In this guide to digital engagement, we’ll learn everything there is to know about engagement – including definitions, best practices, and how to improve engagement for software users.
Before we get to those topics, though, let’s set the stage by understanding why digital engagement has become such a popular topic.
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Organizations in a wide range of industries are investing heavily in this area. Common initiatives include:
- Hiring digital engagement managers
- Developing digital engagement strategies
- Changing business processes and models in order to improve engagement metrics
- Adopting digital software that enhances engagement among customers, employees, or both
To better understand why so many organizations are focusing their efforts on digital engagement, we should first understand the business context surrounding this concept.
Digital Engagement: Definitions and Key Concepts
Digital engagement is one of many concepts that play an important role in the modern, digital organization.
Since modern business practices are evolving so rapidly, many organizations are rethinking and renovating their businesses in order to stay competitive and relevant.
This means focusing on digital-first business concepts such as:
- Digital engagement. Digital engagement refers to how actively users interact with a software application or platform. It is also used to described how digitally active an audience is with a brand, a marketing campaign, or a service.
- Engagement. Engagement is the concept that forms the basis for digital engagement, as well as related terms, including customer engagement, product engagement, user engagement, and employee engagement. Some of these terms, as we will discuss later, overlap considerably and can even mean the same thing.
- The user experience. The user experience, like engagement, is based on the fundamental idea of “experience.” The user experience is used to describe how a user perceives, interacts with, and otherwise experiences a product or service. Related terms include the customer experience, the product experience, and the digital experience.
- Onboarding. Onboarding is the process where users first become introduced to and familiarized with a product or service. During this stage of the adoption process, they begin using and become engaged with the product or service. This stage has a large impact on the rest of their experience with a product and can have a dramatic impact on their overall engagement levels.
- Training. Training is essential for many digital products, such as SaaS platforms, which can carry steep learning curves. Because many SaaS platforms are so complex, digital engagement also depends a great deal on the quality of product training programs.
- Adoption. Adoption is the larger process where users integrate a new software application into their daily workflows. Like the other terms mentioned above, adoption is a concept that has been expanded into different terms, such as product adoption, software adoption, user adoption, and digital adoption.
- Digital adoption. Digital adoption refers to the integration of a product into a user’s – or a group of users’ – workflow, then using that product to its fullest extent and for its intended purpose. As we will discover later, digital adoption is the most strategically useful definition.
Ultimately, digital engagement is a factor that plays an important role throughout the adoption process, ultimately affecting the overall value and performance of a product, as we will discover in the next section.
Digital Engagement’s Role in the Digital Adoption Process
True digital adoption, as mentioned, occurs when users have achieved productivity with a target platform and are using its capabilities fully, as it was intended to be used.
There are many variables that can be measured in terms of engagement and which also influence the effectiveness of the digital adoption cycle, including:
- Marketing – Marketing represents the first set of touchpoints along the user journey. Ads, web content, and social media content, for instance, can all be measured in terms of engagement.
- Sales – The sales stage picks up where marketing leaves off and, ideally, should be seamlessly integrated with those earlier stages. And, like every other stage listed here, engagement impacts how many users continue along this journey and how many drop off.
- Onboarding – The user onboarding phase occurs when users initially log into a service or platform, then continues as the user becomes familiar with and integrates that product into their workflow.
- Technical Support – Technical support is another key component of the adoption cycle. The more available and accessible the support, the more easily users will be able to engage with a product.
- Customer Support – Customer support, likewise, is essential to maintaining a healthy and engaged customer base.
- Training – Product training can have a significant effect on the customer adoption funnel. More effective training helps to increase customer engagement, productivity, and proficiency, and it ultimately increases their lifetime value.
- Ongoing Development – Perpetual learning is quickly becoming the norm in today’s world. To keep users engaged and productive, businesses must find digital training solutions that are sustainable over the long term – that is, they must be efficient, effective, scalable, and engaging.
Digital engagement plays a role during each of these stages.
Higher engagement levels, for instance, are correlated with other important metrics, such as:
- User satisfaction
- Productivity and performance
- Skill levels
- The product’s marketplace performance
Ultimately, engagement affects how much of a product’s value that an organization is able to realize.
Effective engagement and adoption, therefore, impact the bottom-line returns of a software platform.
Regardless of whether a business is adopting a product in house – or whether a company creates its own products – digital engagement is a critical metric for many modern businesses.
Let’s explore this concept further by answering some of the most frequently asked questions about digital engagement.
A Digital Engagement FAQ
Having already defined digital engagement, let’s start by answering the next most commonly asked question:
Who should care about digital engagement?
We have just seen how digital engagement affects the adoption process. And we have seen how it can affect other user metrics, such as satisfaction and productivity.
There are a few main scenarios where digital engagement matters.
One common instance is when an enterprise adopts new software in-house.
In enterprise digital adoption, engagement can impact:
- User frustration levels
- Employee learning
- Productivity and performance
- Software ROI
Digital engagement is also important for customer digital adoption.
In this scenario, a product development company – that is, a software company – develops a product and focuses on onboarding and training users as effectively as possible.
Engagement, in this case, affects:
- Customer acquisition metrics, such as abandonment rates and retention rates
- The initial usability of a product
- Learning curves
- User sentiments, such as frustration and satisfaction
- Marketplace performance
Digital engagement is also a concern for business functions that rely on digital channels to communicate with customers.
Marketing, for instance, often hire digital engagement managers to improve engagement across marketing channels, such as:
- Social media
Engagement, in short, is a critical factor that affects every aspect of the customer journey.
Today, since most organizations digitally engage with their customers in some capacity or other, engagement is relevant to virtually every business.
How does user engagement differ from employee engagement?
Digital engagement is one aspect of the digital employee experience.
Generally, the term “experience” refers to an entire life cycle, such as the product life cycle or the employee life cycle.
“Engagement,” however, refers to how actively users interact with or use a product, service, or platform.
For instance, in Gallup’s model of the employee life cycle – which it calls “the employee experience” – there are seven stages.
- Attract – The recruitment stage of the employee experience, where an employer seeks out and vets potential candidates.
- Hire – An employer interviews employees, makes an offer, and the employee accepts.
- Onboard – Employee onboarding is distinct from digital onboarding, focusing not only on skills training, but also on social integration and organizational integration.
- Engage – In this stage of the employee journey, training continues to accelerate and employees become fully competent and participative.
- Perform – The performance phase aims at evaluating and measuring performance levels.
- Develop – Career development and skills development help employees further their career and maintain an upward trajectory within an organization.
- Depart – Upon exit, an organization can evaluate the reasons for the departure, then use that information to further improve the employee experience.
In this model, we can see that engagement is a single step in this seven-phase process.
The employee experience, in other words, is the larger employee journey, and engagement is only one aspect of that journey.
The same holds true for other types of engagement:
- User engagement refers to how users engage with a product or service, which is only one aspect of the user journey
- Product engagement refers to the same phenomena, which is only one aspect of of the product experience
- Digital engagement is only one part of a larger digital experience, such as a digital marketing experience or a software experience
In short: engagement is an important part of the overall experience, but the two are not synonymous.
How do software developers improve digital engagement?
To improve engagement, an organization must first define its objectives.
App developers, for instance, want to improve engagement in order to boost the performance of their customer acquisition strategies or their apps’ performance in the market.
Therefore, they will often measure engagement by measuring how often people interact with a product.
Common user engagement metrics include:
- The number of monthly active users (MAUs)
- The number of weekly active users (WAUs)
- The number of daily active users (DAUs)
- Ratios of these metrics
- User retention rates within specific time periods
And marketers will often focus on digital marketing metrics, such as social media metrics or web traffic.
Once the goals and metrics are defined, an organization can then set out a plan of action to improve those areas.
Naturally, the plan of action will depend on the circumstances.
For instance, a software development firm that wants to improve customer growth could perform tasks such as:
- Adding interactive product tours to the website
- Including in-product walkthroughs to the onboarding process
- Using a digital adoption platform (DAP) to improve product training
As measures such as these are implemented, the outcomes would be measured, and then the programs would be refined and optimized over time.
Which department manages digital engagement?
Since the purpose of digital engagement varies depending on the circumstances, the department that manages it will also vary.
- Employee experience managers and HR will often manage digital engagement for employees
- The marketing department will typically be in charge of digital engagement for customers
- SaaS product developers may have a department dedicated entirely to digital engagement
To determine which department should be responsible for this function, a business should start with the overall aim of the engagement effort, then determine which job roles are best-suited.
What are the biggest challenges to effective digital engagement?
Generally speaking, a good user experience streamlines engagement.
For instance, when it comes to user engagement in software, the following characteristics can depress engagement:
- Complexity. Enterprise-grade SaaS platforms, such as Salesforce, are sophisticated and complex. As a result, they carry learning curves that can frustrate users and depress engagement levels.
- Lack of utility. Utility is, in essence, how functional a product is. The more utility it has, the more useful and relevant it will be for users. If, however, a product has features that are of little value, then users will quickly become disengaged.
- Inconvenient customer support or technical support. Today’s world is becoming busier and noisier with each passing day. People are, as a result, raising their expectations of customer service and technical support. If organizations cannot deliver convenient support, then customers will find a brand that can.
- Ineffective training. Users who cannot use a tool will, quite simply, not use it. Usability can certainly improve engagement, but in some cases, it must be complemented by an effective training program.
- Poor onboarding efforts. Onboarding, as mentioned, is an important stage in the customer journey that can impact the rest of their journey with a company. If certain aspects of the onboarding process don’t measure up, then users will become disengaged and head to competitors. See below for a few ways to improve the onboarding process.
- Poor usability. Products with usable designs are more navigable, memorable, and learnable. Users will naturally become less engaged with products that are difficult to use and learn.
Developing a systematic approach to overcoming these challenges is vital to successfully managing and improving engagement levels.
What technology and tools are used to manage and improve digital engagement?
The technology stack used to optimize digital engagement can include:
- Help desk software
- Marketing software
- Training tools
- Onboarding software
- Digital adoption platforms
Again, as with the other answers above, the exact technology in use will depend on the scope of the engagement efforts.
Customer engagement that occurs early on in the customer journey will revolve around marketing engagement, for instance, and will therefore involve marketing technology.
When optimizing engagement later in the customer life cycle, during onboarding and product adoption, for instance, then engagement specialists will use onboarding and training software, such as digital adoption solutions.
How to Improve Digital Engagement: 5 Must-Have Ingredients for Success
Improving digital engagement depends on many variables, from the audience to the business to the digital adoption strategy.
Because success depends on so many elements, it is important to take a systematic approach to designing and implementing digital engagement plans.
Here are five steps to implementing such a plan.
1. A solid adoption and engagement strategy
The first necessity is having a goal-oriented strategy.
To fully engage the audience across the customer life cycle, organizations should develop an engagement strategy that embraces all the components of this cycle, including:
- Marketing and sales
- Ongoing development
Engagement levels matter for each stage of the above journey, which is why each stage should have its own:
- Action plan
Improving engagement will require a focus on the user experience, which means that:
- Creating experiences that are help the end user achieve their goals efficiently and effectively
- Maximizing the usability of software tools and product interactions
- Reducing complexity to minimize cognitive load, that is, mental effort
- Letting user feedback and data guide engagement efforts
High-level strategies, such as overall adoption strategies, can focus areas such as increasing user engagement by improving product training efforts.
A local strategy, on the other hand, would emphasize a specific stage, such as user onboarding. An onboarding strategy could attempt to increase engagement by using digital adoption platforms to create product tours and walkthroughs.
2. Willingness and commitment to improve, even if that requires organizational change
A strategy is only useful if it is implemented, and organizations will only implement a process if they are truly committed to it.
- Motivating employees
- Obtaining executive buy-in
- Building new business processes
- Making organizational change when necessary
There is no straightforward way to earning commitment from so many different parties.
For more information, research change management frameworks and approaches, which emphasize communication, earning employee support, and reducing resistance to change.
3. The right tools
The right technology stack makes all the difference when it comes to digital engagement.
There are a number of tools that can assist with digital engagement efforts, including:
- Digital adoption solutions
- Project management tools
- Marketing platforms
- Software analytics
On the one hand, it is useful to have the right tools.
However, having modern engagement software is not enough.
It is also necessary to:
- Use those tools proficiently, productively, and effectively
- Have a unified technology stack
- Democratize data across all departments that manage engagement across the user journey
In short, having the right tools is just as important as using those tools correctly.
This, incidentally, is a primary principle of digital adoption, which emphasizes the fact that software value depends directly on its effective use.
4. A holistic, unified view of the user journey
As mentioned above, the user journey is not restricted to marketing, onboarding, training, or any other aspect of the customer experience.
However, since different business units handle each of these stages separately, it is easy to isolate those stages too much.
There are several problems that can occur as a result:
- Poor communication between the different departments that handle the different stages in the customer journey
- A fragmented view of that journey, as well as different strategies and tactics for each stage
- An inconsistent user experience from stage to stage, which can have negative impacts on user engagement and other important metrics
To prevent such problems from harming the user experience, organizations should:
- Develop cross-functional teams dedicated to managing the entire customer journey
- Create a holistic, top-down strategy that encompasses that journey, from marketing through adoption and ongoing customer relationship development
- Include mechanisms for data sharing, such as regular meetings, integrated software platforms, cross-departmental workflows, and other business processes that can help create a more cohesive customer experience
When a business coordinates its behind-the-scenes customer experience management strategy in this way, it will create a more unified customer experience – and, in turn, it will see digital engagement improve across that entire journey.
5. A process built around continual adaptation
Today, agility and adaptability are a must for any organization that wants to remain competitive.
The reason is that the modern business environment is in a state of constant flux:
- Digital disruption is spurring digital transformation across industries, and this trend is showing no signs of slowing
- Technology changes are fueling changes in the way people live, work, and conduct business
- Customer demands are continually evolving as a result of this ever-changing ecosystem
- To keep up, organizations must also continue to evolve
In short, since customer demands and expectations continue to change, digital engagement strategies should also continue to evolve.
Since the advent of the internet, for instance, we have seen technology evolve rapidly. The world wide web, social media, and mobile technology all arrived in quick succession. And today, businesses that don’t communicate to customers through these channels are already becoming obsolete.
In the years to come, customers’ wants and needs will keep evolving – and any business that wants to stay competitive should follow suit.
Tips, Strategies, and Best Practices for Enhancing Digital Engagement
Now, let’s look at some ways that an organization can improve its digital engagement strategy.
Understand the target audience
Successful digital engagement depends on understanding one’s target audience.
This means understanding:
- Their demographics and psychographics
- What their main goals are – that is, what they hope to achieve with the product or service
- Whether they are consumers or business users
- Their digital environment – some tools, for instance, form part of a digital workflow and must be used in conjunction with other applications
When it comes to software adoption, it is useful to measure users by their level of technological understanding.
These user groups include:
- Basic users, who have little knowledge of technology
- Tech-savvy users, who are very familiar with technology and can pick up new skills quickly
- Enterprise users, who are familiar with digital software, but may not be experts
An organization with a deep understanding of its users and their needs will be able to craft an experience that meets those needs at each stage of the user journey.
Of course, an understanding of users is only the first step.
The next step is allowing users to actually guide the design and development of their own experiences.
Follow user-centered design principles
User-centered design is a design approach that, as the name suggests, puts users at the center of the design process.
Today, user-centered design has become a popular way to design customer-facing products and services, from websites to marketing campaigns to software products.
When designing digital engagement efforts, it pays to follow such an approach, for several reasons:
- There is no guesswork, since users themselves provide the data that fuels design efforts
- Because user experiences are derived directly from user input, they will be more engaging, useful, and relevant
- User-centered design programs are more adaptable, so even when user demands change or circumstances change, the design efforts reflect those changes
To stay focused on users, it is necessary to develop data collection mechanisms that accumulate:
- User feedback
- Software analytics
- Existing data sources
- Marketing data
That data, once collected, can be learned from and then used to inform future decisions around digital engagement and the user experience.
Automating the right portions of the user journey can dramatically improve efficiency – not to mention making life easier for digital engagement specialists.
Many aspects of the user journey can be automated, including:
The correct implementation of automation tools can significantly enhance productivity, but automation is not a cure-all.
Over-automation is a pitfall that should be avoided, for instance. If, for instance, marketing communications are over-automated, then the marketing funnel can quickly become impersonal and ineffective.
Map the user journey
Earlier, we learned why it is useful to take a holistic, top-down view of the user journey.
Creating a user journey map is one of the best ways to do that.
A user journey map is a tool that can act as a unified, go-to reference document for anyone involved in developing the user experience.
User journey maps are:
- Stage-based roadmaps that cover the user journey from start to finish
- Built from the user’s perspective, which helps keep teams aligned around a common set of goals – and, just as importantly, the user experience
- Goal-driven, which allows them to help maintain accountability
At their simplest, user journey maps establish timelines and sequences for user pathways, whether those users are employees or customers.
However, as we can see, these journey maps can be useful for several other reasons.
Critically, they can be a communication tool that helps keep user experience teams focused and in sync.
Focus on digital onboarding
Onboarding is one of the most important stages in the customer journey.
At this stage of their life cycle, users have just made a commitment to testing the product or service.
If the product doesn’t live up to their expectations, then they will abandon that product and look elsewhere for a solution.
An effective onboarding process can:
- Improve users’ perception of the product or service
- Help them become more productive and proficient in less time
- Prevent confusion, frustration, and friction
- Increase digital engagement, which can positively impact user satisfaction, retention, and value
The onboarding process should be broken down into several components, beginning with the initial conversion and login.
- The first login
- Initial product tours
- In-app walkthroughs
- Startup training
- Technical and customer support
- Onboarding communications, such as emails and telephone calls
As mentioned above, many of these elements can be automated, which can greatly increase efficiency and cost-effectiveness for the organization.
And, with the proper tools and implementation, automation can improve digital engagement, the user experience, and more.
Improve digital engagement with digital adoption platforms (DAPs)
Digital adoption platforms (DAPs), as briefly mentioned earlier, are tools specifically designed to improve digital engagement, the product experience, and the adoption process as a whole.
These automated training solutions streamline adoption through a set of features that include:
- In-product walkthroughs. Step-by-step walkthroughs teach users how to complete a task or a workflow, without the need for human support.
- Interactive product tours. A product tour is designed to quickly introduce an app’s features to the customer, which is an effective way to get users up and running with that software.
- Contextualized guidance. Contextualized, interactive learning outperforms training approaches that deliver static content.
- Software analytics. Analytics monitor user behavior and allow organizations to better understand onboarding and training needs. This information can then be used to improve training efforts over the long term.
They can, in short, be used to develop a comprehensive training plan that outperforms other training methods.
There are many benefits to using these platforms, including:
- Improved digital engagement
- Decreased levels of user confusion and frustration
- Better learning outcomes
- Lower rates of user burnout and abandonment
- Improved user performance and productivity
- Greater user satisfaction and retention