If your brand is serious about maximizing its message on social, you’re undoubtedly running an employee advocacy program. Such a program invites employees to connect their social profiles to a platform containing curated company news, which can then be shared across individual networks. Not only does this help increase an organization’s digital footprint, but it also positions members of a company’s workforce as trusted experts.

In social, trust is the most valuable currency. In fact, according to the MSLGROUP, when employees post company news on their social profiles, those messages get shared 24 times more often than if they were distributed through the brand’s main social channels alone, yielding a 561% spike in overall reach. Even better, those messages resonate with people on a deeper level. As Edelman reports, employees are deemed 6 times more trustworthy than the faceless companies they represent.

Without Employee Advocacy, You’re Only Halfway There

Unfortunately, too many brands get only half the equation right. Most are running robust social campaigns, but many are failing to equip their employees with the tools needed to amplify the company’s message through their personal social networks.

So where’s the rub? To start, some brands aren’t even aware of employee advocacy. Others are vaguely aware but don’t fully understand the potential impact of such a program. Then, there are those who do get it and are running a well-intentioned effort, but their communications fail to paint a full picture for participants and instead rely on flash-in-the-pan tactics.

Gamification may not be exactly how The Atlantic sees it, but, in all its complexity, the method can be a shortsighted misstep for many brands.

Make no mistake, gamification can—and should—play a role in your employee advocacy efforts. It shouldn’t, however, be the main driver.

Compare the difference in two hypothetical approaches to employee advocacy. Company A leads with the prospect of a $5 Starbucks gift card to the most digitally driven department or participant. Meanwhile, Company B encourages ongoing participation by touting the long-term benefits of building a robust digital presence that can carry a professional throughout his or her career.

Contrary to popular portrayals of the disenfranchised modern employee, most people actually prefer the latter approach. In fact, a recent report by Weber Shandwick revealed that 33% of employees are already sharing positive company news on their own social profiles without any sort of encouragement at all.

Sprout’s data even shows that 3 in 4 employees want their company to keep them more updated about what’s going on. Employees say this will not only make them more successful at their job (42%) but also more committed to the company as a whole (36%) and more likely to share information with their networks (17.8%). So why aren’t they sharing?

It Starts With Education & Encouragement

According to a recent study from Bambu by Sprout Social, employees aren’t sharing due to a lack of education and training. Most employees are afraid to share company-related news and content on their personal channels because they aren’t clear on their company’s policies.

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Ongoing learning, along with a culture that supports employees with tangible benefits in and outside of work, will outlast an advocacy program built solely on gamification and incentives.

How Gamification Can Get It Wrong

A 2012 study conducted by Wanda Meloni at M Research projected that the market for gamification would reach $2.8 billion in 2016. Clearly, the appeal can’t be ignored. But gamification should also be approached more as a strategy than as a tactic by leaders eager to make it part of their employee advocacy program.

Before investing in gamification, companies need to set appropriate benchmarks and ask themselves: What are we aiming to accomplish with our employee advocacy efforts? And how and where does gamification fit into our long-term strategy?

Sure, free frappuccinos are great. But what happens when monetary rewards are no longer sustainable?

In her research, Meloni states, “It will be critical for both platform providers as well as deploying organizations to understand that implementing gamification is not a short‐term strategy.”

From inflated numbers to reward programs that aren’t all that special (much less sustainable), gamification can be a slippery slope for many companies. When thinking through an incentive strategy for your employee advocacy program, be mindful of three potential pitfalls.

Authentic Engagement

  • Yields accurate results
  • Provides honest feedback
  • Offers long-term benefits of building a robust digital presence

Gamification

  • Distorts metrics
  • Creates a culture of entitlement
  • Can be difficult to scale

Gamification Can Yield Lousy Metrics

You’re more likely to gain accurate results that provide valuable insight without gamification.

Too much focus on gamification can distort your numbers and create a false perception of your employees’ engagement. At the end of the day, you’re aiming to collect information about content value and what really resonates with your team. Employees caught up in the point game are focused on shares rather than reading your curated content.

Some people will go as far as to create dummy accounts just to hit more points and earn that gift card. Obviously, this extreme dilutes the value of employee social shares because posts aren’t actually reaching an active network of qualified individuals.

The purpose of an employee advocacy program is to amplify your brand awareness, position your people as experts and build on the engagement that should be readily apparent to anyone who walks through your office doors. To that end, you need to collect accurate data on how many employees are enrolled in the program, what they share, where they share it and how frequently they participate.

Employee engagement is the the foundation of any successful employee advocacy program. If you’re seeing inflated metrics for participation and sharing, you won’t be able to identify drops in authentic engagement (overall and with specific types of content). Effective employee advocacy programs can create a feedback loop that gives you insight into organizational health—but too much of a focus on gamification negates the insights you could gain from these efforts.

Gamification Can Create a Culture of Entitlement

Gamification conditions your employees to expect some sort of incentive. Which begs the question: How will you get them to act when you can’t or won’t offer prizes? Over-gamification puts a carrot in front of every action, from sharing content to reading important company news.

On the other hand, sharpening one’s social media skills and developing a personal brand are two proven perks of an advocacy program. If you have to rely on prizes to get people to share rather than promises of personal and professional growth, maybe you haven’t positioned your program the right way or effectively communicated “what’s in it for me?” to the team. True employee advocacy programs provide an intangible professional development benefit to employees by offering social media training.

Gamification Can Be Difficult to Scale

Gamification isn’t scalable for many businesses, but organic advocacy is. Create a culture where rewards are a surprise-and-delight effort, not an expectation. Rewards—especially valuable rewards and the aura of exclusivity surrounding certain prizes—should be hard-won rather than widely distributed at all times. Make the effort special. Personalize your incentives by individually recognizing participants for metrics beyond “most shares.”

Gamification can erroneously emphasize shares and have the unintended effect of making your employees sound like social robots. The members of their social networks may not know what a Facebook dark post is or understand Twitter operators, but that doesn’t mean they can’t sniff out disingenuous content. If people in your employees’ networks feel as if they’re reading posts manufactured by company bots, they aren’t going to take your brand seriously. And you’ll be doing more harm than good.

Tout the Intrinsic Benefits Instead

In the end, an employee advocacy approach based on authentic engagement will directly benefit you and your employees. But it can have another important side effect as well: It can reach your audience in deeper, more meaningful ways—whether that’s by giving them industry insights that weren’t previously aware of or by serving up a job opportunity to come join your team. Employee advocacy strikes at the heart of social communications by putting people first, which in turn will build a much more powerful brand.