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User Engagement: What Is the Participation Pyramid?

When we usually talk about user engagement in a digital marketing sense, we talk about how users respond to and interact with content. A lot of times, we focus too much on the quantifiable side of engagement, like page views and clicks.

While these metrics are definitely important, they don’t cover more nuanced, qualitative measurements, one of which is user participation.

The Participation Pyramid

User participation describes the varying ways in which people explore and engage with content on the internet. At a basic level, user participation can be broken down into three tiers: consuming, contributing, and creating.

Data Source: ScienceDirect

It’s easy to imagine the tiers as a pyramid, with consuming on the bottom, contributing in the middle, and creating at the top. The number of people participating in each tier decreases as you move upwards.


Most internet users lurk at the base of the pyramid. They’re like an audience at a concert. Sometimes they’ll clap, or maybe even boo, but for the most part, they just watch the show.

Consuming is the most passive form of participation. Users at this level don’t actively go online and get involved with content creation or contribution. They merely browse websites, read some articles, and like posts on social media.

These quiet participants are a marketer’s dream, especially for those of us focusing on inbound marketing. Since they make up the majority of internet users, people in the consuming tier are the easiest to reach.

Most people want to spend their time consuming content that’s actually relevant and valuable to them.

Making intriguing, shareable content is the best way to engage this group. Posting on a variety of channels, mixing up your content media, and staying on top of your content calendar will build your audience. Once you get consumers’ initial attention, they’re more likely to convert into customers.


The middle tier of the pyramid, contributing, is a much more active place. Here, users want their opinions heard. Some are commenting on articles or joining Twitter chats. Others are filling out surveys, voting in polls, or writing reviews for the latest superhero movie.

Contributing is built around conversations. When you post content, whether on your brand’s website or social media, you should give people the option to comment or give feedback. Try to find ways to reply to messages or answer questions directly when appropriate. This will not only provide excellent customer service, but also cement your brand’s credibility as a helpful and user-friendly resource.

Looking for a simple way to increase user contribution? Consider adding a hashtag campaign to your marketing strategy. Come up with a unique hashtag that reflects your brand or product. Ask users on social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram, to join your conversations using the hashtag.

Depending on your marketing objectives, you can monitor how your campaign is performing based on who’s getting involved and what types of content they’re posting under your particular hashtag.


Creating, the highest level of user participation, sits at the top of the pyramid. People in this tier are writing blog posts, uploading YouTube videos, and recording podcasts for an audience. In turn, they’re hoping others will engage with their content, usually in the form of likes, comments, or subscriptions.

Sound familiar? If you’re a content marketer, you fit right into this group.

Because they’re experts on content creation, marketing to the top tier can be tough. Even so, you should make an effort to reach out to creators, especially if you’re trying to add influencers to your marketing mix.

Successful, authentic influencers, both large and small, generally have an impressive number of followers (consumers). Depending on their expertise and social standing, they can connect you to a niche audience that you might not be able to reach with traditional content marketing.

Everyone Is Different

User engagement is measured in more than just clicks, shares, and time on page. Remember the three levels of user participation:

  • Consuming. Users passively view content without further engagement.

  • Contributing. Users react and respond directly to content.

  • Creating. Users produce and publish content for others to consume.

Next time you roll out a content marketing campaign, keep the participation pyramid in mind. Targeting users at each level will help you engage your audience, boost brand credibility, and extend your reach across the internet.

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