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The PLGeek Guide to Engagement (Part 2)
Tactics and channels to drive increased engagement
In Part 1 of the PLGeek Guide to engagement, I took a deep dive into what engagement is, why it is so important, and the right way to measure it.
Go ahead and read that post first if you haven’t already:
Here in Part 2, I’m sharing some practical guidance on how to go about improving engagement for your product.
Like the first post, the focus here is on B2B, but much applies (and in many cases was pioneered) also in B2C.
And everything here builds on the first post, with an assumption that you have defined (or will define) engagement states. Per Mr Drucker:
“You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”
The overall goal is to:
Move users/teams upwards through engagement states
Prevent downward movement of users/teams through engagement states (especially to a dormant state which almost universally equates with significantly higher churn risk)
So the specific approaches you prioritise to increase engagement will in some part be determined by your definition of engagement.
If your engagement states are defined around the intensity of use (for a product like SurveyMonkey that could be the number of surveys sent) then you’ll likely take a different approach than if your engagement states are defined around the frequency of use (recall for Snyk they were defined around the number of unique days fixing). A feature-based engagement state definition would yield yet different approaches.
When thinking about how to drive increased engagement I find it useful to separate the tactic from the channel.
The tactic is what you do to drive engagement, and the channel is how you reach the user with the tactic
Let’s now dig into each in more detail:
What it is: Creating contextualised experiences that are more likely to drive increased engagement based on what you know about the user, their team, and their company, along with their past behaviour in the product.
Data sources include self-declared (e.g. via onboarding questions, user profile), enriched (e.g. via Clearbit, Zoominfo etc), relationships (we know that you are part of this team/company or a colleague of this other user), as well as historical product usage data.
Experiences can be both in the core product or in other channels like email.
Most simply this might manifest in role-specific pages/dashboards that highlight data and features most relevant to a user, but increasingly I see examples of this becoming more dynamic and driven by past user actions and their data.
Why it works: By more closely matching the experience your product provides to individual user needs and expectations you increase perceived value and fit.
Challenges: Maintaining consistency in experience across multiple members of a team (think about account, workspace, team and individual personalisation holistically). Anything more than surface-level personalisation can be time-consuming to implement.
Example: Wrike personalises dashboards to show the tasks and projects that are most relevant to a given user based on their role, priorities, and past activity. Wrike also presents users with AI-recommended tasks based on urgency as assessed by factors including the due date, status, prioritization, and how often they have edited or commented on them.
What it is: Notifications intended to provoke further action from the user, usually triggered by some event, action or usage threshold being crossed.
Why it works: Humans are goal-directed beings - we are driven to achieve our desired outcomes. Notifications provide a cue that prompts users to take action towards their goals. As such notifications are a key part of establishing manufactured habit loops.
Challenges: Getting the balance right with the volume of notifications so as not to become an annoyance to users and risk them abandoning a channel (unsubscribing from your emails or disabling your app notifications)
Example: Product Hunt uses notifications (amongst other reasons) to encourage discussion around hunted products.
What it is: Establishing connections between a user and others (new users or existing users) within their team or company. Primarily an acquisition tactic but also an important lever for engagement.
Why it works: Leveraging network effects; every new user in the network increases the value of the product for other users in the network giving them additional reason and motivation to engage. More users within a team also fuel manufactured habit loops.
Challenges: Only relevant to products with network effects where user value increases with increased usage amongst the team/company (B2B).
Example: Beyond the obvious communication products (Slack, Teams, Zoom etc), this tactic becomes important for any product where collaboration is part of the core value. Miro makes it really easy to invite team members from various sources (by email address, or directly pulling from Slack or your Google/Microsoft accounts).
4. Game mechanics
What it is: Applying the proven behavioural and psychological elements of gaming in the context of your product. You take the fun and addictive parts of games and leverage them in real-world productive activities. In its simplest incarnation, it might be a simple task checklist or progress bar, but often includes other elements such as profiles, leaderboards, and streaks.
Why it works: In short, dopamine and endorphins! Users develop a sense of accomplishment and a sense of mastery, and they are driven by variable rewards and scarcity.
Challenges: Easily overused. Ensuring that the game elements you introduce are highly relevant to the core actions of your product and not superficial. Game mechanics can annoy and frustrate some users. Lost streaks can risk complete abandonment.
Example: The Salesforce Trailhead platform gives every user a Trailblazer.me profile and URL that can be shared, containing points tallies, badges earnt, skills developed, and contributions to the community. An element of competition is introduced amongst users and badges and achievements can be shared for social status.
5. Use case awareness
What it is: Making users aware of additional problems that your product can help them solve, beyond the one they started with. Typically in the context of driving increased engagement, this is using the same feature set to address a different use case, but can also be part of a monetisation awareness strategy where you expose paywalled features that unlock additional use cases and/or where additional use case adoption will drive increased monetisation through consumption.
Why it works: The more ways a user adopts your product to solve the pains they have, the more often they will use the product. Additionally, the more ways a user knows that you can solve a pain they have, the more likely they are to turn to your product first the next time they encounter a new pain. The problem is the pain trigger, and your product is the habitualised pain relief.
Challenges: Best suited to inherently multi-use case products. Need to avoid spamming of use-cases already adopt or not relevant.
Example: Zapier helps you identify potentially applicable use cases through their app directory and specific suggestions. I can also confirm that they have gone as far as successfully making me aware of problems I didn’t know I had! 🎉
Bonus tip: Combine with Personalisation to promote additional use cases known or thought to be relevant to the user.
What it is: Offering relevant (context-sensitive) and valuable (perception) incentives for users to either directly deepen engagement, or to perform some action (e.g. get 5 additional credits by completing onboarding) where the reward itself provides an incentive to engage (e.g. get 2 months premium free for every new team that signs up with your referral code).
Why it works: People love free sh*t. And once they have it they don’t like it to go to waste.
Challenges: Need to carefully match the incentive with something users care enough about. Can be costly and hard to scale, depending on the reward; unit economics need to make sense.
Example: Mailchimp offers a monetary referral incentive that can be redeemed against your bill as a paying customer and encourages further use. (Mailchimp also encourage you to include your referral badge in the emails you send via Mailchimp to create a nice acquisition loop).
What it is: Creating a community around the product (and ideally also the problem domain) to create a sense of belonging and build loyalty. Can cater for the user community at large and/or target power users. Can also take the form of being actively helpful within existing communities.
Why it works: When users are part of a community around your product you are always front of mind. The community (including both you and users) can exchange tips, tricks, templates and so on that help create motivation to re-engage and further use case awareness.
Challenges: Can be time-consuming to build and maintain. There may be existing domain-centric communities where your users congregate already and where you have less influence.
Example: Asana ambassadors program
Now let’s take a look at the channels typically available to distribute the tactics and reach users. These are relatively simple, and I group them into 3 buckets.
Note that not all channels are relevant to all tactics.
What it is: Leveraging elements of the product experience itself to distribute the engagement tactic.
Typical in-product vehicles include notification subsystems, dialog boxes, highlighted UI elements, chatbots, and hovers.
Challenges: Requires users to be in the product already.
What it is: Meeting users and teams where they are in their daily workflows, and bringing the engagement tactic to them there.
Typical channels include email, chat or community tools (Slack, Teams, Discord), productivity tools (Jira, GitHub etc), SMS, and mobile app push notifications.
Challenges: Maintaining a healthy signal-to-noise ratio.
What it is: Customer success, product specialist and sales-assist roles where a human directly reaches out to a user. Might be via chat, email, call etc. Most useful in building momentum and establishing a gravity of usage in complex products and use cases where zero-touch approaches struggle or are not yet mature enough.
Challenges: Human-powered and so hard to scale, and so is usually limited to PQAs (Product Qualified Accounts).
Loops (of course)
I can’t write a post on engagement without also spending some time on loops! 🔁
My favourite ways to drive engagement are when combining tactics and channels to create self-reinforcing habit loops.
Snyk did this incredibly well with the Pull Request loop.
This is a particularly powerful loop because it is a dual-purpose acquisition and engagement (habit) loop - it attracts new users into Snyk and brings existing users back in.
Stay tuned next week for a post on bringing growth to life through a state model!
Christina Wodtke (author of Radical Focus) talking OKRs on Lenny’s Podcast
3 interesting reads: