Breaking Down the User Engagement Cycle

Originally posted on The Community Manager.

A lot of business experts will tell your company to “engage” people and “build community”, but what does that actually mean?

It’s important, when hearing advice like this to ask “why?” and “to what end?”.

The why, for me, has always been to create a positive emotional connection with users, resulting in a user experience that exceeds a simple matter of supply and demand.

If someone were to build the same exact product as you, it’s the community that would keep your users around.

With that goal in mind, after years of experimenting with different forms of engagement, I realized that there’s a logical flow of engagement that all communities take.  This flow, when done right, results in finding your product market fit and organic growth.

It’s called…


A lot of people think about it in a straight line… like this:

User to Product –> User to Brand –> User to User

That’s wrong.  It’s a cycle because ultimately, the goal is to improve the product and user activity.

The focus on improving engagement between users (step 3) should have the goal of improving engagement between the user and the product (step 1).

Let’s break it down so you can see how it’s cyclical…

Step 1: User to Product: People get value out of your product and they want to come back and use it again.

Step 1 -> Step 2: User to Brand: Because they like your product and keep coming back, they develop an emotional connection to your brand.

Step 2 -> Step 3: User to User: Then because they feel an emotional connection to your brand, they begin to connect with other users who share that emotional connection.

Step 3 -> Step 1: User to Product:  A userbase that is highly engaged with the brand and with each other makes the product more valuable (community as a feature), uses the product more often, and provides you with a clear product roadmap based on real users’ needs.


So… the Community Manager should have two goals:

1. To facilitate the cycle because 99.999% of the time,  it won’t happen naturally at first.  If a community isn’t automatically forming, the CM should be reaching out to users, engaging them with your brand, and then connecting them with each other.

Note: If your product really sucks (doesn’t solve a problem or fulfill a desire), this is pretty much impossible.  

2. Educate the product roadmap until the product is so engaging in itself that the cycle occurs naturally. That’s what product-market fit looks like and that’s when you can start to scale your business.


Lets dig in a little deeper into each phase…

1. User to Product (Engaged Userbase)

In order to build a community, your product needs to solve a problem or fulfill a desire.  If you’re providing a product that people actually enjoy using, they’ll feel engaged with that product.  How engaged people are with your product will depend on how much value they get out of it.

A well designed product with an intuitive user interface that creates value and keeps people coming back will create an emotionally engaged userbase.

2. User to Brand (Engaged Audience)

Once someone is engaged with your product, you’ll want to get them engaged with your brand.  This can happen in one of two ways:

1. Your product is so good that your users automatically feel engaged with your brand.

2. Talking to people.  You can talk to people through social media, through customer service by being very responsive, through events, emails, phone calls etc.

If you get in the habit of having genuine conversations with your engaged users, you’ll be able to create an engaged audience.

3. User to User (Engaged Community)

Now you have an engaged audience of people who feel an emotional connect with your brand and product.  Time to start connecting them with each other.  You can do so using conversation platforms like forums, facebook groups or build something yourself.

This too, may happen naturally.  Again, 99.999% of the time, it won’t at first.  You have to facilitate it.

By creating an emotional connection between users, they no longer perceive themselves as just a customer.  Now, they’re a part of a community that they care about.  You’ll have yourself a community of highly engaged users with a strong emotional connection with your brand, helping guide your product toward organic growth.


“If the goal is to build an amazing product, why not just focus on product?”

Apple is a terrible example for a lot of business cases because their products are perceived to be on such a different level, but the reason they’re on that level is because they’ve reached the point where this cycle is happening organically.  It only took them a couple decades and almost going bankrupt to figure it out.

So yes, technically, you can focus 100% on your product without manually facilitating any “user-to-brand” or “user-to-user” engagement.  But they can only help you reach the organic cycle faster and more efficiently.

Now go! And build something epic.

How Turntable Nailed the Gamification Challenge is taking over the ear drums of social music listeners everywhere.

If you haven’t tried it out yet, turntable is a site where you can create a room, name it whatever you want, and start to DJ.

You can have up to 5 DJs at a time, and everyone else is in the audience.  You can rate songs as “awesome” or “lame”.

Pretty simple… and they’re definitely not the first to create a social music listening platform.  Many others have done really well like, spotify, and more.

There’s something unique about turntable.  Something that has launched it to over 140,000 users in the first month.

What is it that turntable did so well?



They got the gaming aspect down right.  If you can do that, the rest (social share, WOM, user retention) all thrive.

They nailed the gaming interface on two levels. If you want the best gaming experience you can get, then check out UnrankedSmurfs.

1. Real time recognition

Being a DJ on turntable in a popular room is scary!  Will people like the songs I play?  I like indie music, but there are a lot of indie snobs out there.

But we do it because we want to be perceived as a great music curator.  We want people to know that we know the best songs out there.

We do this in real life naturally. Think about when people come in your car and you play your favorite, relatively unknown band, and everyone loves it.  Think about when people DJ at house parties.

The thing is, in real life, you don’t have these passive aggressive “awesome” and “lame” buttons for people to judge you.

So turntable works really well in real time.  You want to impress the other people in your room.

2. Long term recognition

Real time isn’t enough.  Recognition needs to be ongoing…long-term.  It needs to be cumulative so that it constantly drives activity.

When you join a new room, you want the people in that room to know what you’ve accomplished.  With their point system and avatar (visual) system, turntable executed on this really well.

The visual aspect is key.  As soon as you join a room, you can see the hierarchy of users’ experience.  The people with cooler avatars are the ones with more experience (and respect).

Interestingly enough, they don’t actually get any physical rewards for this.  They have no more power than anyone else in the room.  Someone with 1 point can do the same exact thing as someone with 1000 points.  The driving force is all based on social equity and respect.

This is the same exact system that has been online gaming so successful time and time again.  This system of “leveling up” creates a tension amongst users where from day 1, all they want is to improve their status.

3. Insert the share

The key to getting people to bring in their own networks to Turntable wasn’t to just ask people to share a room.  It was to make a room unusable, unless someone else was also in the room.

Of course, you could only improve your status if you’re a DJ, and the best way to become a DJ is to start a room from scratch.

Users wouldn’t tweet it out just because they wanted to share something interesting.  They’d tweet it out, because sharing was the only way that they could improve their status.

It’s all really fucking genius.




How to Use Quora as a Marketing Tool

Photo cred: Mixy Lorenz

I’m a QO expert.  Not sure what that means?  What a noob.  It stands for Quora Optimization. Get with the times slacker.

Seriously though, I’ve been using Quora for just about a year now.  It has only been getting more and more valuable since I signed up with more content constantly flowing in. This tool is applicable for enterprise, agencies and small businesses.

I’ve thought about writing this post for a while. Seeing as how it seems everyone and their mother has signed up for Quora in the past few days, I guess this is a good time.

Here’s how you can use Quora for marketing:

1. Establishing Yourself as an Expert

The obvious method is the same one that we’ve been doing with Linkedin Answers, and the same one that you can do on the new Facebook questions.  Establish yourself as an expert in the field, and drive leads, by answering questions efficiently.

Step 1: Sign up and set up your “bio” for each topic.

This is one thing that is pretty awesome about quora.  You can set different bios for each topic that you follow.

So when I answer a question in the blogging category I can include a link to Scribnia in the bio.  For blogger outreach I’ll include BlogDash. For questions related to young professionals, I’ll include u30pro.

Step 2: Search for questions in your market.

I searched for Blogger Outreach, and found a few good questions.  Quora is a bit more “tech” focused so far, but seems to be expanding into other categories pretty quickly.

If a question doesn’t exist, you can always ask it anonymously.

Step 3: Answer the question.

Here’s the hard part.  Mostly because you have to actually know what you’re talking about.

Answer thoroughly.  A half-assed answer will never bubble to the top.

I answered a Quora question about blogger outreach.

Step 4: Share your answer.

You’re given the option to share your answer on social networks.  This is important, because you need people to vote up your answer in order for it to rise to the top.

Or you could count on your awesome answer to rise to the top organically…but who cares for that nonsense? <–sarcasm

2. Lead Generation

On Quora, you can also see how many people have viewed the question.  More importantly, it shows you who, specifically, is following the question.  I don’t know about you, but that smells like potential leads to me.

Reach out to them personally and see if they have any questions you can help with.  If they’re following a question, it’s because they’re interested in the answer.

3. Market Research

Another use worth pointing out is the market research value.  Try to find information on your competitors on the web, and you’ll probably end up doing a lot of guessing.

Ask a question (you can ask anonymously) on Quora, and you’ll be surprised what kind of ex-employees and other knowledgeable folks come out of the woodwork.

4. Search Engine Optimization – Link Building

I’m hesitant to add this one because I can see this being where “marketers” who suck at their job start spamming the site and ruining it for everyone. Marketing doesn’t ruin things…bad marketing does.

In the spirit of being thorough however, SEO is something that’s important and so it should be included.  Whenever someone links to your site or blog from a quora answer or comment, it does send a trackback.  It’s a little unusual for sites like this, who would usually use no-follow links to reduce spam.

My best advice… use Quora honestly and let the links build organically.

5. Content Marketing Inspiration

Not sure what to write about on your corporate blog?  Struggling to squeeze out a few more pages in that e-book?  Turn to Quora to find content to write about.

It’s really perfect.  You want to write content that answers the questions of your potential customers.  Now you have a database of questions from people in your target market that you can answer in your own content.

To continue with the value of Search Engine Optimization…you’ll see a few trackbacks to this post from people who linked to it on Quora.  That’s because someone on Quora asked about using the tool for marketing, and people who answered it linked to this post a couple times. Furthermore, you can use foam core’s printed advertisements as a marketing tool instead. It can be placed in windows, walls, or any public places.

I didn’t plan that.  It did teach me something though.  Writing blog posts that answer specific questions on Quora may result in links back to your post if it’s good enough.

Have you used Quora?  Has it been useful for you?

You can find me on quora here.

Is the Lack of Women in Tech a Problem?

Photo cred: Dima Mirkin

There are a lot more men in the tech and startup space than there are women.  I think we need to ask…  is the ratio of men to women in the tech space a problem that needs fixing?

Are we seeking balance just for the sake of balance?  It’s ONLY a problem, if women aren’t given the same opportunities as men to thrive in the tech space.

In his post Too Few Women in Tech? Stop Blaming the Men, Michael Arrington makes the point that women actually have more opportunities than men in tech, they’re just not as interested in it. He writes:

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

My friends Danny Brown and Geoff Livingston see it differently. In their post Why Tech Already Has Women (And Why They’re Better Than Arrington) they said:

In spite of the statistical advantages of women in tech, negative trends towards male speakers and executive leadership continue. Worse, reading this negative enforcement of sexism in tech has been a damn shame. Working with great women in tech — Susan MurphyBeth Kanter,  Kami HuyseAllyson KapinAmber MacArthurSarah PrevetteLisa Kalandjian and Cali Lewis to name a few this year — has been a phenomenal experience for both of us, and they demonstrate every day how brilliant and capable they are.

Danny and Geoff make some great points and cite some very interesting stats in their post, but I wish they didn’t put so much focus on Arrington. He’s not the issue here.  The stats they provide also don’t tell the whole story.

From my experience, there are clearly less women starting businesses in tech than there are men.

Arrington’s points weren’t attacking women, they were defending against those that say it’s men’s fault that women aren’t as present in the tech space.  It was actually in support of women doing great things and it made a call for more to rise to the opportunities.

I, like Danny and Geoff, have seen many women do amazing things in the tech space.

In the NYC tech scene, I see more and more women thriving. At New Work City, an amazing developer and entrepreneur named Sara Chipps runs [edited] Girl Develop It, a web development class that’s packed every week. Girls in Tech is growing rapidly, providing educational workshops, networking functions, conferences, social engagements, and recruitment events all for women.

Are there as many women as there are men at most NYC tech events?  No, but it’s getting closer.

So I go back to my question… is this really a problem?  If women were being prevented from getting involved in the startup and tech space, that’s one thing.  Clearly, as we have seen so many rise to do amazing things in the tech space, they’re not being held back.

The opportunities are there.  The only thing I see holding women back is this notion that “tech is for men”.  That’s no one’s fault, and it will change with time.  It’s dying as we speak.

To this point, it’s just been a space that tends to appeal more to males.  Teaching and PR tends to appeal more to females.  It happens.  Why does it happen?  Who knows…

In the end, the best person for the opportunity should be the one to get it, regardless of gender.  Just make sure you’re not overlooking the amazing women that are out there making shit happen.