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Nir Eyal Photograph courtesy of nirandfar.com

How the ‘Hook Model’ Can Turn Customers Into Addicts

Jan 11, 2017

Every day, thousands of companies compete for users’ limited attention. The war for eyeballs creates a lot of technological noise -- cutting through the din can feel like a near-impossible task. But as Facebook, Google, and YouTube illustrate, the pa yo ff for companies that manage to pull off the feat is enormous.

How, then, do you create a product or service compelling enough not only catch consumers’ attention, but keep them returning for m or e?

Author, serial entrepreneur, and behavioral economist Nir Eyal has an answer: he calls it the Hook Model. At its core, the Hook Model is designed to build products that create habit-forming behavior in users via a looping cycle that consists of trigger, an action, a variable reward, and continued investment.

I nstagram is is a good case study -- it fulfills this cycle perfectly. Users are triggered to start an account in order to tap into a pre-existing online social network (i.e., to see what their friends are up to). Once they’ve joined, they’re encouraged to act, in the form of posting photos and updates (a relatively quick and intuitive process). After they’ve accomplished an action, they’re rewarded via likes and comments from other users. Crucially, these rewards vary depending on the post. Finally, users are encouraged to invest in their profiles by adding autobiographical details, honing their filter skills, and collecting new followers. Together, these elements create a loop that keep users coming back, eventually making Instagram a daily habit.

Eyal participated in a live chat on the site Product Hunt on Wednesday, where he discussed how other companies can use this method to create more engaging products.

Eyal’s responses have been edited for clarity.

On why habits are such a big deal.

T here is no such thing as a ‘self .’ You are just a collection of your past experiences and habits. This realization provides me with a great deal of hope and optimism. It also drives me to ask myself whether what I'm doing daily is really in my best interest or just another dumb habit of mind.

On how the Hook Model applies to product design.

The Hook Model is only for products that must be used out of habit. Clearly, not all products need to be used habitually. There are lots of products I love that are infrequently used and therefore don't need habits. It's not that every product needs to be habit-forming, it's that every product that needs a habit needs a Hook.

I see companies (almost daily) with business models that require frequent unprompted engagement (habits) but who haven't taken the time to plan out the four steps of their Hook. For some reason, people tend to jump into designing and coding without stopping to consider the psychological drivers needed to bring people back on their own. This is a huge mistake!

Related: 11 Mistakes Standing Between You and Your First Million

On how technology an help us develop healthier habits.

I'm very optimistic about personal technology's role in our lives. I think we'll do what humans have always done when faced with technological change -- we'll adapt and adopt.

We'll adapt our behaviors to put tech in it's place and adopt new technologies to fix the bad aspects of the last generation of technology.

Of course, this process can take a while and requires us to question the costs and benefits of the new technology. I think we clearly see that happening now as more people ask when, where, and how is the most appropriate way to use personal tech. ... I'm very excited about the opportunity to change habits for good. I've invested in companies like 7 Cups in the psychotherapy space and Pantry in food and I'd love to see more companies form habits to help people save money, live healthier, and work smarter.

On why he doesn’t believe technology addiction is a harmful thing.

Overall I think we're going to be fine. Most of this sort of talk is way overblown. Humans are pretty smart. We're easy to persuade but hard to coerce and there's a big difference between the two.

On how to think about rewarding users.

Variable rewards aren't just points, badges, and likes. Pursuing purpose and higher meaning can be fantastic variable rewards! Organized religions have been using them successfully for millennia.

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