"The Only Metric That Matters: Understanding User Engagement and Conversation Theory"

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Sep 28, 2023

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"The Only Metric That Matters: Understanding User Engagement and Conversation Theory"

In the world of social media, user engagement is the key to success. It's not just about how many people are using your product, but what they are doing and why they are doing it. At Twitter, we found that if a user visited our platform at least 7 times in a month, it was likely they would continue to engage with our platform in the following month. This metric became the holy grail for us, as it allowed us to track our growth on a day-to-day, week-over-week, and month-over-month basis.

But what drives this user engagement? How do we ensure that our users keep coming back? This is where conversation theory comes into play. Conversation theory is a cybernetic and dialectic framework that offers a scientific explanation for how interactions lead to the construction of knowledge. It views social systems as symbolic, language-oriented systems where responses depend on the interpretation of another person's behavior.

In order for scientific research to be reproducible, conversation theory recognizes the need for stable reference points in human transactions. These reference points are the understandings that arise in conversations between individuals. They serve as the foundation for knowledge creation and agreement.

According to conversation theory, learning occurs through conversations about a subject matter. It is through these recursive interactions that differences may be reduced until agreement is reached. This agreement, which Pask refers to as "agreement over an understanding," is crucial for learning to take place. It is through conversation that knowledge is made explicit and shared between individuals.

Pask developed a concept known as the "Cognitive Reflector" based on conversation theory. This virtual machine selects and executes concepts or topics from an entailment mesh shared by participants. It provides a platform for individuals to demonstrate agreement through reproducing public descriptions of behavior. This is evident in various forms of communication, such as essay and report writing or the practicals of science teaching.

To facilitate learning, Pask argued that subject matter should be represented in the form of structures that show what is to be learned. These structures exist at different levels, depending on the complexity of the relationships displayed. The critical method of learning according to conversation theory is "teachback," where one person teaches another what they have learned. This process reinforces understanding and helps solidify knowledge.

So, how can we apply these insights to improve user engagement and drive growth? Here are three actionable pieces of advice:

  • 1. Focus on meaningful interactions: It's not just about the number of users, but the quality of their interactions. Encourage conversations and discussions within your platform. Create a space where users can exchange ideas and knowledge. This will not only keep users engaged but also foster a sense of community.
  • 2. Provide clear structures for learning: Whether you're running an educational platform or a social media network, make sure your subject matter is presented in a structured and organized way. This will help users navigate through the content and understand what they are learning. Use visual aids, categorization, and clear guidelines to facilitate the learning process.
  • 3. Implement the teachback method: Encourage users to teach others what they have learned. This not only reinforces their own understanding but also creates a collaborative learning environment. Provide opportunities for users to share their knowledge and insights with others through discussions, forums, or even mentorship programs.

In conclusion, user engagement is the ultimate metric for success in the digital age. Understanding conversation theory and applying its principles can help drive growth and create a thriving online community. By focusing on meaningful interactions, providing clear structures for learning, and implementing the teachback method, you can enhance user engagement and ensure the long-term success of your platform or product.

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