This is the third and final post examining online engagement for learning and performance support resources, based on the presentation I gave at Learning Technologies. The first two are A Simple Model for Online Engagement and The First Condition of Online Engagement: Awareness.

Think about how people navigate to sites in their personal usage. They either have a site saved to their favourites, or more commonly, they search for it on Google and get what they’re looking for as the top result.

It’s different for work-based tools. Internal resources don’t usually appear in Google results because they sit behind organisational firewalls, commonly on intranets or learning management systems.

Still, there are a couple of useful guidelines to follow when setting up your online resource for success. The biggest of these, by far, is the main reason why many initiatives fizzle and die. It’s all about where employees access the resource from.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen a really great resource buried away on an intranet. In order to access, say, a support tool for performance management, an employee might have to go to their intranet, the HR page, the L&D section of the HR page, the performance management section of the L&D page, and in a dense list of blue links, somewhere in the middle will be another blue link that says “performance management tool”.

This, to put it finely, is not optimal. And there’s plenty that can be done about that.

Links can be turned into attractive buttons or banners, icons can be designed and deployed. Useful, important or timely resources can be pushed up the intranet hierarchy for a period of intense promotion.

And there’s plenty more that can be done. Shortcut icons can be delivered to employee’s desktops, resources can be added to employees’ browser favourites, and you can ensure that the resource is easily discoverable via the intranet search feature (if it ever gets used).

All these solutions require a strong relationship with your IT department, but this is easier to achieve than many people’s experience would suggest. In many organisations we’ve worked with, the IT department wants to be understood, but also challenged. They really do want to solve their internal client’s problems. Key to making that happen is to be able to speak in their language. You either need to be able to do that yourself, have someone in your team to do that or work with an external expert to help you build that relationship.

Because, if making things happen on the intranet needs a strong relationship with IT, for the next path to success it’s absolutely vital.

As with most things in life, there’s often a balance to be struck between access, security, measurement and cost.

Just as the best food is most often artery clogging, so the ideal solution to accessing an online resource has its pitfalls.

Let’s start with the ideal scenario: the employee launches the resource from any device, they are taken to the resource without having to log in or go through any hoops, and the system knows who the employee is.

Great, and that’s a feasible case in many situations if you have a decent, open-standards authentication service, you only access from within the organisation’s network, and whoever has developed the online resource can support the authentication protocol.

Those conditions don’t occur very often. So, let’s look at some potential pitfalls.

If at all possible, do not force the employee to gather up yet another username and password. This is a major blocker to engagement. If you absolutely cannot avoid it, then make the password retrieval process as painless as possible.

Single sign-on systems are a great idea if they’re already in place. Most providers should be able to integrate with them and they mean the user is interfacing with the resource in a familiar way. It also means that you can get the best of both worlds, individual tracking and personalised access.

It should be noted that this may cost a bit more, but if you’re investing in the resource, you don’t want to see that investment wasted for the sake of an integration fee.

However, before you do that at all, there’s a critical question you have to ask yourself. How important is it that you have individual tracking of this resource? Is it really important that you can tell James Smith from accounts watched a video on communication skills on the 23rd November 2012? Or is it more important that you can tell the resistance to change video has seen an increase in usage of 1500% in the last few weeks?

The second measurement is easily achieved. The first is more difficult and causes the imposition of passwords or costly authentication systems.

These are genuine questions to ponder and, in the main, when we’ve been asked to provide individual user reporting, it rarely gets used compared with the more general trends that we can pick out from something like Google Analytics.

Whatever you decide, you want to reduce the barriers between the user and the resource they are trying to access

So what about the health signals for this condition?

Visits are still the primary signal. If this is low you need to look at both the first two conditions for online engagement.

It’s as important to know how many people are visiting the page the they need to access the resource from as it is to know how many people are visiting the actual resource. If the launch page gets 5,000 visits and the resource just 500, it could be that it’s not prominent enough, or it’s not clear exactly what it is. The key is to understand the whole journey the employee takes and where they fall off.

Bounce rate is one of those metrics that are a useful signal but can mean a number of things. Put simply, a bounce is a visit to your resource where the user doesn't go any further than the first page they visit. This could mean they're just having a nosey, but it can also mean that you're not getting the signalling right from where the user is launching the resource from. They might click on a link expecting to see a checklist, for example, and actually be taken to an e-learning module.

Finally, if you have one, a high number of visits to the forgotten login page of your resource can be a signal that you need to improve the access route to your resource. Again, this links in closely to the requirement for a password or use of single sign-on solutions.

These signals aren't a definitive guide, they're just useful metrics that we've learned to look at over the years. They require a degree of interpretation, but the more you analyse them, the better your interpretation gets.

And it’s here that we reach the end of this particular series. As I mentioned at the start, this is a tale of two halves. Yes, you need to follow good analysis and design principles when building any online intervention. But even then, you still need to get people to visit your resources in order for them to add value.

For both to-site and on-site engagement, however, you don’t have to break new ground every time.

Companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon spend millions in experimenting and developing new strategies to engage their users. They have clear strategies to get people to visit their sites and, what's more, they have honed their user interfaces over many years. On the enterprise side, giving employees familiar user interfaces and navigation mechanisms they're familiar with from these companies can allow you to shortcut the need to invest heavily in UI experts.

I hope these posts have been thought-provoking and useful. If you want to chat about anything discussed in this series about online engagement, leave a comment or get in touch.