Last week I introduced our six stages engagement model which is based on systems thinking:

engagement model
six stage engagement model

I want to use this blog to look at each of the six steps in more detail:

Six Steps to High Levels of Engagement

1. “I know about this and think it is useful” is our shorthand way of saying that the first and most important step in the model is position the online resources in the user’s mind as a destination of value to them. As an example, our data on usage shows up to five times higher usage on sites where the users perceive the content as something that will help them with their work as opposed to learning. When we ask managers about this they tell us ‘learning is important, but I’ve got the to-do list to deal with first’. So in our case it is much better to position the leadership and management content as something to help with the to-do list.

Understanding the issues and concerns of the user is paramount. At this stage, it is useful to think of internal marketing techniques as a way to develop this understanding in the user’s mind. This has an additional benefit, as Lance Dublin points out: ‘if you can get the first 20% of early adopters on board the rest will follow’. So you don’t need to target everyone, but focus on how to engage the early adopters.

2. “I know where it is”. Another key thing we want to hear users saying, and sadly one that is often more difficult to achieve than it should be, as corporate guidelines and intranet designs may not assist the process. That said, it is amazing what you can achieve with a little ingenuity and determination to make sure that your online resources are quick and easy to find.

3. “I can quickly find something relevant to my needs”. At this third stage your user has arrived at the website. This is the first time we can directly influence the user experience through user design. At steps one and two we need to work in close partnership with our clients. The thing to bear in mind at this stage is that the user has arrived with a specific purpose; this is not a random visit. In our case, the user has a challenge or issue and is looking for help and support. So the first thing we have to do is help the user find something that fits with the context of their visit and relates to their issue. If we don’t help them find something relevant quickly and easily then they we lose them and they are unlikely to return.

4. “That was really useful”. At this stage the user has consumed the content and it has had a positive impact. Interestingly, it may not have solved the original problem they arrived with, but it has proved useful. This reinforces the original awareness that this website was valuable and can help them. As you might expect for a first time visitor, it is vital the loop is successfully completed to give them more confidence in the system. You will be granted some leeway by more experienced users. So we often focus on finding ways to make sure users are initially pointed to specific content that we know will help them deal with a particular challenge. For example, an email with deep links to content about performance management and how to conduct a successful performance review. If sent out at the right time this provides users with content that is valuable and reinforces the message that this site can help with the challenges that they face.

5. Measurement and feedback are vital to the buyer to help them validate the purchase and reinforce the messages to users about the value that these resources bring. They are also essential feedback to us on the development of the site. We can measure all sorts of usage statistics and these have a use, but clients find the most powerful feedback comes from their users talking about the difference in performance they have experienced through engaging with the resources. Stories about projects being delivered ahead of schedule, grievances avoided, team morale improved or new and successful strategies being implemented are almost priceless. These experiences are also the ones you want to play back into the system, as they will drive higher usage and engagement from the rest of the community.

6. “I know this adds value”. Finally, we come to the buyer (or perhaps originator of the web resources; in our world, this is a buyer).  There is an argument for making the buyer the first step in the model, as their engagement and belief in the value of the resources is critical: if they don’t take the lead in steps one and two then it is going to be very difficult to drive engagement. However, on balance, I take the view that this is part of the launch process for us, and in the cycle I want the buyer to have more and more confidence in the value the website is providing. To do this you need measurement and feedback.  A free managed trial can give a buying team confidence to go ahead with a purchase but solid user feedback over a sustained period of time provides deeper and more sustained confidence and engagement.

We keep learning new subtleties and techniques to improve our performance at each stage, but the core model remains tried and tested. If you have online learning resources that are not engaging your users, go around the model and explore each stage. I guarantee, you’ll find that there is an issue at one of the failure points.

As we move into our second decade, we’re about to launch our first iPhone app which will have 100 top management tips and be freely available in April. I’m sure the engagement model will be appropriate and we’ll continue to learn new techniques to engage users across multiple platforms. As Nigel Paine pointed out recently: Mobile learning is dead, long live multiple platform learning.