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Gear Up for the Next Level of Digital Engagement

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Over the past 2 entries of this digital transformation (DT) series, we’ve gained a deeper understanding for both the defensive and offensive reasons why DT is an inevitable course for modern enterprises. We’ve also introduced the 4 gears model to help us understand why that is the case. Today, we will dive deeper to understand the 2 new gears (i.e. engage and enlist) of the 4 gears model.


In case you’ve missed the previous entries or just want a refresher, they are all accessible here:

  1. Successful Digital Transformation Must Go Beyond Digital to the People, Process, and Culture
  2. Why Transform Your Business Digitally? — A History Lesson through the 4 Gears
  3. The Offensive Logic to Digital Transformation — Customer Experience


Most modern enterprises are already familiar with acquisition and monetization, because they had over a century of practice spinning these 2 gears. Engagement and enlistment are relatively new to the business world, especially enlistment, but brands must learn to spin these 2 gears to survive. So how should brands view these 2 new gears?


A Deeper Look at Customer Engagement

measure depth 350px.pngToday, the concept of customer engagement is not foreign to brands, and most marketers understand that it’s simply any interaction between the customers and the brand. However, many brands fail to understand one crucial point about engagement; and that is, it has 2 dimensions: both breadth (how many) and depth (how deep).


This is very different from acquisition, where the only dimension of concern is breadth—how many people’s attention you’ve acquired (recall that the acquisition gear is merely acquiring attentions). Due to people’s familiarity with acquisition, many practitioners today are still quantifying engagement using only the breadth measure (i.e. some variants of how many you’ve engaged). Although this is not completely wrong, it’s missing half of the story. Moreover, the depth of engagement is arguably even more important than the breadth of engagement. Let’s try to understand why.


The 4 gears model clearly shows the engagement gear feeding into the monetization gear. This means the ultimate purpose of engagement should be to help you sustain monetization by capturing the consumer’s attention longer. In practice, the most important outcome of engaging your customers is that you will build stronger relationships with them. The stronger customer relationships imply that these customers will be more loyal, which manifests in more repeat business with you, and hence help you sustain monetization.


Now, given that both the breadth and the depth of engagement are important, do you think it’s the breadth or depth that is going to help you build stronger relationships with your customers?


The answer should be clear. Engaging millions with no depth is useless, because it’s not going to help you sustain monetization. But the contrary is also true: engaging deeply with only a few is probably not going to impact your monetization significantly either. Brands must learn to balance these 2 dimensions of engagement to optimize its long-term impact on monetization. More importantly, brands must gain sophistication with spinning the engagement gear, and not just blindly follow other’s engagement tactic. Engagement that doesn’t end up building stronger relationships with your customer and lead to more loyal customers is a waste of resources.


A Very Brief History of Engagement

Today, quite a few digitally savvy brands are starting to get a hang of social engagements. But this was not the case about 7 years ago (i.e. around 2010). Back then, most brands still didn’t understand why they need to engage their customers. Many are still operating under the traditional 2 gears model (i.e. focused only on the acquisition and monetization gears). But today (7 years later), every brand I talk to knows they need to engage.


brief engagement history castle 350px.pngThis doesn’t mean brands have perfected the art of engagement yet. Clearly, brands can’t master engagement when they don’t even measure it accurately, due to the lack of a metric for engagement depth. Brands still have many questions about engagement. For example, who should you engage? Do you engage influencers or all customer? How do you prioritize them? How to engage them most effectively? When and where should you engage, which channels? And what’s the ROI of engagement?


Despite all the unknowns and uncertainties around customer engagement, one thing that every company agrees on is the fact that they need to do it. It's well known that innovation adoption is not uniform. The innovators and visionaries will lead the pack, but they are typically a small fraction of the population (~16%). The bulk of the population are pragmatists (~34%, a.k.a. the early majority) and conservatives (~34%, a.k.a. the late majority) who will catch up slowly.


It took ~7 years for even the conservatives (i.e. the late majority) to recognize the importance of customer engagement, and it will probably take a few more years before brands master it. Although this sounds like a long time, it’s relatively short compared to the business transformation created by the transportation and communication revolution (where companies switch from a 1-gear to a 2-gears operation).


Now, if you are the innovators and visionaries, you probably already engage your customers. So the natural question is, “what comes next?”


From Engagement to Enlistment

The next gear that brands must learn to spin is enlistment, which is to leverage your customer to help you do work that’s normally done within your enterprise. Unlike engagement, customer enlistment is still a foreign concept to many brands. Enlistment today is like engagement ~7 years ago. Many brands don’t know what is it, or why they need to enlist customer when they have employees. However, this gear is crucial because it closes the feedback loop, and it’s what makes this model scalable and sustainable in the digital age.


Despite its importance, customers are not obliged to help any brand in any way, and they are not going help you just because you want to enlist them. So how do you spin the enlistment gear?


To answer this riddle, we need to understand the relationship between engagement and enlistment. The way to think about these 2 new gears is that they are simply the 2 extremes of a continuous engagement spectrum. Since engagement is any interaction between the consumer and the brand, it covers everything consumers do that touches the brand. Whether it’s visiting the brand’s store, watching an ad about their new product, liking/sharing a video they published, or getting help from their support agent, all are valid forms of engagement. 

engagement spectrum 600px.png


The key is recognized that every engagement with a brand has a different depth. So engagement is really a whole spectrum of interactions ranging from the shallowest (passive engagement) to the deepest (active engagement). The depth of engagement correlates with the amount of consumer resource required (e.g. time, effort, etc.). So the engagement spectrum starts with activities that require little effort: consume, share, curate, to create, and finally to co-create, which could require a lot of time, effort, and even mental resources.


When customers are co-creating with you, they will be collaborating with your product or design teams to help create a better product. Since customers are not obliged to collaborate with you or help you do anything, when they are co-creating with you, they are definitely enlisted. But enlistment starts much earlier on the engagement spectrum. When customers are sharing your content with their friends (which they are also not obligated), they are helping you market your product, which is normally done by your marketing team. So sharing can be viewed as a light form of enlistment.


Evidently, engage and enlist are just the 2 ends of a continuous spectrum. Enlistment is just the deepest form of engagement. And engagement is just a very shallow form of enlistment, with possibly the exception of “consume,” because it’s unclear how consumption of brand content helps anyone in your company do his/her work. So, if you are one of those savvy brands who is already engaging customers digitally, you are on the right path to customer enlistment. Just engage your customer deeper. Before long, your customers will start helping you out, if you make helping easy and rewarding.



To survive the digital revolution, brands must adopt a new strategic model that involves spinning all 4-gears (i.e. Geoffrey Moore’s 4 gears model: acquire, engage, monetize, enlist). Companies must learn to spin the engagement and enlistment gears in addition to the familiar acquisition (marketing) and monetization (transaction) gears. Although many brands are already engaging their customers, few have the process and analytics to get to the goal of engagement, which is to help you sustain monetization by building stronger relationships with your customers.


On the contrary, enlistment (leveraging customers to help out different aspects of your business) is still a foreign concept. To start spinning the enlistment gear, companies need to start paying more attention to an important but overlooked dimension of engagement—its depth. This reveals the relationship between engagement and enlistment: they are merely the 2 ends of a continuous spectrum. So getting to the next level of digital engagement may be easier than you think, because the next level of digital engagement is enlistment. So, just continue engaging your customers deeper and deeper, to the point that they become willing and want to help your employees and other customers.


*Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures and Didgeman.



Michael Wu, Ph.D.mwu_whiteKangolHat_blog.jpg is CRM2010MKTAWRD_influentials.pngLithium's Chief Scientist. His research includes: deriving insights from big data, understanding the behavioral economics of gamification, engaging + finding true social media influencers, developing predictive + actionable social analytics algorithms, social CRM, and using cyber anthropology + social network analysis to unravel the collective dynamics of communities + social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics + its application to Social CRM. He's a blogger on Lithosphere, and you can follow him @mich8elwu or Google+.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.