While some people think that interacting with media is a single act, a team of researchers, including two Indian Americans, suggest that it is a sequence of assessments and interactions.
Shyam Sundar, a distinguished professor of communications and the co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State University along with Saraswathi Bellur, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Connecticut and Jeeyun Oh, an assistant professor of advertising at the University of Texas, have reported within two studies that user engagement may be built on a continuum of four factors: physical interaction, interface assessment, absorption and digital outreach, and that this model could lead to the development of content that people are more willing to share online and websites that can better promote learning and memory, according to a press release.
“Our model starts with the physical interaction — swiping and tapping, for example — and then people assess the interface — they see if it’s intuitive and easy to use — after that comes the actual absorption with the content. Finally, we see the digital outreach. This is when users are so absorbed in the content that they find it good enough to share with others,” Sundar is quoted saying in a press release.
According to Sundar, the more users interact with the interface, the more they become absorbed in the content and are now willing to share that content on social media, which is important to marketers because they can inexpensively promote their messages to large numbers of people.
Researchers also say that the process could promote learning and attitude changes as “for example, interestingly, it’s physical interaction that really promotes memory. When a user is moving around the hot spots of the site and spending more time to check out the interface, it promotes recall memory, which is good for learning,” Sundar said.
“One application might be on an educational site, where physical interaction can be used to enhance storage of information,” he added.
Oh said that there is a connection between the users’ interactions and assessments and their attitudes and behaviors.
“Our data show that user interactions and assessments of the interface shape their attitudes and behaviors toward the content presented via that interface. When users perceive the interface to be easier, more natural and intuitive to use, they find the article on the site to be more concise, informative, insightful and lively,” Oh is quoted saying in the press release.
In addition Sundar said that user engagement is a relatively new concept for media researchers as prior to online content, media were less interactive and used to be measured through exposure, rather than engagement while exposure is a superficial way of understanding how people interact with media, according to Sundar.
“With so much of our daily interactions transpiring on social media, we are no longer looking at an ‘attention economy,’ but rather an ‘engagement economy. That is why it is important for both researchers and designers to view user engagement as a process, to understand what makes users come, stay, consume and share content as a cumulative process, and not as disparate acts. The model we propose in this study is a step in that direction,'” Bellur added.
The researchers used data from two experiments of 263 undergraduate students interacting with websites.
After browsing the sites, the participants were asked to complete a questionnaire and to study physical interaction, the researchers measured how much time the participants spent on the different parts of the interface.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation as well.