What is the Continuum of Engagement? 

As authors, when we’ve finally published our book and put it out there, one thing that is REALLY important for us is our reviews. The things our readers say about our book gives our future readers a litmus test of how good our book is perceived to be. Because we can talk until the cows come home about how fantastic our book is. but by the end of the day, the public will have the final say. 

When we do publish, though, many authors are a bit disheartened that they aren’t receiving many reviews, even though they may be getting quite a number of downloads. Even worse, they might not be getting many downloads, and aren’t sure why people are not downloading and reviewing their book. 

That’s where the continuum of engagement comes in. It’s a useful little graph based on a traditional bell curve that allows you to approximate several factors: the total size of your audience, how much of that audience is reading your content, and further levels stratifying how much they like your content. The idea has been around forever, but this particular graph was created by Peter Kageyama for his book For the Love of Cities (source listed at the bottom). I’ve coloured the graph, but it’s otherwise his work. And while this graph was originally developed to talk about civic involvement, it can be applied pretty much across the board for social media engagement and audience engagement.

A quick review of graphing: the Y vertices - the up and down - is going to represent total number of people; and the X vertices - the left and right - will represent the level of engagement. Also, for the sake of our discussion, we will be going strictly to the right (positive) end of the graph, toward the green. We’ll talk about the other end later.

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First we have to look at the top of the graph: the neutral zone, shown in grey. As you can see, the largest amount of your audience will fall within this zone. People in the neutral zone are non-participants - the internet likes to call them lurkers. They are engaging with your content, but aren’t doing anything more than that. This can involve them viewing your book’s listing on Amazon, reading your blogpost, but otherwise ignoring it altogether. 

Our next section is Curious. This speaks to readers who are passive non-participants, but we can just call them readers. These are people who came across your content - your book or blog post; then they read it, finished it, and ended the process. Which is a pretty cool deal! You will always have a lot of reader who simply read your stuff, smile, and put it down, and never really touch it again. That’s just the nature making literature - some people like it, but it’s not their favourite.

Next comes Engaged, which is the sweet spot you’re really aiming for. These people are active non-participants in your content. They found it, they downloaded it, and they liked it. They are a true reader who enjoys your material. From now on, people in this category will probably remember your name, and search you out if you release new stuff. They may even go out to follow your blog, or like you on Facebook, but otherwise not be terribly active in your day-to-day. Notice, however, that your Engaged audience is significantly smaller than the rest of your audience so far.

Following this is Committed. They’re known as active participants, but we can think of them as reviewers or commenters. These are people who liked your stuff A LOT. They liked it so much, that they couldn’t keep it to themselves, and either commented on your blog post, or wrote a review for your book on Goodreads or Amazon. They do not simply like your content, but want other people to know it, and want other people to like it too. They will remember you, regularly engage with the stuff you make, and make a conscious effort to tell others about you. Notice again, this is a very small portion of the total readership.

Finally, there is the Love section. These are your hyperactive participants, or your evangelicals. More casually, they’re your fanboys and fangirls. They LOVE you like a kitten. You have wrapped them around your finger, and they will have completely committed themselves to you and your success. They will be some of the first people who give you reviews and comment on your posts; they’ll actively try to engage with you and get your attention. But most importantly, your evangelicals will make a concerted effort to let others know about you. They were shout from the highest mountain that you’re the best to everyone they know, will buy anything you sell them, and will practically speaking do some goofy stuff for you. 

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But now we have to talk about the dark side - the other end of this graph. While we have discussed the positive interactions of your audience, this exact same function is mirrored for negative interactions with your content. It follows the exact same formula: some people will see your stuff, and have no feeling; some will read your stuff and dislike it, but otherwise can’t be bothered, and simply won’t read you again; some people will dislike it aggressively, and make a conscious effort to avoid you in the future; some will be so annoyed by your content that they’ll write nasty reviews or comments to try to “teach you a lesson,” in a matter of speaking; and some will be so angry with your content, they will make a conscious effort to try to upset you. Trolls, as the internet likes to call them. They will be the most vocal, most mean, and least welcoming, and will spread negative word-of-mouth to as many people as possible. 

How is this useful for you as an author? It can teach you two things:

1) Write for the Engaged. The readers that you are seeking are the Engaged readers. This part of your audience is the easiest to reach, while also being the most useful to you as an author. They enjoy your content, and will be the “base” of your audience who you can then cater to as you continue your work as an author or blogger. Their positive feedback will reinforce your content, and they’ll let you know when they aren’t happy without getting angry. If you listen to their feedback, take them seriously, and cater to them, you do your work a service, because they will continue to support you, and inspire Curious readers who may not be so active to give you a shot. 

2) Do not write for the Lovers. This is a problem with many content creators. Often times, authors will begin catering their work toward the people who are most in love with their work. While this sounds good in theory, you have to remember that while you should have nothing but love and admiration for your evangelical base… they’re… uh, they’re a little crazy. They don’t really think with their heads anymore - every droplet of spittle that comes out of your mouth is the equivalent of diamonds to them. Your evangelicals will ask you for things, and embracing their ideas is good. But do not start catering exclusively to them. Their ideas are not mainstream in conjunction with your creations, and if you only write for these people, they will give you infinite positive feedback, But you will also alienate your more level-headed audiences, who may not like the changes you make. It’s always prudent to cater to the middle of your audience, not the far end. Take your evangelicals suggestions into consideration, but feel free not to act on it. Remember, most people who love your content will likely continue supporting you no matter what you do.

3) Low feedback means small audience. If you aren’t receiving a lot of reviews or comments - positive or negative - from your audience, it doesn’t mean they’re being stingy. It means you don’t have a large enough audience yet. You haven’t earned enough people for there to be a base of Engaged audience members to give you the reviews and comments you want. If this is your problem, and you want more people, you should focus on growing your audience. The easiest way to do that is by producing more good content. The more often you create, and the better the quality of the creation is, the more your audience will grow, until you finally start earning some loyalty from your audience.

4) Pay attention to trends. The usefulness of knowing the size of your audience, and seeing where they would fall on this graph, is allowing you to see the trends in their responses. If you have a big audience, and a lot of content, but nobody is reviewing or commenting, it means your quality is not high enough to engage your audience. If you are getting A LOT of negative reviews or comments, and very few positive ones, it means your content is bad quality; conversely, if all you hear is praise, it generally means you’re doing a good job, and you should keep doing that in the future. But singular comments or reviews are NOT an indicator. If you have two comments, one positive, and one negative, you can’t assume you’ve done a good NOR a bad job. You have to wait until there is some type of majority before you can logically make that consensus.

[source: http://fortheloveofcities.com/?page_id=158]
[Source: http://www.amazon.com/Love-Cities-affair-between-people/dp/0615430430/]
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