Back in 2012, Harvard Business Review listed social badging as one of its Four Innovation Trends to Watch in 2013. In the piece, HBR intimated that in the near future, badges would become “key variables in human capital evaluation.” Similarly, a November, 2012 New York Times article suggested that “while they may appear to be just images, digital badges are actually portals that lead to large amounts of information about what their bearers know and can do.” At the time, social/digital badging was a relatively new phenomenon in the business and education arenas, however its potential as a value-added resource was already beginning to be explored and expounded upon.
Today, companies as noteworthy as Lenovo, Microsoft, Cisco, and Oracle have all implemented some type of social badging among their workforce. Frequently these take the form of training and enablement initiatives, where participants—be they technical-oriented employees, sales reps, etc.—are rewarded for reaching different levels or milestones of achievement within an existing learning-based, employer-driven ecosystem. In other words, as participants expand their skill-set or knowledge base, they can earn digital recognition of their accomplishment; then, depending on the program, this recognition can be viewed by peers and/or accessed by superiors, serving as a motivating force for advancement.
More and more, these “credentials” are being utilized as an effective engagement tactic in incentive programs; not only does the strategy offer an obvious social aspect, whereby friendly (i.e. business-oriented) competition is generated among peers—it also functions as a skills profile for individual participants, which can be used as a means of verifying expertise from either a customer or employer standpoint.
Through fits and starts, the practice of social badging has steadily become commonplace in the world of big business in general and performance incentives specifically. Its increasing prevalence as both a learning and enablement tool suggests further room for growth, and with companies continuing to look for new and creative ways of engaging their customers and workforce, it seems that these digital success symbols might be the next great wave in performance motivation.