An excellent user engagement strategy can have a ripple effect on what product marketers’ care the most about:

  • Make your users see the value of your product and its features during the free trial.
  • Stop users from only signing up and then never using the product.
  • Converting large numbers of trial users into customers.
  • Increasing feature adoption and creating “power users” or “product advocates.”

However, one of Product Marketing Managers’ main complaints is that they spend months trying to influence these metrics with minimal results.

It’s like being stuck on a treadmill with a beautiful view in front of you. No matter how fast you run, you will never reach it.

What if you could implement a simpler engagement strategy tied directly to your product’s core feature?

What if it was similar to the strategies of billion-dollar companies that led to their massive growth?

We are here to tell you that not only is it possible, but you can also start influencing the metrics you care about the most today.

In this article, we will discuss what user engagement is, and why it is important to prioritize for your company. We will show you how you can tie user engagement to your product’s core actions and get measurements to help improve your retention. Finally, we will detail the three-tiered user engagement strategy that improves what product marketers care about the most.

Product marketing meme

Table of Contents

TLDR

  • User engagement is the ongoing relationship between your users and your company and the quantity and quality of these interactions.
  • User engagement is low-touch, happening mostly inside the product, customer engagement is high-touch, happening with the entire company
  • User engagement is important because it can be the fuel to achieve hyper-growth and long-term retention.
  • You can find your core action based on what your most active users engage with. You can also find it by following all the users who engage with your key activation point.
  • You can track your user engagement by measuring a cohort of how many weekly users use your core features.
  • Creating a valuable product experience that gets better over time and that your users won’t want to leave helps establish retention
  • Implementing welcome screens and checklists personalizes the users’ experience and leads them to your core action/activation points.
  • Developing personalized secondary onboarding tactics like tooltips will retain more activated users.
  • Gamification sparks a chip in your users’ minds to continue using your product for more rewards and to become experts.

What Is User Engagement?

To get the ball rolling, the first thing to go over is what exactly user engagement is.

Well, user engagement is very similar to customer engagement in that they both cover the frequency and the quality of people’s interactions with your company and product.

Users

  • The main difference is that user engagement usually is low-touch. Users can be signed up for a product for free, free trial, or paid trial.
  • They aren’t getting much customer support if they still haven’t converted to a paid plan and won’t have to deal too much with sales or billing to upgrade.
  • Almost all of their interactions with the company will happen inside the product. This is where the majority of engagement is focused.
user engagement flywheel

Customers

  • Customers, on the other hand, are paying as individuals or as whole company accounts.
  • Their engagement is with the whole company. Customer success, sales, engineers, and marketing all play a role in interacting with customers inside and outside the app.

Look at this customer persona:

customer journey map

Source: Userinterviews.com

Btw. Grab your user persona template for SaaS here!

Now that we know the differences between customer and user engagement let’s see why engagement is important.

Why Is User Engagement Important?

Sarah Tavel, who has written a ton about product management and was part of Pinterest’s meteoric growth, once said:

Engagement is the fuel powering enduring, billion-dollar businesses.

Now, that is a pretty bold statement, but it makes sense when you consider that almost all the billion-dollar tech companies of the last twenty years have a highly-engaged user base.

Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and Pinterest have millions of users logging in every day, all performing the same core actions that made them famous. (Facebook-adding friends, Youtube-subscribing, Snapchat-snapping, Tic Toc-uploading embarrassing videos).

Travel studied these companies and came up with a hierarchy of engagement to explain how they can grow astronomically.

Tavel's hierarchy of user engagement

In her chart, engagement is tied to growth at level one because this where companies add the majority of their new users.

At level two, companies become established, and retention becomes the most critical factor in maintaining sustained revenue growth.

Finally, level three is where companies become worldwide phenomenons and create flywheels that enable power users and product advocates.

Of course, not every company is guaranteed to become a billion-dollar entity (the chances are probably 1 in 10000000 and many other factors come into play). But by prioritizing user engagement towards your core action, you can influence your product’s growth, retain your users, and create your own unique flywheels.

Let’s take a look at how to figure out your core action and measure your engagement with it. Then we can get into the strategy you can implement to move your product up the pyramid.

Where is my core action?

One product that came out of nowhere to billion-dollar acclaim was LinkedIn. The market could tell the product was a hit when people started to post or talk to each other. But the core action of LinkedIn is to make professional connections.

LinkedIn request

Source: LinkedIn.com

The more connections a person makes, the more engaged we can say that they are because it correlates directly to time spent in the app, features used, etc.

If you don’t know your core action, you can find this through your user analytics.

user engagement features

Source: Userpilot- Try today and find out your core action through feature tagging. Schedule a consultation here!

What is the one thing all your most active users do? What job did they hire your product for? What is the feature users must engage with to do the job they are trying to complete? What is the purpose of your product?

If you have a more complex product (especially in SaaS), there may be multiple features a user can engage with to complete their task.

In that case, what is the one thing that a user must do to consider them activated? There will be significant engagement differences between the users who hit this point and those who do not.

For us, it is downloading the Userpilot toolbar add-on.

You can then look at the feature that all your activated users use regardless of their use case. For us, it is creating product experiences.

user engagement trends userpilot

Source: Userpilot.com

Once you figure this out, or maybe you already have, the next steps are to facilitate this process as much as possible to acquire more activated and engaged users.

In LinkedIn, that meant creating an experience where people sign on and are greeted with a wall of business news, inspirational quotes, and job opportunities so that people keep adding more professional contacts to their network.

How to Measure Your User Engagement Based on Your Core Action

Now that you are directing your product efforts towards enhancing engagement with your core activities and activation points, you need to track them.

Tavel says that the most straightforward way to understand your engagement is to look at cohorts.

Clevertap cohort

Source: Clevertap.com

A cohort is a group of subjects who share a defining characteristic. In this case, you should visualize:

  1. The number of weekly users completing the core action
  2. The percentage of weekly active users completing the action.

It might come as a surprise, but user activity and engagement is more than just logging in.

Your users need to get value out of your product. And for that – they need to engage with your key features regularly.

Only then will they be able to truly become advocates for your product and be willing to renew or upgrade your subscription.

Focusing on this cohort and metrics like feature adoption, onboarding engagement, and qualitative surveys. They make it much simpler to measure your user engagement.

This lets you avoid going through pages of activity logs like the plague. You can then use these insights to optimize their engagement with your core action.

Why Is it Important for Retention?

After measuring your user engagement based on their interactions with your core action, the next logical step would be doing qualitative analysis to understand the user psychology. What led them to performing it, what were the roadblocks or moments they felt success.

Then can develop better (and more personalized) product experiences that focus on enhancing those interactions. The goal is to retain your users to reach levels of sustainable growth.

The more time they spend in your product, the better the experience should get. Sales prospecting, personalized business insights, relevant job opportunities all come to mind for LinkedIn.

LinkedIn user engagement features

The same goes for if people churn. If you suddenly leave LinkedIn, you are losing access to your professional network. Even if people don’t use LinkedIn frequently anytime they are changing jobs, it is one of the first places they look.

This means creating such a great experience around your activation points and core action that users can’t afford to leave your product.

We could go into LinkedIn influencers as power users, but we think you get the point. LinkedIn was worth $196 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at $26.2 billion when Microsoft bought them in 2016.

Now let’s see how you can create product experiences to increase user engagement with your core action and impact your growth and retention rates.

Level 1-Personalizing Experiences for Better User Engagement

Use Welcome Screens to elicit information about their role and goals

The first step to getting users to reach their activation point or perform your core action is creating the right welcome screen. An empty dashboard is often an intimidating first impression, and you will see your users struggle to become engage or become activated.

Empty dashboard

Source: Datixinc.com

You need a welcome screen or empty state that inspires them to start their user journey. You are appealing to their sense of curiosity and leading them to use your core features.

headspace welcome screen

Source: HeadSpace.com

pinterest user engagement

Source: Pinterest.com

Another way to implement welcome screens is using one that asks the right questions.

If you include a micro-survey in it, you can tailor the onboarding process to fit their use case. This brings them closer to seeing the value in your product regardless of the path they take.

postfity welcome screen

Source: Userpilot- Personalize your onboarding experiences and lead users to your core action faster with welcome screens like this! No code required!

The data you can collect from these modals will also prove useful as you develop more personalization throughout their journey to create a better user experience. It will also increase your user engagement.

Once a user clicks through the welcome screen, you can set up your onboarding experience in an interactive way that leads them to your activation points and core action.

Make arriving at the core action easier and more interactive with a checklist

After welcoming your new users, you want to make sure they continue on the right path to performing your core action.

One way to make it simple is with a checklist. Plenty of companies utilize a checklist or progress bar to onboard their new users and bring them straight to their core actions or activation points.

linkedin progress bar

Source: LinkedIn.com

Checklists and progress bars introduce the elements of gamification into completing the core action as they employ the endowed progress and Zeigarnik effect – thus exploiting common psychological phenomena.

It helps wrap their heads around the actions they need to take to get the most value out of your product in the shortest possible time.

Many companies will include a product tour that drags users through the entire product – and makes it entirely about them. This is not taking user engagement with core features into account.

Instead, point them to the features they need to adopt to reach the key activation points. Once they perform the action required to activate, you can celebrate their win with a success message!

postfity user engagement checklist

Source: Postfity.com

Plus, we are psychologically programmed to want to complete unfinished tasks.

How?

Based on the Zeigranik effect, incomplete tasks are even easier to remember!

Now let’s see how you can move up to the second level and start creating an experience that will make your users never want to leave your product.

Most importantly, so users convert into paying customers, and you retain them.

Level 2: Make your secondary onboarding focused on the value of your product

Now you got your users activated, and they are engaging with your core feature. Many companies think their job is done and is why many don’t make it to the next stage of growth.

As a result, users never discover the secondary (but no less valuable!) and advanced features of your product (that should be getting users to perform the core action more).

They never derive as much value from your product as they could, and the next shiny one that comes along is going to scoop them up.

User journey stages

Source: Userpilot.com

Secondary onboarding is essential if you have a complex product with a variety of features. If you add secondary onboarding experiences, you can:

  • Increase the adoption of advanced features to drive even more value to your users.
  • Make users spend more time in your app.
  • Create sticky experiences where the user feels they will lose more by switching to another product.

Show your activated users a relevant tooltip pointing them to an advanced feature they haven’t tried or a productivity workaround they haven’t used:

userpilot tool tips

Source: Postfity.com

You can decide which segment of users to show these experiences based on the information you collected during the primary onboarding.

You can also decide to create unique experiences based on their behavior. If they visit a page an exact number of times or spend a certain amount of time in the app, you could show a slideout offering a discount to your paid trial with all the additional benefits listed.

unique experience userpilot

Source: Userpilot-Build customizable experiences for your users to keep them engaged past the point of activation. Speak to a product specialist today!

Why does this work for retention?

Wouldn’t seeing precisely the right helpful tip in the tool you’re using, in the proper context and at the right time (when and where you need it), make you think:

“This company gets me”

You show the user you really care about them getting the most value possible out of your product. You are investing time in building your relationship so that they continue to look at your product as the only solution to their problem.

Let’s have a look at another powerful tactic that can bring you to the third level of engagement and create some power-users.

Level 3-Gamification to create your flywheel

Gamification is the secret sauce to a great engagement dish because it amplifies the user’s desire to keep logging in.

Why?

It makes the job they are trying to complete more compelling. It also puts a smile on your user’s face that you really tried to make their experience fun.

Once the user completes the gamified task, they receive a ‘reward’ – an incentive encouraging them to keep performing your core action.

quu promote

Source: Quupromote.com

The most common reward elements include:

  • Points
  • Badges (or other encouraging tokens of appreciation – likes, shares, emoji reactions, etc.)
  • Leaderboards
  • Discount coupons
  • Elements of rivalry between different users

Gamification triggers a chip in the user’s brain to use your product more and become experts. They will chase the same feeling they got the first time they received the reward and try to collect more. This is why it has been demonstrated to improve activation rates and feature adoption.

One option is to include a points system for actions taken in the app like Reddit.

Make it even more engaging by creating a leader board like in the Help desk so that users can compete with their company team.

helpdesk

Wrapping Things Up

Product Marketing Managers and Product Managers often get stuck in the weeds implementing new features or trying user engagement strategies that don’t relate to their product’s core purpose.

By thinking about engagement as it relates solely to your core action or activation points, you can focus on creating a sticky product.

Everything else in your user engagement strategy and product roadmap should be making those points more visible, more valuable to the user, and of course, more enjoyable.

That is when you can finally step off the treadmill and see the impact you are making.