In a world where everyone is trying to collect and analyze data about their product, it is easy to get excited about numbers. After all, getting hard numbers about what you shipped is, in a way, validating or invalidating the provided value. The problem comes down to those numbers being presented in an exciting, or worse – misleading, way (refer to a16z’s 16 more startup metrics).
The two terms that I often hear being thrown around are usage and engagement. Now, there is, of course, nothing wrong with leveraging both to make decisions, but it is important to keep one thing in mind – they are not the same. So whenever these two terms are used interchangeably, intentionally or not, a mistake is made that loses the key differentiator between them and can potentially create a false sense of security when the product is failing to hit its actual performance indicators.
Usage is a value that describes a number of certain actions taken against a feature, or the product as a whole, that do not represent the actual usefulness of either. For example, number of clicks on a specific button as a standalone metric is pure usage. How many times a user clicks on a profile picture? Usage. Number of downloads? Also usage. None of this maps 1:1 to engagement. Because you have sixteen thousand clicks on a button means nothing for how much value it provided to the user – for all we know, the user might’ve been frustrated enough where he or she clicked a couple of times and quit the app. Great, so now you have clicks, but an unhappy user. See where the issue is?
On the other hand, engagement measures user interaction with the product in a much more holistic way, where it ties in a lot of what we discussed earlier. As an example, think of it as a way to correlate time spent in the product, feature usage, number of returns to the product in a day and conversion rate (read: user achieving a goal established in the product). Now, looking at the high-level picture, you can see just how much your product is achieving in terms of business goals.
So we end up with this:
Usage is a component of engagement. Not a synonym of it.