Apr 24, 2014

The "user engagement" challenge

Ask any product manager about one of the crucial challenges he/she is looking into, especially those who drive consumer web products/apps. Most of the answers would be centered around "increasing user engagement".

How many users are coming back to your product/app? How many users are so happy with your product that they are voluntarily inviting their friends to join in too? User engagement is a factor of retention rate and referrals.

In an earlier post, I had shared a couple of techniques by which user retention could be measured. In this post, I would like to expand further on insights to be derived related to engagement.

Josh Elman, who worked with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn has shared some interesting perspectives on how his team went about driving growth in these organizations, especially in Twitter. He differentiates between visitors and regulars and how it is important for any business to increase the regulars to their product.

"If all you have is visitors, and not enough regulars, you're a leaky bucket. Leaky buckets don't win. "

To understand what regulars do that are different from visitors, we need to deep-dive into the data and ask these questions on regulars - the users who you define as "active"
- How frequently do regulars return to the product - everyday, once in 2 days, once in a week etc?
- What features do they use more frequently and less frequently?
- Are there any patterns in the time and duration of usage?
- What is the size of their social circle? (If the product is social)
- How do they engage with you outside-the-app? Are they interested in your other communications (emails, notifications)?
- What is the profile of these regular users and how different are they from the rest of the users?

Apart from these, I also find Josh's tip on finding the "ah-ha" moment very useful.

"To fix leaky buckets, one power move is to look for the AH-HA moment…. our AH-HA moment in Twitter was "Once a user follows 30 people, they're more or less active forever." Once you have AH-HA moment, focus your UX to encourage as many people to reach the AH-HA moment as possible! So you got to figure out the ah-ha moment. How to find it? Look for the regulars active users, then find their patterns."

We used a similar technique for a product to figure out the X number of days after which a user becomes a consistent regular. The next steps were to ensure the visitors keep coming back to the product for atleast that X number of days.

Insights should lead you somewhere. Give me access to the database, Excel and a notepad. I would happily sit for hours, querying, dissecting and trying to identify patterns of user engagement. But what I have learnt is that patterns can give you good insights which "need" to get incorporated as next steps in the product direction as soon as possible. There's no point in analyzing endlessly unless the insights are used as feedback to take the product to the next level. If the insights don't seem to provide concrete evidence, it's more productive to A/B test and see what works rather than debating endlessly and waiting for the perfect solution.

"Experiment, Make progress everyday" - that's the mantra I believe in, when it comes to figuring out what works to increase user engagement.

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