Carefully Crafted on September 08

Climbing the Ladder of Engagement

In the arts world, the behavioral model of participation creates a framework to understand people’s engagement with organizations. But, businesses (and consultants) seeking to generate online engagement with customers/prospects can learn a thing or two from this model. Let’s take a closer look …

5 Stages of Engagement

  • The Background Stage — Where is the individual coming from? Factors include age, income, gender, personality, prior experiences and social/cultural identity.
  • The Perceptual Stage (perceived benefits of participation) — Before considering whether to participate or not, the individual will develop a predisposition or an inclination. As in, what’s the benefit? How will the individual benefit from this specific experience? The individual may ask questions like, “Do people like me enjoy/benefit from participating?”
  • Practical factors of participation — At this stage, someone is ready to participate; now they’re figuring out how. Obstacles may include time, location, cost, level of commitment required.
  • Participation experience — Participation can take many forms — buying a product, participating in a webinar, attending an event, taking classes to learn more about a topic, volunteering, offering financial support, and so on.
  • Reaction to experience — After participating, how did the individual react? In sports terms, someone will have a more positive reaction to attending a  baseball game if they understand the rules, the players, the significance of the game. In business, engagement increases as someone becomes more familiar and comfortable with the product offering and its value.

Applying the Model to Increase Engagement

From this model, we can develop opportunities to move individuals up the “ladder of engagement,” — evolving from from being unfamiliar or uncomfortable with an organization/event/product/service … to ultra-engaged by making a purchase and then advocating for others to follow suit. Do you see how online tools, including social media, should play a significant role? For example, consider “perception of benefits of participation.” If someone doesn’t “get it,” or feels uncomfortable, a 30-day trial or free tickets won’t help. The problem is that the individual isn’t familiar with your product, or she doesn’t see HOW she’ll benefit from participating. Thus, the challenge is to increase this comfort level. In arts terms, if I believe I’ll be “out of my league” by attending a jazz concert, the local jazz group can’t overcome this level of discomfort by sending me free tickets. But, the organization could make me feel more at ease by offering samples of songs on the website so I can see if I like that kind of music, or posting introductory videos to explain basic details to educate me about the subject (without being condescending).

Along those same lines, consider the “participation experience.” If I see videos of “someone like me” enjoying a jazz concert, won’t I be more likely to attend? Or, if you’re selling a product, are you highlighting case studies to show how “businesses like mine” benefit from your product? How does your product alleviate customers’ pain points? This requires some legwork. Your PR department, community managers and/or marketing team need be listening — on the lookout for customers who can offer effective case studies. Lastly, the “reaction to experience:” Can you encourage reviews that explain how someone reacted to the experience? Can you invite people to share their experiences with photos and videos, or by posting on your Facebook page (or other social channel)?

Gary Vaynerchuk’s WineLibraryTV reminds me of this model. He took a perplexing topic — wine —  and made it more accessible. (“I don’t know how to pick out wine.” or “I don’t get it. Does it really taste like oak?” By incorporating video and breaking it down in simpler terms, he erased that level of discomfort and helped customers enjoy a strong participation experience. He encouraged reviews and feedback on blogs, Twitter and even Corkd — equipping new wine fans with the tools to help shape reactions from other people still in the “perceptual stage” and creating a lasting, memorable wine experience.

There’s this belief in social media that the more you engage, the better your ability to connect — which can be true. But, be careful that you don’t just settle on building surface-level connections that lack the depth required to incite action. If the ultimate “engagement” is purchasing a product and then encouraging others to do so as well, simply amassing friends and followers isn’t enough. Instead, think about how to integrate PR, social media, and traditional marketing tactics to build opportunities that help customers (current or potential) move up the engagement ladder.


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Special thanks to Strategic Links for explaining this model of engagement to me.

Photo credit: Sarah. Nel.


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