Increasing Social Engagement: A Little Recognition Goes a Long Way

Social Engagement recognition star

You know that new social intranet or knowledge-sharing platform you built, beta-tested and launched with great fanfare? It WILL increase your team’s collaboration and productivity, but you need to provide the right level and type of recognition to create the necessary social engagement. This post describes some of the most important factors for organizations and their leaders to consider, including the designation and recognition of subject matter experts, gamification, and leveraging multimedia communication. (August 16, 2013)

Author: Richard D’Ambrosio


The value of having one’s contributions acknowledged is underscored by recent developments in the area of social recognition, both as stand-alone software systems (e.g., You Earned It, MTM’s Carousel, and Small Improvements) and integrated into larger applications (e.g., NewsGator’s Spotlight module for Microsoft SharePoint). We can expect to see even more synergy among various social engagement movements and tools over time. – Courtney


Neuroscientists are just now beginning to grasp the full ebb and flow of chemical reactions in our brains, and how that flow triggers our actions.

As a professional communicator for 20+ years, I’ve worked on projects from national sales conferences, to small team meetings, to being the community manager for online knowledge sharing platforms. What I’ve found, and what many sophisticated neuroscience researchers are proving, is that a simple system of recognition can go a long way to triggering the neurons that incent the right social engagement behaviors.

This holds tremendous potential for knowledge sharing and other objectives sought by social media platform managers. According to a recent survey from the IBM Institute for Business Value, almost two-thirds of companies are applying social capabilities internally “to find information and collaborate more effectively.” Eighty percent expect to do so within the next two years.

However, these firms may not maximize their investment and obtain the results they need if they don’t fully comprehend the dynamics of popular social media sites like Facebook, where one out of three adult Internet users are sharing some kind of content. Understanding the factors that increase social engagement is critical.

A Thank-You Can Go a Long, Long Way

When I helped launch a knowledge sharing platform in a prior role, we worked in advance with people leaders to identify key objectives our sales team was already working towards. We chose a handful of core expertise needs and built some offline activities supplemented by an online center of excellence for each of the initiatives.

We uploaded job aids and other critical sales tools to these sites. More importantly, we seeded the centers with comments from some of the sales leaders and individual contributors working on the project. Then, we actively and very publicly recognized anyone who contributed. Our SVP also chimed in online and off, personally thanking subject matter experts and sales people who were joining the conversation.

The reaction was phenomenal. The sales team and others ramped up their contributions as they saw their peers receiving positive feedback. The social engagement far exceeded previous online usage, and unlike the launch of the tool two years earlier, we didn’t have to hold raffles or provide financial incentives to get our teams to contribute.

In fact, we didn’t spend a dime outside the project buildout. Participation was driven solely by personal leader recognition, both online in the tool, as well as at town halls, staff meetings and other offline activities. We also saw a correlation between contributions and peer-to-peer informal recognition.

The Gamification of Knowledge Sharing

In an article published in the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2012, Andrew McAfee, Principal Research Scientist at the MIT Center for Digital Business, spoke about a social engagement experience he had with TCS, Tata Consultancy Services, the Indian software development company.

TCS was using a tool where any of its 200,000 employees around the world could ask questions to and get answers from the entire enterprise. Employees were rated and recognized for their participation. After a while, the company did some analysis of the discussions being shared and who was participating. According to McAfee, they noticed that some people were offering answers and expertise not directly relevant to their role.

McAfee believes that “some combination of the peer recognition and being on top of the leader board, that kind of status, was so valuable to them that they were doing stuff that was exactly outside their job description.” He goes on: these employees were “doing it for the joy, doing it for the peer recognition, doing it because of the gameification.
Making visible how good you are.“

Put These Tactics on Your Checklist

I have witnessed this dynamic over and over again throughout my career as a communications professional and consultant.  But getting there isn’t easy. There are still a number of core activities that need to be in place to create a rich environment that will kick off and reward contribution.

I strongly advocate a number of social engagement strategies including:

  • ensuring subject matter experts are readily accessible through all internal social tools and are rewarded for responding to questions and requests in a timely manner
  • targeting and incenting experienced high-performers and leaders for contributions
  • leveraging multimedia wherever and whenever possible
  • directly demonstrating the link between business goal achievements and social knowledge sharing through prominent company-wide communications and events

There are a number of other very productive supporting social engagement strategies that require buy-in from internal business partners that also could trigger the neurons that initiate and sustain the right behaviors. Key among them is incorporating knowledge sharing in annual performance goals and reviews. McAfee suggests “enterprise-level collegiality” make up to 10-15% of performance reviews.

Unfortunately, I’ve found changing performance management programs, which speak to the broader culture of an organization, are much harder to come by. More on that in another post…


Rich D'Ambrosio: Social engagement post

Richard D’Ambrosio is a writer and consultant with 20+ years of experience in the media and with large and mid-size corporations. His passion is for helping organizations achieve their goals, through leadership development and effective communications. Richard believes that social media is rapidly changing the way institutions organize workflows, share knowledge and develop talent, and is working to advance strategies and tactics that will assist individuals and organizations in reaching their full potential. You can read more of musings on his Narrativity blog.

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