In the era of social media, the term ‘engagement’ gets thrown around often and aggressively. At its essence, audience engagement is about creating a personal and emotional connection that inspires others into action – whether that be simply reading more, connecting directly, or making a purchase.

Audience engagement is vital to attracting, retaining and converting casual customers into brand advocates. According to Capgemini, 81% of emotionally connected consumers will not only promote a brand to others, but also spend more with that brand, and 70% of consumers with high emotional connection spend up to twice as much with that brand.

However, engaging audiences means connecting with people and they all react differently to messaging, operating on different platforms and channels. Understanding how engaged your audience is will help dictate the way you approach them, where you approach them, and how you motivate them. Thus, enter the seven levels of engagement.

Seven Levels of Engagement

Seven levels of engagement were originally produced by professors Bangert-Drowns and Pike in 2001, measuring and analysing students’ varying degrees of engagement within the classroom. From a marketing perspective, the theory was expanded by Amanda Slavin, founder and CEO of brand consulting firm, CalaystCreativ. Slavin added actions to each level and applied them to marketing to help brands track customer engagement and what steps to take in order to progress those customers through the below engagement framework.

  1. Disengagement
  2. Unsystematic Engagement
  3. Frustrated Engagement
  4. Structure-Dependent Engagement
  5. Self-Regulated Interest
  6. Critical Engagement
  7. Literate Thinking

The bottom three levels (representing ‘foundational work’) focus on the ‘attract’ element of inbound methodology, which means educating people with your content and eliminating the barriers hindering people’s access to that information.

All brands should have ways to: identify the people at each level; take an action to level them up; have goals and metrics for measuring progress. Let’s look at the first few levels to see how brands make fans out of disengaged audiences.

Initial Attraction into Audience Engagement

Disengagementis when audiences and consume your content passively, showing disinterest by avoiding interaction or communication with brand. If you think about the educational background from which this theory sprung, students who don’t enjoy classes will avoid answering questions (i.e. engaging) when asked to raise their hand during that class.

If your content and ads have nothing to do with your intended audience, or they have the wrong messaging for that audience, then they won’t appeal to your audience, who will be actively ignored them (i.e. avoidance).

At this point, you should be measuring clicks and cost-per-lead on ad campaigns, open and clickthrough rates on email, and customer feedback. This will help you identify opportunities for targeted messages, as you use the above measure to understand your audience’s preferred content type and communication channels. Thorough research can also help you build buyer personas to better understand your audience’s expectations.

Only use paid advertising if you have a plan and some data to support your marketing choices. It’s best to initially run some free campaigns to understand where your customers are and what they desire.

A great way to reach out to customers for free is through email. According to Hubspot 25% of your email list expires annually due to people switching roles, email providers, or simply unsubscribing. You can clean up your email list by running a re-engagement campaign, whereby you’ll identify contacts worth retaining and those that are either uninterested or no longer available.

Re-engagement campaigns give you an opportunity to remind customers about recent changes or improvements, verify if they’re still interested in your brand, and whether their contact details are up to date.

Confused and Frustrated Audience Engagement

The second level is unsystematic engagement, where audiences are confused by your messaging and, since it doesn’t resonate, avoid engaging with you. Returning to the classroom example, students who were confused by previous lessons and didn’t voice that confusion will avoid engaging with the class as they’ve fallen behind.

The key here is in the messaging. Rather than ask audience whether things make sense to them (which comes across accusative), ask whether or not you explained things clearly (which places the onus on your business, rather than blame the audience).

For audiences at this stage, it’s important to run A/B tests through your website, social-media ads, and email campaigns. Simply create two versions of content, such as landing page or ad, and analyse which performs better. Other useful metrics include website bounce rates from and customer feedback from surveys, focus groups, or user tests.

Research with SEO can also help you clarify your messaging, understand what your audience is searching for, and how to best provide it to them.

The final foundational stage is frustrated engagement, where audiences are distracted by things outside of their control and thus frustrated with your brand. Often these customers began as engaged and are now distracted.

Think of a student who’s distracted by something outside the classroom window and now doesn’t understand what’s going on in the lesson. Bad user experiences (either from distraction or their own inability) often leads customers to frustrated engagement.

To better understand this type of customer, measure your page load times. According to Hubspot, websites that take longer than three seconds to load can lose almost half of its visitors, and the site recommends an ideal load time is less than 1.5 seconds.

Another useful metric for frustrated engagement is clickthrough rates on your ads and pop-ups. Your pop-ups should offer customers something relevant and valuable, and they should only appear when it makes sense for the users, like when they open a certain page or reach a certain point in your blog.

Pop-ups should also language that is specific, actionable, and human. You’ll also need to ensure pop-ups have been optimised for mobile viewing, which means either excluding them or making sure they don’t take up the whole screen.

At this stage of audience engagement, you should also ensure your brand isn’t the one distracting your customers. If you align your messaging and platforms with those of your customers goals and expectations then you’ll minimise the confusion, frustration, and distraction audiences may feel.

Next time, we’ll look at the top end of the engagement framework and gain a better understanding of audiences that are familiar with the brand but aren’t necessarily connecting with it.

To boost your audience engagement, we have a host of resources such as design assets, PowerPoint templates, and e-books available free to download. Check them out and start engaging audiences across different platforms and channels.

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