An Evolved View of User Engagement

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User Engagement is something every Product Manager thinks about. In this post, I’ll cover the most basic topic of user engagement: what is it? I will start with a basic definition of user engagement, and evolve that definition as we go forward. By the end of the post, you will (hopefully) land on the conclusion that the final definition I will propose is the best one to use.

I will be using my company, Chronus, as an illustrative example throughout this post. Chronus’ core business is providing software that helps organizations unleash the power of mentoring. Our software facilitates the implementation and management of employee mentoring programs from start to finish. We offer tools to help proteges do things like find excellent mentors; to manage the logistics of a successful mentoring connection; and to create and complete a development plan.

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User engagement: A user doing something in your site/app.

The definition of user engagement as a user doing something in your website or application is a common definition for user engagement. Part of my preparation for this post was to survey people in the tech industry and ask how they define user engagement. In my highly unscientific survey, 75% of responses effectively match this definition.

There is, however, something missing from this definition: value assessment. All actions in an application are not created equal. If a user logs in, then bounces without ever having done anything else, was she really active, much less engaged? Did she actually get any value from the interaction? The ONLY reason someone is going to engage with your app is if the value they receive is greater than the cost of achieving it.

Given that, let’s update our definition of user engagement:

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Waypoint

User engagement: A user doing something in your site/app from which they obtain value.

Combining this definitions with an understanding of what your users want/need is now becoming useful. The addition of the value component will help you focus on which activities really matter. Instead of any arbitrary activity being considered engagement, you can now start to focus in on the important actions that you want to drive.

The logical starting point in applying this definition to your specific case will be to make a list of all of the actions or activities people can complete in your app, and rank or score them by value. Once you have a basic understanding of this, you can start to modify your user engagement metrics. This can help you by tightening your engagement metrics so they are focused on keeping users engaged with high-value activities. As an added bonus, many of the components of this metric could also be leading indicators of overall product satisfaction, value realization, and renewal numbers.

In my survey, about 15% of responses included the notion of value in their definition. If this is as far as your organization has come, congratulations. You’re ahead of where many organizations are.

I know we can improve the definition by considering another element: perspective. The definitions above all define engagement as something a person does to/with your app.

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User engagement: How well your site convinces users to complete high-value activities.

This is the definition I personally use and advocate for. It is an extension of the definition offer by Jason Amunwa. I believe the added focus of high-value activities is important.

What I really like about this definition is that engagement is no longer the responsibility of the user. It is now squarely on the product development team. The switching of perspective reinforces a way of thinking that leads to great software. It takes away from anyone the ability to make problems a user problem. Whatever is preventing your users from completing activities that deliver the value your app promises is the product team’s problem to solve. It’s absolutely necessary to view engagement this way if you want to truly understand your users’ needs and how to address them.

This definition for engagement can also be used for engagements that don’t happen in software. I think often about how proteges engage with with their mentors and with available program resources such as live training. I think about how a mentor engages a protege to share knowledge and experience. The very same definition of engagement applies just as well here. It sheds light on opportunities to create additional customer value through improving the quality of high-value activities that occur outside of software.

Regardless of where you lie on the spectrum of definitions of user engagement, even the most basic definitions provide some focus on building engaging experiences. That’s a great place to start. I hope this post has given you a new way of approaching user engagement.

To those who responded to my survey, thank you.

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