The 6 Levels of Engagement in Online Conversations

Diagram showing 6 levels of conversational engagement listed in this article.

Activity is not productivity – we all know that.

But why do we keep engaging in activities that are not productive?

One answer: Simply because it is easy to engage in activities that are not productive.

This is true especially when it comes to activities that are geared towards building engagement with the other person.

Sometimes, it is easy to think you are engaged when you are not even on the other person’s radar.

Here is the basic rule:

When you are engaging with your network (online or offline) who you are AND the nature and level of conversations you have will influence your level of your engagement with the other person.

The diagram above shows ONE framework that explains this relationship.

As you can see, the need for creativity goes up significantly when you need higher levels of engagement

Here are the levels:

  • A. Mindless Chatter: This is basically saying whatever comes to your mind and sometimes you might get a reply (the other person may also be bored, right?) and you might think there is engagement.
  • B. Inconsequential Topics: These are like ice-breakers. After you break the ice, you have to move on but many people are happy to continue those conversations forever and think they are engaged.
  • C. Genuine, Caring and Thoughtful Conversations: You are genuine, caring and thoughtful about those topics you are discussing. That comes across and this is like the entry point to getting the other person engaged at a higher level. When I say this is an “entry ticket,” it means there is more work to be done. It’s not over.
  • D. Immediate Relevance: From here on, you always include the previous section starting from C (Genuine, Caring and Thoughtful) as a given. You talk about things that are of immediate relevance to the other person. So you become a positive possibility for the other person right NOW.
  • E. Future Relevance: You start engaging in conversations that are of immediate and future relevance to the other person. You show that you are a positive possibility for the other person now and in the future.
  • F. Who You Are: This is where your personal brand kicks in. You not only show that you are a positive possibility in the immediate and future concerns of the other person in your conversations but also by showing “who you are.” The other person will make an assessment on the level of engagement based on both – what you are saying and who you are.

Think about all your conversations in the last thirty days. Where do you slot them? Are they in the right slot to elicit the right level of engagement?

If not, start unlocking your creativity to engage in higher-level conversations that will automatically lead to higher levels of engagement.

A quick note on Twitter: I included a reference to Twitter because you have an opportunity to initiate conversations with people that are loosely connected to you (meaning you are following them and they are not following you). It is easy to have a LOT of conversations on Twitter that are at best leading to moderate levels of engagement. You could, if you wish THINK and take these conversations to the next level by being thoughtful and creative. It’s your choice.

About the Author: Rajesh Setty is an entrepreneur, author and speaker based in Silicon Valley. Rajesh maintains a blog at Life Beyond Code. You can also find him on Twitter at @UpbeatNow.

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Responses to this Post

Comments

  1. I think you’ve summarised the topic pretty well, Rajesh.

    Personally, I don’t get involved in Twitter conversations–it’s just not worth the effort for me, and I don’t want to waste people’s time.

    If I have an idea and want to transmit it to others, my blog is there, eager for me to write in it.

    I know everyone’s in love with Twitter right now, but as much as I’ve tried, I still haven’t found it useful. I’d much rather read people’s blogs and get the whole idea than think a fortune-cookie snippet is enough. Important messages have nuances that take more than 140 characters to transmit.

    What do others think about my Twitter reluctance? Am I the only one?

  2. Miserere,

    Thank you for the comments.

    Twitter can be a great starting point for conversations. There are people who have found a way to elevate the level of conversations right on Twitter but for most others, it can work great as a supplement to your blog and other online strategies.

    I was reluctant to get into Twitter for a long time but it all changed during late last year. Please take a look at this short video that explains it all.

    http://www.lifebeyondcode.com/2009/06/21/there-is-a-book-in-your-heart/

    Have a great day.

    Best,
    Raj

  3. Overall this is a useful set of distinctions. Certainly way too often we tend to spend our online and in-person conversations in the idle and inconsequential.

    On the other hand, mindless chatter can in fact be who I am in a given moment. Part of who I authentically am is quite ordinary. I chat idly with my girlfriend about work sometimes just to connect after a long day. Sometimes I chat idly on Twitter to compensate for feeling lonely when working alone all day. These are a part of who I am.

    For years I pursued only the “deep” and “creative” and found that I had rejected the ordinary. Both the ordinary and extraordinary are part of a full, authentic, creative life.

    I’d also say that my personal brand can never be who I am by definition. A personal brand is one’s outward appearance to others, usually carefully constructed to appear authentic and consistent, and always oriented towards selling. People are multifaceted and complex, and most of what we do does not in fact enter the marketplace at all. Thus our personal brands–no matter how authentic–will always be a reduction of our full creative selves.

    I’d also add that who we truly are is deeply mysterious, cannot be bought or sold, and depends on no conditions whatsoever. From this mysterious ground of being all creativity arises….

  4. Duff,

    Good comments.

    I agree with you that Personal Brand NOT equal to “who you are.” I am thinking that your personal brand will be greatly influenced by who you are.

    When it comes to online conversations, though, others will never be able to know “who you are” but they will surely know your personal brand.

    My $.02 of course.

    Best,
    Raj

  5. For some the “who they are” is the mindless chatter they produce, and some are pretty engaged in producing all that chatter :)

    Anyway.. I haven’t been engaged in Twitter conversations that much, but in a sense blog commenting has the same elements, not as fast paced of course, but anyway, and at best the “conversations” in the comments are enhance an good article to a whole new level.

    Speaking of comments – Raj, you show exactly how to get involved in the conversation after a guest post, which is great and certainly kicks your “personal brand” even more into this. Too many guest bloggers don’t follow up on their post in the other blog(s), oddly enough.

  6. Thank you Zemalf.

    Unfortunately, many who are engaged in “mindless chatter” don’t know (or don’t want to admit) they are engaged in “mindless chatter.” It is low-cost to engage in “mindless chatter” and as long as they are getting responses for this, it is easy to assume that this must be “working.”

    Have a great day.

    Best,
    Raj

  7. But given the volume of conversations taking place in the Twitterspere, wouldn’t those types of conversation benefit from more time and thought being put into them?

    I have less time for people who treat their 140 characters as a frivolous undertaking and am more interested in people who try to add real value to the debate in that tiny window.

    Does that make sense?

  8. Yes Daniel.. it makes a lot of sense. Twitter is a place where there is a low barrier to entry to start conversations.

    Soon, these conversations can be taken to the next level even on Twitter.

    The “noise” on Twitter is what makes the “signal” stand out even stronger :)

    Best,
    Raj

  9. Dear Rajesh,

    I like your thoughts and creativity. However, I wonder why “Who you are” is at the final step or level?

    Is it not late in the reality? Also, is it too generic?

    Could it be ..

    “(Perceived) Who you are” — at the beginning level?
    and
    “(Experienced) Who you are” — at the final step as what you present?

    Warm Regards,
    Chada W.

  10. Hi Chada,

    That’s a very good question.

    “Who you are” is always present in all levels. This is where it makes a difference in the end:

    Imagine there are two people that you are conversing with. They have everything in common until stage 5 – meaning they are both thoughtful, caring and are conversing with you in a way that you make an assessment that they are relevant to you immediately and in the future. At that time, “who they are” is like the tie-breaker. The person has a better identity in the marketplace wil have a bigger influence and possibly a higher level of engagement.

    Have a great evening.

    Best,
    Raj

  11. Wow very nice chart shows your experience level and your deep understanding in online services. Wow very brilliant , I got an idea and summarizing around some thousand tweets to categorized them using its behavior . I have just started digging the tweets manually and i can see two pattern of people. One with left brain dominance and another with right brain dominance. may be i can come to more specific once i check the trend with my data points after analysis. I may name it as Raj Tweet Con Dominance trends. Long name :)

  12. Revathi,

    You made me smile there. Thank you for being kind.

    Have a great weekend.

    Best,
    Raj

  13. Alex Bengtsson says:

    Brilliant, just brilliant!

    I’ve been leaving twitter(and facebook, plus other blog-based sites) to re-think and re-focus all my strategy, just yesterday.

    It’s a serious kick in the teeth you give me there(in a positive manner, of course)!

    I still need time to know how a sound engineer can provide relevant and insightful info/content to his readers…

    When I’ll be ready and have switched on twitter again,(it’s now idle)I’l let you know.Your opinion will be really appreciated.

    In advance:what would YOU expect a music business pro(like me) to give as info?

    I really wonder.

    One thing is sure:my way of working is totally unique and is,pardon my lack of modesty, way better than a purely technical-based approach of music.I put a lot of interpersonal action into my job.

    I am myself and do as I please,unlike my peers who prefer moaning while being “normal”.
    It seems to me that being “normal” is a key to stagnation, if not to failure…

    More as the ideas come!

    Thanks again for your analysis,I’ll never tweet the same way,but I don’t want to be a “joybringer without grey matter”, just to be noticed by other twits.

    /Alex

  14. Alex,

    Thank you for your comments. Whatever be your field (in your case, it’s music) one of your objectives have to be to see how you can use your expertise to make it relevant to the people that you are planning to build a relationship.

    Here are some simple rules:
    1. If you are “interested” in them, you will become “interesting.”

    2. If you “care” enough, they will start caring for you.

    3. If you “give” enough, (some of them) will reciprocate

    4. If you are “nice” beyond the average, some of them will notice you.

    Again, the goal is to extend the relationship online and offline to take it to the next level.

    Best,
    Raj

  15. Isn’t it easy to get distracted in the twittersphere and if we’re not deliberate about building relationships we just end up another lost voice in mindless chatter.

    I think that your ‘why’ or your ‘purpose’ in it all plays such a crucial role in determining the depths of your conversations, much the same as the offline world.

    Consider a guy, who approaches a girl.

    His intentions will guide his depth of conversation, and I dont need to go into explicit details, but if he is just looking for a good time, his interest and desire for deep or meaningful conversation will definately not be there, therefore the manifestation of this will be in surface level chatter, enough to determine if he’ll be able to get what he wants.

    However if this guy is interested in pursuing a depth of conversation to find out about this girl and to pursue meaningful relationship, with a desire not just to take but to contribute then his depth of conversation will be much deeper.

    Okay I didn’t intend to go as deep as that, but I like it :)

    Great insights…!

    Regards
    Nathan Hulls

  16. (A) vs (F) certainly does confront the “quality” vs. “quantity” of followers argument.

  17. Excellent write up…. some folks on Twitter aren’t really interested in deeper conversation across social media sites, for some, it’s more about making sales or just having fun.

    For me, your post does present some challenges. Using my creativity while learning to be useful or thoughtful isn’t easy, especially when we just aimlessly interact without asking how we might take our current discussions deeper? Thanks again,

    -Mig

  18. I see and agree with most of what you say. However, for conversations to be meaningful, I don’t think it needs to be such hard work.

  19. Rajesh,

    I am curious to know if you are using any tools to draw the drawing or if you have done it with a pen/pencil and scanned the image?

    Regards
    Raj

  20. @Nathan, you took the blog post to another “space.” I was not thinking about those examples when I wrote the post, but quite interesting :)

    @Stefan, Thank you.

    @Mig, I agree. May be most users on Twitter are not interested in deeper level conversations. This is not an issue. In fact, it makes your job easy. To stand out there, you just have to care more.

    @Emil, the diagram looks complex but the implementation is not.

    @Raj, I use a set of sketch pens and scan the drawings.

    Best,
    Rajesh

  21. Engagement is not merely productive means to whatever end, no, engagement is an intrinsic motivation, a fundamental human need, Yet everywhere one turns, there is such apathy and malignant outright hostility towards engagement, spawning industries of travesty.

  22. Marilyn says:

    OK, here’s a loooooooooooooooooong response, but it’s been festeringfor a looooooooooooong while now….

    Ah, Raj! You have NO IDEA how electric your article is to me right now! I have just finished off a week of “engaging with people” and spending two hours in the car with someone – and I am so frickin’ upset that I just want to scream. OK, my “personal brand” just kicked in with that wee bit of an outburst. I shall gather myself….

    Here’s the issue I have with your model. In your Mindless Chatter – Who You Are continuum of conversation levels, you have used the word “you” some 18 times. I get that, as I take it you want the reader to take the responsibility in leading conversations toward deeper levels. Be intuitive. Be caring. Engage. Be relevant. Then I am to open myself up and out to my “ brand” so others can make an assessment of me and then engage back, based on the depth and authenticity of what I am saying and who I am (my brand).

    In my large circle of influence I am well known for how I engage people. Chatterers and inconsequentialists flee from me pretty quick, because I HATE chatter and superficiality. I get so bored with it that I almost immediately search for the more compelling and caring questions and levels of dialogue.

    So I do have a ton of people (when is a “ton” too many?) in my life who are more than willing to have me engage them in meaningful conversations.

    I am told many times (when is “many” too many?) that I am genuine, caring, and thoughtful in conversations. And I don’t say that to be narcissistic; it’s just what they say.

    Except, here’s where I get angry/frustrated: As long as I am talking about them, and getting them to talk about themselves, they’re ecstatic. And long as I care about them, show genuine interest in them, and care for them , asking them questions and calling forth from them intriguing thoughts and ah-ha’s, they’re satisfied – and they say they’ve had “an edifying connection” and “deep conversation” (their words) and then they ask “When can we meet again?”

    I try to share something of me in all of this and whether they just gloss over the offering or not address them all, it’s as if they didn’t hear me at all. They jump right in and follow what I offer of “my brand” with that all too gag-me-with-a-spoon-already word, “I.”

    And off we go, the conversation being all about them – again. No reciprocity at all for me. No creativity in it for me.

    And the more caring and engaging I become at engaging people in conversations – and don’t get me wrong, often what they say IS productive and IS engaging and IS creative, but for them – the less I receive, the less creative I become, the less I am to them.

    In fact, all I am is something akin of a therapist, or the old aunt stricken mute and motionless due to a stroke, and people come to “talk” with her but just blab and blab while staring out the window, with no thought of her.

    You say, Raj, this is your basic rule: When you are engaging with your network (online or offline), who you are AND the nature and level of conversations you have will influence your level of your engagement with the other person.

    But here’s the deal, Raj. I am tired of doing all the engaging and caring. It’s fine and dandy to write that “creativity goes up significantly when you need higher levels of engagement,” but try to find the people who have the skills to engage BACK! to care BACK enough to elicit creativity in others and not always beg/wheedle/want for someone to elicit creativity/engagement in THEM! In my world, that’s like finding the goose and the golden eggs.

    QUESTION: What do you say to people who have “influential levels of engagement,” but that engagement appears to be going one way? THEIR way!

    Here’s another QUESTION, Raj: How do you get TWO people equally engaged, genuine, caring, and thoughtful in the SAME CONVERSATION? When I ask for reciprocity of engagement in conversation, ALL the people look at me stunned, then hurt, and then they don’t call again.

    Raj, QUESTION: Where do those people who practice and aspire to what you preach find conversationalists for themselves who are skilled enough to care by reciprocating? And inspire creativity?

    Sincerely,
    Marilyn, a “positive possibilty” who has taken a risk and shared something heavy on her heart….

  23. Sounds like a lack of reciprocity.

  24. Marilyn says:

    “…everywhere one turns, there is such apathy and malignant outright hostility towards engagement, spawning industries of travesty…” Aaron Aqassi

    So Aaron, is the “apathy, malignant…hostility, and the spawning…of travesty” YOUR definition of lack of reciprocity in conversation? An avoidance of dignifying another’s “human need”?

  25. Actually, contempt for human needs, the active disregard characteristic of pseudo-engagement, is often reciprocal, indeed formalized and cultivated. And this is discoursed upon at some length on my website which I hope will be back online soon.

  26. “… And this is discoursed upon at some length on my website which I hope will be back online soon.”

    Thank you, Aaron. I will look for your blog, but why is it I feel that your response reinforces my point so perfectly?

  27. Marilyn,

    You have asked some great questions. I will be posting responses to all three questions soon.

    These are good questions and I want to think through them before responding but wanted to post this comment so that you know I am thinking about them.

    Best,
    Raj

  28. Marilyn says:

    Raj, I appreciate both the quick response and the “thinking through” thing. I look forward to YOUR questions, as it is my theory that deep-level conversations are more about curiosity and questions rather than opinion and that all too common follow-up-to-someone’s-offerings word, “I….”

  29. What, Marilyn, have I somehow failed reciprocoyu?

  30. Hi Marilyn,

    I had some time to NOT only think through your questions, I was also able to discuss this with two people that I respect. Here are my responses:

    [Marilyn] QUESTION: What do you say to people who have “influential levels of engagement,” but that engagement appears to be going one way? THEIR way!

    Yes, I can empathize with how you must be feeling. You are going out of the way “engage” with them on topics that relate to their concerns but they are not “engaging” with you on topics related to your concerns.

    Some things to think about:
    1. If this is happening as a pattern, meaning if this is happening 8 out of 10 times (across multiple meetings) then you need to look at who these people are that you are “engaging” and whether it is worth continuing to invest your time.

    2. You can also think about how taking care of your concerns will move them towards taking care of their concerns. Elaborating on this – think of your requests to them. How costly is it for them to fulfill your requests? Do they move towards their goals when they are fulfilling your requests or do they move away from their goals. If it is the latter, you will have a problem getting “buy in” from them.

    3. You should also re-look at your personal brand in context of where they are going. As your personal brand becomes more powerful, it will get harder for people to ignore you and/or your concerns.

    [Marilyn] Here’s another QUESTION, Raj: How do you get TWO people equally engaged, genuine, caring, and thoughtful in the SAME CONVERSATION? When I ask for reciprocity of engagement in conversation, ALL the people look at me stunned, then hurt, and then they don’t call again.

    [RS] I am assuming that you are talking about a group situation where three of you are talking and your question is how to engage TWO different people.

    Group situations are not easy as something that is important to one person may not be very important to the other person. At that time, you can focus on “fundamental” concerns that you know will be common to both of them. For example, if they both are business people, guaranteed that both of them will have concerns about sales and marketing. If you have found a great website or article that will address these concerns, you can talk about it and offer to send them relevant links.

    Remember that you don’t have to sacrifice a LOT to be of great value to them. If you are doing that, you can’t scale. People understand that you can’t give up your concerns to take care of their concerns.

    Also, think about re-using and re-purposing what you already now (Refer to the concept of “knowledge arbitrage” by Gary Hamel) to reduce your costs of helping other people.

    [Marilyn] Raj, QUESTION: Where do those people who practice and aspire to what you preach find conversationalists for themselves who are skilled enough to care by reciprocating? And inspire creativity?

    The real question Marilyn is what you should do so that people who fit that category “find you.” It takes a BIG investment initially to “become” that someone that others want to “engage” with but it will be worth that investment.

    You can “find” them or you can become that someone that others would want to reach out to you. Both of them require investments but the latter investment will give you multiple returns.

    Have a great week ahead.

    Best,
    Raj

    PS: We have Brian Clark, Tony Clark and Mark McGuinness here (all are super smart people.) If any of them have the time, I would love to hear their take on this.

  31. Oh, man! NOW I am impressed! I appreciated everything you said, but the statement, “The real question Marilyn is what you should do so that people who fit that category ‘find you.’ ” THAT just made me throw my head back and laugh! Aloud! In a good way! “Find me”? I am curiously skeptical – but open….

    OK, here’s my homework, as I hear you:

    – I need to really understand the price/cost I am paying in always facilitating people in all these largely one-sided conversations.

    – I need to find the courage in this largely narcissistic psychological climate to make that “BIG investment initially to “become” that someone who others want to “engage” with.” THAT sends chills down my spine, let me tell ya! Have you discussed anywhere (blogs, books, etc.) what that “big Investment” would look like?

    – I need to be less of that type of a person who has people talking AT her all the time and more of that “someone who others would want to reach out TO.” I need to become someone who attract the givers and minimizes the impact of the takers, if I want creativity in conversation.

    Piece of cake.

    Hmmmmmm.

    Now give ME some time to ponder that “BIG investment” I need to define and then make….

    QUESTION: Are you at all intrigued by the number of “I’s” in any given conversation????

  32. Marilyn,

    Thank you. Actually, I can’t take all the credit for the answers I posted as two of my teachers (who prefer not to be named) helped me there. But nevertheless, I am glad you liked them and my teachers will be happy.

    On your question, I am not intrigued by number of “I’s” in any given conversation. I focus more on the intent than on the mechanics. There is a lot of “extra work” I have to do if I have to focus on the mechanics of things than focusing on the intent.

    My $.02 of course.

    Best,
    Rajesh

  33. Your “$.02″ has proved to be liberating…

    Thanks!

  34. Interesting post but not entirely convinced of the heirarchies you build here. I’m always suspicious of simple Hi-lo scales which embed ideas of worth/value in them – particularly when dealing with nice big abstract notions like engagement…

    Perhaps you have time to clarify? What do you mean by engagement? Why do you assume that high vs. low engagement is more important? For the either of the participants? Isn’t a lot of human life and conversation rightly low level? Doesn’t a lot of interesting stuff come out of low-level engagement? And isn’t there a real ceiling for engagement?

  35. Indeed, some seeminly place great stock in lowest engagement, and strive to lower it all the time.

  36. Mark,

    Thank you for your comments. Some clarifications below:

    My goal here was to show that real engagement requires serious investment of time, energy and mindshare.

    For me, engagement is simply the level of emotional connection between the parties having the conversation.

    I am not suggesting that some conversations are more important than the other as much depends on the context of the conversation. One can start with conversations to initiate low level engagement and then progress towards higher levels of engagement.

    Also, when you have the kind of relationship where there is higher levels of engagement, you get a license to have conversations of lower level engagement and still enjoy it.

    Think about the conversations that you have with your classmates from school or friends for a long time. They seem like conversations of low level engagement (as you say in your comments) but that is life. In those relationships, spending time together is already the reward.

    Thanks again.

    Best,
    Raj

    PS:
    Mark, I love your work and I hope your book will be available on Kindle soon.