Gamification of an Enterprise Social Network: the 5 Levels to Stimulate User Engagement

The gamification trend has been on my radar for some time now. I’ll be honest and admit that I cannot hide my frustration; there are many theoretical blogs that start of by reciting the definition, without bringing anything applicable to the table.

Yes, “gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems”. This definition has the negative effect that people recognize the word “game” and conclude that they should introduce “games” into their business applications. Listen very carefully, I shall say ‘zis only once: “gamification is not a game”.

According to Gartner, more than 70% of the world’s largest companies have tried to deploy gamification for at least one enterprise application. Yet 80% of the efforts to date have failed to meet their objectives, due largely to poor design.


In this article, I aim to introduce some more advanced game mechanics while deploying an Enterprise Social Network (with the underlying dream to drive more successful gamification implementations). The article defines the rules to level-up the user skills; stimulate the learning, adoption and user engagement of for example Asana, Basecamp, Connections, Facebook Workplace, Google+ for Work, Jive, Microsoft Teams, SharePoint, Slack, Yammer, etc.

Note: The use of gamification doesn’t holistically address the adoption challenge; it’s a complementary approach to improve learning, user engagement, data quality, and ultimately even the return on investment. You can read about the main Enterprise Social Network challenges – including the adoption effort – in one of my previous articles here.


Let’s start off with a confession, “I am a first-person video game shooter”. In the last few years, I’ve been able to control my addiction, but you might occasionally spot me on a relapse in the latest episodes of “Sniper Elite”.

I’ll share another personal secret, my online persona is a shepherd from the Ural Mountains who has impressive marksmanship skills, and go by the gamer name “Lt. Petrovic” (inspired by the movie “Enemy at the Gates”).

In every new release of this popular game, I start off from scratch. In order to avoid instant frustration, the computer is programmed to adapt to my abilities. As I spend more time online, the missions drive me to become gradually more proficient.

In this article, I’ll apply these tactics to an Enterprise Social Network. The goal is to define 5 skill levels:

  • Level 100. “The Newbie”
  • Level 200. “The Beginner”
  • Level 300. “The Intermediate”
  • Level 400. “The Expert”
  • Level 500. “The Community Manager”

The actions assigned to each skill level – required to obtain each of them – are described in detail (and can be completed in random order).

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Actions

It is fundamental to understand that the foundation of games, and gamification, is built on measuring the actions of the user. In my native language there is a saying: “measuring is knowing” (or “meten is weten” in Dutch).

It’s important to understand that there are 2 types of measurements on an Enterprise Social Network:

  • The “Quantitative” measurements simply focus on counting occurrences of a specific action. The most basic example would be to measure the frequency a user connects to the Enterprise Social Network: how many times has the user accessed the platform in the last day, week or month?
  • The “Qualitative” measurements concentrate on the quality of a specific action. The easiest example is a user posting a new profile picture on the Enterprise Social Network; is it a good quality, recent and professional picture?


If you use an automated solution, it’s easy to perform the quantitative measurements. The qualitative measurements are challenging. In order to address this, it’s important to train your Community Managers (see “Level 500”). The goal is define mechanisms – for example using topics or labels – to ensure that qualitative information is identified manually, which can then be measured automatically.

Level 100. “The Newbie”

In every game, a player starts off as an inexperienced user (in game slang referred to as the “newbie”, “newb” or “noob”). The more advanced users frequently get frustrated by these newcomers, but they also realize that everyone needs to start of somewhere (and in a first-person shooter game, these players serve as practice targets).

In an Enterprise Social Network, the first objective is to get familiar with the platform. It’s equally important to understand the technology positioning (enterprise social vs. instant messaging, e-mail or a collaboration platform) and to highlight the value (for both the individual users and the organization).

  • Review Basic Training Material

There are probably some basic online training resources, which you should tailor for your environment:

> Getting Started Guide – A guide enabling users to learn how to begin their experience and start collaborating with their colleagues.

> Training Guide – A presentation that provides an overview of your implementation, to help new users get started.

> Group Training Guide – A presentation to teach your users the best practices.

If you simply provide access to these guides, only a slight percentage of your users will actually use them. This raises the first challenge: how can you ensure that you drive your users through the basic training material?


In a computer game, you are guided through a set of easy training objectives. In a few short levels you are typically guided through the basic functionality. The objective for game developers is to make this short and entertaining. The worst thing that could happen is to lose users at this stage in the game.

The easiest way to validate this basic knowledge, is launching a simple multiple choice questionnaire to check their knowledge level (or alternatively use a 3rd party e-learning product like Mindflash). Your challenge is to make this a short and fun experience, and not to come across as a dictating teacher.

Level 200. “The Beginner”

In order to progress from the “Beginner” to the “Intermediate” level, there are few basic actions that the user needs to perform.

  • Complete the “Basic”, “Info” and “Contact” sections in the Profile

The creation of the profile is one of the most important achievements on an Enterprise Social Network. This action alone facilitates the “discovery of expertise” use case; allowing colleagues to identify (find) each other, and this across the silos of an organization. The user should occasionally be reminded to update this information.

The following “Info” fields need the right doses of details:

  • Bio
  • Job Title
  • Department
  • Location
  • Expertise
  • Interests

These are the main fields to enable coworkers to discover each other on the network. The “Interest” field – questioned by a lot of people – is also important; it facilitates networking, by finding common ground other than the work experience.

  • Upload a Recent and Professional Profile Picture

The use of a recent profile picture is underestimated by a lot of people. The goal of an Enterprise Social Network is to stimulate networking, and a profile picture enables the online encounters to be extended into the real world.

The same rules apply as on LinkedIn: use a recent professional picture (that enable people to recognize you on a first offline encounter). Your dog, kids or your fishing gear should really not be in the picture.

  • Follow your Direct Colleagues

The users should be stimulated to start following the actions of their direct colleagues. The goal is to further enforce the strong ties between team members. In the next levels we will further stimulate this by stimulating people to share what they are working on.

This approach is especially powerful for the “connecting dispersed teams” use case; enabling an Enterprise Social Network to become a virtual table, whereby team members (working in different locations) remain aware of the work progress in their team.

The user should occasionally be reminded to ensure that they are always following their direct colleagues.

  • Like Conversations

The like button is hugely underestimated. In my opinion it’s a “one-click-instant-feedback” feature that can provides multiple purposes.

  • The “like” button is mainly intended to indicate that an individual appreciates a conversation or a comment on the network.
  • The feature can equally enable direct team members to use it as “read notification” functionality.


This feature alone is a great time saver. If you need to provide feedback using e-mail, even a reply containing a single word would take you considerably more time. The users should really be stimulated to use this feature heavily.

  • Join a Group

The groups in Enterprise Social Networking software are workspaces that contain conversations, links, files, notes, or any other information created around a team, a department, a project or possibly even a task. The approach of joining a group ensures that all the conversations of the group get aggregate into the home feed of the user.

At this stage, you would like to ensure that the user joins a set of groups that spark his/her interest. The goal is to stimulate the “self-service” behavior; whereby users are encourage to pick the groups they would like to follow. They should learn that they can easily “join” or “leave” the membership of a group (and that this is perfectly accepted behavior on an Enterprise Social Network).

Note: In some Enterprise Social Networks, it’s possible to “add” people into a group. I strongly advise against this practice, as it defies the social way of working. The participation should be based on a self-service approach. The administrators of a group, should promote their group and ensure that the value provided by the content, drives the users to participate.

Level 300. “The Intermediate”

In order to progress from the “Intermediate” to the “Expert” level, there is a complimentary set of actions that need to be performed. In addition, we are looking for a behavioral change; where the Enterprise Social Network takes a more prominent role in the daily life of a user.

  • Invite a Colleague

An important goal of an Enterprise Social implementation should be to increase the number of engaged users. The more users, the more powerful the network can potentially become. It should be a priority objective to stimulate the users to invite their coworkers on the platform.

Note (for Nerds): There is a mathematical formula which defines the strength of a (Social) network:

  • 2 users, can only result in a single connection.
  • 5 users, can potentially result in 10 connections.
  • 12 users, could ultimately result in 66 connections.

This is referred to as “Metcalfe’s law” (attributed to Robert Metcalfe): whereby the number of unique connections in a network of a number of nodes (n) – in case of Social Networking the number of “users” – can be expressed mathematically as the triangular number: n(n − 1)/2.

  • Complete the advanced sections in the Profile

The creation of the profile should have already been completed. At this stage we would like to stimulate the users to inject their detailed work experience (and optionally even education) into their profile. The user should additionally be reminded to update this information on regular intervals (for example once every 6 months).

The underlying goal remains to extend the “discovery of expertise” use case. The provisioning of this information additionally promotes the platform to an “experience database”. As the platform supports more use cases, it’s more likely that people will be genuinely drawn to the platform (because it’s something useful).

  • Daily Access

At this stage your Enterprise Social Network should take a more prominent role in the work of a user. The gamification implementation should measure that the users visit the platform on a daily basis, and further stimulates this habit.

  • Respond to Conversations

The users should also be stimulated to actively participate in (more) discussions. The typical behavior for a new Enterprise Social user is to first observe, and once he/she feels more comfortable to jump into conversations that are of personal relevance.

At this stage, we would like to motivate the users to actively engage in more discussions (even beyond the personal relevance). The users should learn to respond by redirect discussions towards the appropriate users or groups.

  • Complete Org Chart

In some Enterprise Social Network platforms, an “Org Chart” feature provides all users the ability to define their managers, colleagues and the people that report to them. In many organizations (especially the larger ones), the organizational chart is continuously out-of-date.

In an Enterprise Social implementation, your users should have the ability to ensure that the most accurate situation is reflected. The users should accordingly be stimulated to update this information on regular intervals (for example once every 6 months).

  • Update your Status

At this stage, we should focus on creating a new user habit: “working out loud”. The goal is to drive the users to narrate their activities, and work in a more public way. This visible way of working will allow coworkers to become more connected; creating an awareness of activities for everybody.

In my personal experience, this drives two very important use cases:

  • “Deduplication of Work” – If you share what you’re working on, others will be able to detect that you are working on something they (or someone else) has already done.
  • “Serendipitous Events” – As you share you work (or challenges), you might trigger one of your followers (or anyone on the network) to step into your status update to help you out.

Note: In a training session (possibly online), the users should learn to tag their “working out loud” messages with a specific topic. This will enable the gamification platform to easily validate that the users are sharing their work on a weekly basis.

  • Create Groups

We would like to stimulate that users create groups (around a team, a department, a project or possibly even a task). This is however a difficult one, as there should be strict guidelines tied to the creation of a group:

  1. There should be at least 2 owners responsible for the group.
  2. There should be a clear objective defined for a group. For example: create a group to capture and share important industry news.
  3. There should be measureable goals attach to the group. How are you going to define that a group is successful? For example: how many news articles should be shared in the group, on a weekly/monthly basis.

The objective and the measurable goal should be clearly defined in the “Info” section of a group. This will allow the Community Managers (see “Level 500”) to validate if the group merits its existence, and doesn’t clutter the Enterprise Social Network.

Level 400. “The Expert”

In order to progress from the “Expert” level and become eligible for the “Community Management” role, there is final set of actions that need to be mastered. We are looking for users who take on a prominent contribution role on the platform; a wide variety of actions (high volume and high quality) without creation “noise”.

  • Launch Conversations
  • Share Interesting Articles
  • Upload and Share Documents

The experts frequently share relevant documents, launch conversations (in multiple groups) or share interesting articles. The underlying goal is to stimulate engagement by ensuring that information of interest is made available for all users.

  • Launched a Conversation, which earned a #BusinessValue topic

The #BusinessValue topic is an approach – suggested by some Enterprise Social Networking vendors – to flag conversations with particular business value. The Community Managers (see “Level 500”) are responsible to add the #BusinessValue topic to conversations. For example: a user starts a conversation which results in an innovative project.


An expert should at least have started one similar conversation.

  • Add Topics to Conversations

This level of users are partially responsible to add structure and order to the Enterprise Social Networking platform. They should suggest and assign topics to conversations.

  • Follow the #BusinessValue Topic

The “Experts” should follow the #BusinessValue topic. The goal is to ensure that they are aware of the most important conversations that are happening on the Enterprise Social Network.

Level 500. “The Community Manager”

There is one final level reserved for the Community Managers on the Enterprise Social Network. These users take on the responsibility to support all users and to govern the content on the platform (including profile information/pictures, conversations, topics, groups, etc.).

  • Validate Profile Pictures
  • Validate Profile Information
  • Validate Groups (including the “Info”)
  • Validate Topics, and assign the #BusinessValue topic
  • Validate the Qualitative gamification parameters (using Topics/Lables)
  • Share Conversations into the most Appropriate Groups
  • Support other Users
  • Manage the Community

This level cannot be assigned automatically; only an existing Community Manager can assign this skill level to a user.


In this article, I introduced the game mechanics to stimulate the learning, adoption and user engagement on an Enterprise Social Network. The approach contains 5 skill levels, and list the objectives required to obtain each of them.

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