From Wikipedia Customer Engagement:
Customer engagement is a business communication connection between an external stakeholder (consumer) and an organization (company or brand) through various channels of correspondence. This connection can be a reaction, interaction, effect or overall customer experience, which takes place online and offline.
Or more in digital products context, user engagement it is a metric that reflects the amount of interaction the user performs with a product within a certain time period.
Does this necessarily mean that user engagement would lead to addiction? The short answer is No.
Take this horrible scenario, if someone points a gun towards one user - and i hope this will never ever happen - and threatens the user to shoot if the user does not use the product, the user will likely use the product, the engagement metric will likely increase, the user will very unlikely be addicted.
The purpose of this scenario is to present a case where engagement increases and addiction doesn't occur making it impossible for them to be be mutually inclusive.
From psychology today
Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.
So what about mutual exclusivity, it is also impossible since by definition of addiction, repetition of usage will also push up the user engagement metric, therefore the more addiction the more engagement.
So this is how it would look like:
From this breakdown we can reach to the following; addiction is not the only way to increase user engagement, but whenever addiction occurs user engagement increases.
If we refer back to Addiction definition, i will quote this part
the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior
This quote can be rendered as a tactic where if implemented effectively it can drive addiction therefore drive user engagement - and i cannot think of a single case where i would consider it a moral practice so please be my guest if you have other views in the comments.
And to answer the last part of your question
If engagement and addiction are completely different behaviours, what are the differences that allows you to distinguish one group from the other?
We cannot say they are separate behaviors, as one is a behavior and the other is a metric, but if you want to measure the addiction caused by your product the answer is also is part within the definition of addiction
You would want to measure to which extent is the user going to
repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.
How do you define what a detrimental consequence is for the user?
It is a dillema
When trying to answer how do we decide on what are considered to be "Detrimental Consequences" and what are not, we often find ourselves back to the subjectivity dilemma, what we agree upon others disagree upon and vica versa.
Just as any other ethical dilemma, there is no definite answer rather opinion, this how i would handle it:
- The Law (the obvious)
- Code of Ethics (the underrated)
- Understand your users (the classic)
- The Experts (..and the doctor says no more monkeys jumping on the bed)
- You will not always succeed (the reality)
I just would like to elaborate on a couple of points of them:
Code of ethics
Often organizations don't understand or underestimate the value of having a code of ethics, this is a almost-framework that can correct such controversies, and can play the role of guiding judge in concluding uncertain decisions.
Understand your users
We always say understand your users especially in human-centered fields, to the extent where "ask your users" is almost becoming a cliché, but here in this sense it is about trying to understand what is perceived good vs bad by your users what are their cultures, beliefs, and attitudes which would support your decision.
You will not always succeed
It is important to be realistic that what is right and wrong, good and bad are all subjective matters the answer lies in the perspectives of whom you ask which can differ and conflict with others, there is no one rule to rule them all, no matter how hard we try we will fail at some point, but what matters is that we actually try.