How can product managers engineer engagement for their users? In this guest post, Ebenezer Diagi, Product Manager and Designer, discusses the art of flow to cultivate passion and loyalty amongst your user base.
In her 2019 article, Carrie Winecoff aptly wrote: “The term ‘Engagement’ has been ‘jargonised’ and overused in product management however, genuine, productive engagement can have an immense positive impact towards building long-term customer loyalty.”
She further describes Engagement as a ‘series of high-value actions that a user performs to get them closer to a goal or satisfy a need.’
My submission is that user engagement therefore measures how frequently and for how long users interact with and perform these high-value actions on your product.
What is engagement?
Engagement is a series of high-value actions that a user performs to get them closer to a goal or satisfy a need. User engagement measures how frequently and for how long users interact with and perform these high-value actions on your product.
What does engagement look like?
Netflix: Browsing movie categories, viewing recommended titles and watching an episode, all in service of solving the problem of entertainment.
Amazon: Searching for items, reading reviews, creating a subscription for monthly repurchases, all in service of solving the problem of convenience.
Airbnb: Searching for honeymoon accommodation in a dream location, viewing rental options, reading reviews, communicating with the host and booking a stay.Instagram: Stay up to date with friends, meet new people, find new experiences, save new finds, explore other peoples and cultures, all in the service of solving the problem of boredom and connection.
Uber: Entering a destination, viewing the route, searching for rides, scheduling multiple stops, booking a ride and sharing ride information, all in service of solving the problem of convenience and safety.
How do we engineer ‘engagement’ to cultivate passion and loyalty in users?
Flow is a concept developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Watch this TED talk.
In Csikszentmihalyi’s words, flow is “a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience is so enjoyable that people will continue to do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.”
Flow is the state of being deeply immersed and focused on an activity, it is the feeling of being in the ‘zone’.
During states of flow, we experience a loss of self and self-consciousness, resulting in a heightened level of performance and creativity.
“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times . . . The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”
Flow describes those moments when you’re completely absorbed in a challenging but doable task.
8 rules of flow for product management
Clear goals and immediate feedback
Principle: For a person to become deeply involved in any activity it is essential that they know precisely what tasks they must accomplish, however, it’s difficult for people to stay absorbed unless they get timely information about how well they are doing. Application: Make it clear (especially to new users) how your product helps to solve their problems or meet their needs. Show your users a path to the finish line and let them know how well they are doing along the journey — you can do this covertly or overtly.
Complete concentration on the task
Principle: As we begin to respond to clear goals and immediate feedback, our sense of involvement deepens and the distinction between self and activity disappears.
Application: Every user journey should have a distinct destination. Clear the user’s journey from distractions. Remove unnecessary elements and any action that doesn’t move the user closer to their goal. Every screen should be scrutinized
Transformation of time
Principle: One typical element of the flow experience is that time is experienced differently. Time is either experienced as slowing down or speeding up.
Application: Use low-effort, habit-building activities, such as infinite scrolling and in-app notifications. Avoid actions that lead the user outside your product. However if the user leaves for any reason, give them an easy way to pick back up and regain flow.
Intrinsically rewarding experience
Principle: Not only achieving the goal of an activity is rewarding but the activity in itself is fulfilling. Flow is therefore “Immediate return on investment”.
Application: Leverage the copy and design to create an experience that makes the user feel like they are making a good decision and getting a great deal.
Effortlessness and ease
Principle: In Flow, everything works harmoniously and effortlessly. The activity runs smoothly and is guided by inner logic. All necessary decisions arise spontaneously from the demands of the activity without any deliberate reflection.
Application: The best marketing is a product that works. The experience on your product could paint a picture of the competence of your company and team. Work closely with Engineering & QA to ensure your product is seamless.
Balance between challenge and skills
Principle: It’s easier to become completely involved in a task if we believe it’s doable. If it appears to be beyond our capacity we tend to respond to it by feeling anxious; if the task is too easy we get bored.
Application: Provide the tools and information your user needs to succeed in using your product. Use guided tours if necessary. Create opportunities for small wins, especially for new users.
Loss of self-consciousness
Principle: While immersed in the Flow experience, one tends to forget one’s very self. It is as if awareness of one’s personhood were temporarily suspended.
Application: Put yourself in the user’s shoes and pre-empt their expectation at each step. Make your user feel like an expert by foreseeing their questions and reinforcing actions that lead them to their goal.
Feeling of control over the task
Principle: When people describe their flow experiences, one of the first things they mention is a strong sense of being in control of the situation.
Application: Leverage copy and design to assure users that they are allowed to make mistakes without repercussion. Give users a wide range of functionality to adjust your features to suit their specific needs, and ensure that your customer support team is readily available.
This feeling of Flow is not constant. If a person’s skill level improves, the challenge of the task needs to increase accordingly to keep the user in Flow.
When skill and difficulty do not match up it happens that people end up in a state of boredom (no challenge) or anxiety (too much challenge).
- Flow is the right mix — Difficulty of the task at hand needs to match the user’s skill level to prevent boredom or frustration.
- Flow is temporary — User satisfaction is not a constant. If your user’s skills change over time, so need your product to prevent boredom
Questions to help you get started with Flow in your Product Management
- What is the experience of new users?
New users have low product expertise and a low tolerance for product challenges. Are you overwhelming them? Your onboarding process should gracefully guide the user from beginner to expert.
- Will loyal users get bored?
Your most valuable customers are the ones that keep coming back. Think about new features and opportunities to keep them engaged and prevent boredom.
- Is my product (too) challenging?
Challenges are crucial to attain the Flow state and prevent boredom. However, you should strategically ensure your product is not too challenging for the average proficiency level.
In conclusion, remember that real engagement is vital to the success of your product. You can engineer engagement to stimulate unique experiences for your users by applying the principles of Flow.
Two questions are crucial; how challenging is my product? and how skilled are my users? Keep monitoring and optimizing till you find the right balance.
I hope you found this helpful and applicable in your product management process.
If you think of other practical applications of Flow principles, I’d love to hear them.
Feel free to drop me a message on LinkedIn.