March 3, 2014

Using social network incentives to stimulate engagement, trust and results

In this article I mentioned Alex Pentland's book Social Physics. One of the points frequently made in the book is that engagement, direct strong, positive interactions between people, within work groups is very important. By repeatedly interacting in cooperative manners, trust grows between team members and common beliefs, habits and norms emerge.

The question is, how can you create an environment in which these kinds of social connections are stimulated? Conventional management approaches such as working with individual performance targets and incentives will backfire. What is needed, says Pentland, is to provide incentives which are aimed at people's social networks which create a social pressure to interact around specific, targeted ideas.

Together with Nadav Ahrony, Pentland developed  a system of social network incentives, FunFit, which he used in a study called the Friends and family study which encouraged people to remain active. In this study each participant was assigned to two buddies. So, each person in the study was both a target person and a buddy to someone else. During the study, the buddies (the grey persons in the picture) were rewarded based on the behavior of the central target person (the dark person in the picture).

This social network incentive approach created a social pressure among target persons and buddies to engage more with one another and turned out to be almost four times as effective as a traditional individual incentive approach.

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