actually needed to run an advocacy program? My answer is, generally speaking, it isn’t. However, it can play an important role in encouraging behaviour providing that that person would have already participated anyway.

I would say that if your program is more geared towards junior members of staff, where you really need mass adoption to see success, then rewards can play a really important role. So for instance, if you were looking to run a program purely for talent attraction and you wanted people sharing job ads on their LinkedIn as an example, then gamification would work really well, but that would be seen more as a candidate search tool than a traditional employee advocacy program. In actuality, the biggest reward in running an employee advocacy program is actually, recognition. A monthly email from your CEO, celebrating the top advocates in your program will go a lot further in encouraging further use and it’s at a significantly reduced cost.

So thank you for taking the time to listen to episode number three of our podcast. Contact details for me will be in the footnotes of the show but I’m really interested in hearing from people if they’d like to be guests on the show. So either if you run a program at the moment and you have experiences that you’d like to share. But also I’d love to hear from people who are in the early stages of planning their program and understand what considerations you’re thinking about at the moment. So please do feel free to get in touch with me on Linkedin.

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Senior Marketing Manager and Employee Advocacy Program Manager at DSMN8. Lewis specialises in content strategy, growing brand visibility and generating inbound leads. His background in Sales lends itself well to demand generation in the B2B niche.