The User Engagement Cycle Explained


Originally published on

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.

Image source: concert crowd


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