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How Are You Engaging Users & Deepening Relationships

April 4, 2012

All New Market Entrepreneurs with a web-based product face the same challenge:  Getting them to come after you build it.

But the fun and games only begin when your visitors arrive.  It’s just as hard to get them to do what you need them to do on that first visit and then to come back!

While the actions you need your visitors to take differ by business model, they all boil down to moving your visitors through a continuum that represents increasing levels of engagement.

Here’s an example of an engagement continuum for ‘freemium”-revenue model platform:

  1. First Visit: New Visitor –> Member Sign-up (via Facebook preferred)  –> Social-sharing (content, photos, profile creation, etc) –> Inviting Friends
  2. 1st Return Visit:  –> Social-sharing (content, photos, profile creation, etc) –> Inviting more friends
  3. Multiple Return Visits:  –> Social-sharing (content, photos, profile creation, etc) –> Inviting More Friends –> In-platform purchases
Again, every business model will have its own unique continuum that must both be identified, measured, and coddled for continuous improvement at each stage.  But wait, there’s more!  These continua are not linear.  They are both evolutionary and cyclical.  To illustrate this, we wanted to share some terrific insights we saw here, “The User Engagement Cycle Explained” which explains an important ‘parallel dimension’ of engagement involving your users, your brand and an engaged community of enthusiasts.

A lot of business experts will tell your company to “engage” people and “build community”, but what does that actually mean?

It’s important, when hearing advice like this to ask “why?” and “to what end?”.

The why, for me, has always been to create a positive emotional connection with users, resulting in a user experience that exceeds a simple matter of supply and demand.

Step 1: User to Product: People get value out of your product and they want to come back and use it again.

Step 1 -> Step 2: User to Brand: Because they like your product and keep coming back, they develop an emotional connection to your brand.

Step 2 -> Step 3: User to User: Then because they feel an emotional connection to your brand, they begin to connect with other users who share that emotional connection.

Step 3 -> Step 1: User to Product:  A userbase that is highly engaged with the brand and with each other makes the product more valuable (community as a feature), uses the product more often, and provides you with a clear product roadmap based on real users’ needs.

Perhaps the most valuable portion of the piece is here:

1. User to Product (Engaged Userbase)

In order to build a community, your product needs to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.  If you’re providing a product that people actually enjoy using, they’ll feel engaged with that product.  How engaged people are with your product will depend on how much value they get out of it.

A well designed product with an intuitive user interface that creates value and keeps people coming back will create an emotionally engaged userbase.

2. User to Brand (Engaged Audience)

Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand.  This can happen in one of two ways:

1. Your product is so good that your users automatically feel engaged with your brand.

2. Talking to people.  You can talk to people through social media, through customer service by being very responsive, through events, emails, phone calls etc.

If you get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users, you’ll be able to create an engaged audience.

3. User to User (Engaged Community)

Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product.  Time to start connecting them with each other.  You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, facebook groups or build something yourself.

This too, may happen naturally.  Again, 99.999% of the time, it won’t at first.  You have to facilitate it.

By creating an emotional connection between users, they no longer perceive themselves as just a customer.  Now, they’re a part of a community that they care about.  You’ll have yourself a community of highly engaged users with a strong emotional connection with your brand, helping guide your product toward organic growth.

As we pointed out in our three-part “You build it.  They come.  Now what?” series here, here and here, the art and science of customer engagement is a never-ending process that marries marketing, product engineering and lots of obsessive analytics.  But it’s an obsession worth cultivating with your team in the quest to build product experiences that delight, engage, keep ’em coming back– all the while  making it easy to convert these engaged users into such powerful evangelists they rival the efforts of your marketing team– that’s the vision, baby!
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