Create Authentic Engagement - How to go beyond task-focused software to create emotionally rich, authentic engagement in user experiences.

April 29, 2022

Authentic engagement in UX is important if you want to build lasting trust with your users AND protect them from harmful experiences.

Manipulative engagement, or too much engagement at the wrong time, erodes the trust between users and brands. On the other end, task-focused, user-centered “utility” experiences may seem effective, but often they’re not meaningful to people, so trust doesn’t have a chance to flourish.

As a result, we product creators are missing big opportunities.

So, what is Authentic Engagement? Let's first start with a definition of Engagement:

"Engagement is what we do when we give our attention to something."

Software engagement is seemingly a basic thing; get the users’ attention.

Currently it's measured in simple, functional ways:

  • eyeballs and clicks in content, interface and ads: bounce rates, time-in-app, views, likes, scrolls, etc.
  • social sentiment: winning in the court of opinion

So, how can we go beyond functional engagement and create and measure engagement that builds trust and protects users?

My colleagues and I posed these questions and tested hypotheses in skunkworks projects that yielded more than just answers to the questions, but the entire idea of Authentic Engagement, a rich case study and a detailed design and product process evolved. I need your help to explore this further (more on that below).

Let's now define Authentic User Engagement:

  1. Reflects progress towards users’ self-endorsed intrinsic goals
  2. Transparently connects users’ values and goals with our values
  3. Feedback-rich where users’ are most receptive
  4. Opted-in, relevant, and clarity on value
The difference is Authentic Engagement helps people be their best selves, in transparent, meaningful ways.

How can we create Authentic Engagement?

  1. First, we crisply define our values as creators and the brand we represent. We will be transparent about these values in our work.
  2. Second, what are our business and system goals? What are the unintended consequences of those goals when applied to users?
  3. Understand our users as people, their behaviors, motivations and abilities. This means using behavioral science to go beyond typical task-focused user research, personas and journeys.
  4. Design areas of experience that accommodate users’ basic human needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. All aspects of the experience should be opted-in, relevant and clearly valuable.
  5. Engage people in humane ways to connect their values with your values; focused more on intrinsic over extrinsic values, while avoiding unintended consequences and cognitive biases.
  6. The experience should be a series of feedback loops that engage people at the right moments in their journey. This area is rich with opportunities and can get complex.
  7. Celebrate positive experiences with users!

If those aspects are addressed in strategy, design and execution, the experience should be engaging, relevant, humane and measurably better than comparable task-based or marketing-manipulated experiences. I recommend user testing the new experience vs comparable experiences to demonstrate results and gain critical insights to improve further. These insights on Authentic Engagement can point to opportunities across the organization. (Measuring Authentic Engagement is my next article.)

If you’d like to learn more about emotionally-rich user experiences and Authentic Engagement please reach out.

Contact Ted Billups
© Billups Consulting LLC