I recently read Hooked by Nir Eyal, which got me thinking about how to turn customers into hooked advocates. Based on psychology, Eyal explains how sites like Twitter and Facebook manage, create and build dependency among its user base.
In this article, I will try to break down my understanding of the model by explaining each of the four steps with examples. As a reader, you are probably not in charge of a company like Pinterest or Instagram, but you might dream about creating the same level of loyalty and growth.
So here is my breakdown of the four stages.
The trigger is the reason for someone taking that first step into a website. According to Eyal, the trigger can be internal or external. For instance, you can be triggered to use Facebook by an internal need to be connected with your friends, or you can be triggered externally by a friend inviting you. Either way, the trigger is the first step into the system.
You might relate this to many of your “first time” experiences which later became habits. It can be an innocent start towards a lifelong relationship. Online, the first trigger can be an introduction to the service—like an invite to use Dropbox by someone who wants to share pictures with you.
The first action might be a result of your curiosity. What is this? How does it work? I might be biased, but I am always curious about new technology. I want to explore. The first action is usually a click and a promise of something else given in the form of text or video. If you are convinced, you will take the first step towards a membership, a trial account or maybe a purchase.
On Facebook, the first action can be anything from registering to liking something. We all want to know what good first actions can be. What attracts us to take the returning action? What are the triggers? And what makes you come back? Repeatedly. And why is it so hard for other website owners, like small business owners, to copy it?
After you take action, you could get a reward. For some reason, infrequent rewards are more effective than rewards that are consistent. Maybe it is the hunter in us or the joy of searching for something and never knowing if you will find what you are looking for that brings out the gambler in us. What will it be this time? Like a gift, the unknown is the best guarantee of predictable behaviour.
Online, we check our email several times a day never knowing what will be there. It could be a bill, a romantic note from your boyfriend or nothing. Yet, we have to check. Maybe we are afraid of losing out. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe we feel a deep personal need to be connected. So maybe the clue out of this self-inflicted social regime is realizing what is going on.
How much time have you spent on Facebook? All told? How many minutes have you spent on creating your profile, on updating pictures and writing the perfect bio? How much time have you spent on chats or tagging pictures? That is the investment or effort you have put into creating a database all about you. This also makes it harder for you to leave. Accumulated memories keep dragging you back.
According to Nir Eyal, the more time and effort we invest, the stronger we need to justify it. That can mean that our justification is not rational, but emotionally based. It might even be possible that we do not like the actions we are involved but feel compelled to continue doing them anyway. If that is true, could we be nothing more than Twitter junkies—fooling ourselves and those we try to keep updated about what we do?
The four stages to create online junkies are triggers, actions, rewards and investment. As a model, it might explain more than just online behavior, but also why we act the way we do in the real world. It might even be argued that sites like Facebook and Twitter mimic addictive behaviour.
But is it ethical?