Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products


Want to know how to build products that hook your users? The secret is to understand how habits are formed. This webinar covers the psychology and data behind building products that people use again and again and again.

What you’ll learn:

  • The common design patterns of habit-forming products.
  • The stages of habit formation and how to optimize for user retention.
  • An in-depth look at the psychology behind what drives user behavior and how to build products to cater to core human needs.
  • Practical steps for leading a habit design process to ensure your product is used regularly.

Transcript

Robert: Thank you, again, for joining us for "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products". My name is Robert Moore; I'm the CEO and co-founder of RJMetrics. This is the latest in our series of webinars around "Best Practices in the Industry of Building Products and Online Products".

We're really thrilled today to have a special guest, Nir Eyal. Nir blogs at Nirandfar.com, and has a very impressive resume. As an entrepreneur, he's founded companies that have been backed by Kleiner Perkins, and acquired. He's an adviser to start-ups, venture capitalists, and incubators. He's also a writer, and the author of the recently published book, with the same title as the webinar today, "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products".

Nir's going to tell you a lot about the lessons from that book in our webinar here today. We're really excited to have him joining us.

Just a few notes, before we get started. We're taking questions on Twitter, throughout the show. If you have any questions for Nir, or myself, just tag those Tweets with hashtag GetThemHooked. We'll be keeping an eye on them and answering your questions at the end of the webinar.

We are recording the presentation today, so if you signed up and are in the room now, you'll be receiving a follow-up email with links to the presentation, itself, within a few days. Of course, we will follow-up with any links or other details that were brought up today, via email, after the webinar takes place.

A very quick note about RJMetrics and who we are, in bringing this webinar to you today. RJMetrics is a company that helps online businesses make smarter decisions, using their data. Our customers are pretty much anyone who sells anything online, anything from eCommerce, to Software-as-a-Service, to online gaming and virtual goods, to social media companies.

We provide hosted business intelligence that becomes a single version of the truth, for everything from your revenue numbers, to engagement metrics, to a lot of the behavioral tracking that Nir will be talking about today, as kind of the secret sauce to getting people hooked.

We have a 14-day free trial available at RJMetrics.com, and we hope that many of you will check it out after the show. With that, I'm very, very pleased to turn the microphone and the slides over the Nir Eyal, who's going to talk to us about "Hooked".

Nir: Fantastic. Welcome, everyone. It's really great to see such a big crowd joining us today on the webinar and I'm thrilled to be here. Let's dive right in to the presentation, here. Okay, great.

One thing that we've come to learn over the past few years, is that technologies that we use are fundamentally changing our day-to-day lives. What we've seen are these births of companies that follow a similar pattern. They all seem to start out as toys. They all seem to start out as nice-to-haves. And yet, within the span of a few years' time, they're touching hundreds of millions of users, and making hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars.

When I give that description, and I ask you, "What companies am I talking about? What companies am I referencing? What are the companies that you think of when you think of habit-forming technologies?"

I'm guessing some of these names come to mind, the usual suspects. Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. These companies that came out of nowhere, if you think about how short of a time span it took for these companies to really change the day-to-day habits of millions, if not billions of people.

What I've done over the past few years, now, is to look for patterns. To try and look for, "What is it about these companies that can so profoundly change users' day-to-day lives, that we can learn from? And that we can perhaps emulate in our own companies."

I teach this course at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, as well as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. So I have to give you a little bit of a warning that this is going to be a very, very quick introduction to the methodology that I've used over the past few years.

What I studied is these companies that can profoundly change users' day-to-day lives, leverage habits. Just to get our definitions straight, habits are, very simply, "behaviors done with little or no conscious thought".

It turns out that studies show that about 50 percent of our day-to-day actions are conducted purely out of habit. Things that we're not really thinking about, we're just doing without really thinking.

It turns out that the companies that can leverage changing user behavior are oftentimes leveraging habit, so that's going to be the crux of our presentation today.

As I mentioned, I teach a course at Stanford, as well as, I recently published this book called, "Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products", so this webinar is a very, very brief introduction. usually this class is a multi-week class. Sometimes I do multi-day workshops, intensives.

This is meant to be a very high-level overview. If you're still curious after the presentation, I invite you to check out the book, or to check out my blog, for a lot more information.

Let's get started with, first and foremost, the business case. We know that habits can be good for users. We can have in our lives good habits, and bad habits. And we're on the precipice of an age where, I think, technology can help users improve their lives, live healthier, happier, richer lives, by creating habits.

But why are habits really good for our bottom line? What do habits do for our businesses? Well, there are a few things. Number one, habits increase customer-lifetime value. When a customer comes to use our product for longer periods of time, they're worth more to the company.

Next, is that we have greater pricing flexibility. When users come to form a routine about the use of a product, when they come to depend on a product, we have more flexibility in how we charge for our product or service.

Next is that it super-charges growth. This is something that I think not enough people consider. You know, everybody wants their product to be viral; they want their product to spread widely. But they don't really consider that actually, what is more important than virality, just the strict definition of a case, or over one, what's more important than strict virality is how quickly people tell each other about the product.

So, yes, your product might be viral, and one person tells another person about the product. But if you had any kind of churn in your service, you're going to leak users, right. People are going to stop using that product.

If that transmission of the product happens, let's say once a year, or once a month, then you may not keep pace with the users you are losing. So habits, and products that have high engagement can super-charge growth. And you can get this emblematic, hockey-stick growth chart when you have a product that's used continually, that's used as part of a routine or a habit.

Next is that habits increase defensibility. If you think about the products in your life that you use with little or no conscious thought, it's a lot of work for a competitor to come in and sweep you away from that product.

A great example of this might be Bing and Google. If I took a poll right now, and said, "How many of you have search on Google in the past 24 hours?" I'm guessing most of your hands would go up. But if I asked you, "How many of you have searched with Bing?" I'm guessing very, very few of your hands would go up.

Why is that? Is one product so much worse or so much better than the other? It turns out that studies have actually been done on this. And that if you strip away the branding of Google versus Bing, the products are nearly identical. People prefer them equally.

Yet, by and large, Google owns the vast majority of market share when it comes to our day-to-day use of a search engine, because we've been habituated to it. The interface looks just so, and we've come to expect it to work just that way. We've become habituated to using Google, and so it's very hard for a competitor to come in, even if they have an equal or better product. So habits increase defensibility.

However, you know, for all the good that habits can provide our business, for all the good that habits can provide our customers, building habits is very, very hard work. Not only is it hard work, it's exceptionally rare. You could probably count on one hand, maybe two, the number of companies that have become part of your day-to-day routines.

Just as a word of warning, here, habits are not for every business. In fact, I believe that if your business can get by without changing user behavior, without creating habits, that's great. You should probably pursue that path. Because not every business model requires habits.

If your business can pull in users, can pull in customers to your product through a storefront, a physical storefront, through marketing, through search-engine optimization, great. That's a fantastic route to bringing users back.

However, if you look at the companies that we described earlier: Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, these companies rely on what I call "unprompted user engagement". The definition of habits, "users using the product with little or no conscious thought".

If Twitter suddenly relied on ads to get users to come back every time they wanted to use the product, the company would go out of business. Their business model relies on habits.

So if you're one of those companies, if you're the kind of company that relies on habits, what I'm going to share with you today is a design pattern intended to help you form better product hypotheses.

Now what do I mean by that? The whole goal of what I'm going to share with you today is to help you come up with what you should build next. That's the entire idea, because what we know is that building is extremely expensive.

Think about the three phases of the lean startup methodology, the lean startup cycle, as proposed by Eric Ries, and customer development through Steven Blank, is this build-measure-learn cycle of continual development. If you think about what is the most expensive step, what is the most expensive phase, it is the building phase.

The measuring and the learning, if you set those processes up properly, that's fun, and that's relatively cheap. However, the building is where the blood, sweat, and tears and, of course, all the money, go.

So what I propose is by looking a little bit deeper, by not only building the products that, let's say, the highest paid person in the room says we should build. Or just what the customer tells us we should build, and the features that the customer tells us that they want, let's look a little bit deeper. Let's look at the things that can predict user behavior just as reliably as what users can tell us, but that they perhaps can't articulate.

I'm going to let Robert talk for a minute, about the importance of measuring and its ability to increase the odds of success.

Robert: Sure, I certainly couldn't agree more, Nir. It's definitely important to remember that "build-measure-learn" is a cycle. The first time you build, that's your starting point. But the second time you build, you're relying on what you've learned from the previous cycle. And what you've learned from the previous cycle is directly informed by what you've measured.

Therefore, really the key to shortening the build cycle, which, indeed, is the most expensive piece, is to measure better. I think the quantification part of the product-development cycle is extremely critical and I think where we see companies really thriving is when they're learning as much as possible through the most accurate and intelligent measurements possible. That's allowing them to do really, really rapid product development iterations, and basically move at a pace that is faster than their competition.

Nir: Perfect, well said, That's really, in a nutshell, how the information I'm going to share with you around how to build habit-forming products, fits in hand-to-glove, with the lean startup methodology. It informs what features you're going to build next.

If your product needs to be more habit-forming, this methodology, this design pattern that I am going to share with you is going to help you build better product hypotheses.

You're still going to have to build them. You're still going to have to test them; you're still going to have to measure them. But hopefully, you'll spend less time building the wrong things by looking at insights from consumer psychology.

So let's share this model. This model is called "the hook model". And the hook is, very simply, "a design experience that connects your user's problem to your solution with enough frequency to form a habit". That's it. It's an experience designed to connect your user's problem to your solution, with enough frequency to form a habit.

These hooks that we find again and again in habit forming products, have these four parts, these four phases: a trigger, an action, a reward, and the investment. And by running users through these four steps, a habit is formed. We're going to talk, for the next few minutes, about how that happens.

One thing I'd love to leave you with, as you walk away from the webinar and think about this, and apply it in your own organization, and hopefully share it with folks, is this easy acronym that a hook has four parts, a trigger, an action, a reward, and investment.

If you're a member of my generation, maybe you've played an Atari, yourself. When I teach this class at Stanford, the kids have no idea what I'm talking about, but if you're a child of the '80s, you probably had an Atari yourself. So remember these four steps of hook with this acronym.

Let's dive into the first step of the hook model, the trigger phase. One thing that's important to recognize when it come to changing user behavior and creating habits, is that we can't just will them to be. We can't just pull habits out of thin air. That in fact, habits are built upon, one layer on top of a layer.

If you think about the metaphor I like to use here is a pearl. The way a pearl is formed is when there is a grain of sand or an irritant inside the oyster, and the oyster deposits layer upon layer of this substance called "mother-of-pearl", until you have a pearl.

So if you were to cut a cross-section of the pearl, you would actually see that it has rings. This is a great metaphor for how we learn new behaviors and new habits. We need a foundation; we need some kind of base to build upon in order for new habits to be formed in our day-to-day lives.

These foundations are triggers. These triggers, these things that cue action, with which we form associations, come in two forms, external and internal triggers.

The first type of trigger, external triggers, you will be very familiar with. You see these all over your day-to-day life. These are calls to action. These are things that tell us what to do. Where the information for what to do next is contained within the trigger, itself,

A "buy now" button, "click here", a police officer directing you in traffic, telling you where to go, a friend telling you about an app you should download. All of these things are external triggers, because the information is in the trigger itself.

Product designers know all about external triggers. We're all very familiar with these. However, what I think product makers don't think about enough are internal triggers, which, it turns out, just as reliably cues our actions.

Internal trigger, unlike external triggers, are things that prompt the next action, but where the information for what to do next is informed through an association in the user's mind. So what we do when we're in certain places, or around certain people, or partaking in certain routines or situations.

Or most importantly and most frequently, at the top there, emotions. So what we do in response to these internal triggers dictates, in large part, the actions that we take with little or no conscious thought. These things cue our habits.

Let's dive into the one that I think is the most frequent trigger of actions, which is internal triggers around emotions. In particular, negative emotions. It turns out that what we do when we feel lonesome, or tense, or confused, or bored, or lost, or fearful, what we do in response to these emotions provides a frequent cue to the next action that we're going to take.

Why? Because we seek relief from these negative emotions. In fact, there is science to support that people with depression check email more. Why would that be? Why would people with depression check email more?

I was giving this workshop a few weeks ago, and someone blurted out, "Well, that's obvious, because email make us all depressed." Well, in fact, that's not the conclusion, even though that might be a by-product. I know I oftentimes feel that way, as well.

But it turns out that the study revealed that people with clinical depression feel what psychologists call "negative valence states". They feel down more frequently than the general population. So, to relieve that negative emotion, they use the Internet. And it turns out, they use the Internet differently than the rest of the population. They use it more frequently.

Now think about it in our own lives. What do people use when they feel the negative feeling of loneliness? Well, many people use Facebook. What do we use when we feel unsure? When we feel that uncertainty? Before we actually think for a minute and ask ourselves whether we know the answer, it's much easier to just Google it, of course.

What about when we're bored? You know, 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon, when you've got that big project you're supposed to be working on, but you really don't feel like it. A great solution to that negative feeling of boredom might be YouTube, or reading the news, checking ESPN, or Pinterest. There are lots of solutions out there for this negative feeling of boredom.

That's a bit of interesting pop psychology. Perhaps you'll think of the products that you use, a little bit differently. But what does this mean for us as designers? How do we improve our products, based on this knowledge around what cues habits?

The key here, is to know your users' internal triggers. We have to understand what it is that prompts our users to act, if we have any hope of building a solution for their itch, for their need.

Let's take as a quick case study, here, let's take a look at Instagram. Think for a minute, what made Instagram so habit-forming? Instagram's external triggers were plentiful. How did most people find out about Instagram? The channel that Instagram used was mostly Facebook, and Twitter, and word-of-mouth.

Where you saw, when you went on to Facebook or Twitter, you saw this call to action to "come see my photo on Instagram". Then, when you checked out the photo, maybe you installed the app.

Now, when you've installed the app on your phone, you've got other external triggers. you've got the app icon, which is an eternal trigger. You've got notifications, telling you to open it up and see what happened to your friends, what your friends might have posted. That's an external trigger.

Let's talk about the internal triggers for a second. What is it about Instagram that helps them own a particular moment in people's lives? Well, for many people, it's this fear of losing this period in their lives, this special moment that they want to capture. A special event in their life, or perhaps a special meal that they're eating, some kind of momentous occasion that they want to capture in their lives.

By the way, this is not a new internal trigger. This need to "capture the moment" is something that, for many of you, you might remember that Kodak did. Thirty years ago, Kodak had commercials and advertisements everywhere, teaching people what the "Kodak moment" was.

Of course, the difference was that Kodak spent billions of dollars and almost 100 years teaching people what the "Kodak moment" was, whereas Instagram had users teach other users what the "Instagram moment" was.

Of course, Instagram is much more than just a way to capture a moment, it's more than just alleviating that internal trigger, that pain point around capturing this moment in time. The more we use the product, the more we go through these four steps of the hook model.

We now associate other internal triggers with the use of Instagram. We use it when we're bored. We use it when we feel FOMO. For those of you who don't know "FOMO", Fear Of Missing Out. It's actually in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year, for the first time.

When we feel these negative states, these negative emotions, the solution to that problem, to these negative valence states, is the product. That's a very, very quick introduction to triggers.

After the user has been cued to action, let's talk about the action, itself. What do they do next? The action phase can be summarized as "the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward". The simplest thing the user has to do to scratch their itch, to get to their reward.

Let me show you how simple I mean by "simple". Let me give you some examples. Something as simple as a scroll on Pinterest, or a search on Google, just that simple act of searching. Or pushing the "play" button on YouTube, just that one, singular behavior of pushing "play" on YouTube. All are examples of the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward.

It turns out that there's actually a pretty pragmatic formula for what drives singular human behaviors; not habits as a whole, but singular actions.

BJ Fogg is a researcher at Stanford University; he runs the Technology lab there. Fogg posits that there are three elements to any, singular behavior. "B" represents behavior; "M" is motivation; "A" is ability, how easy or difficult something is to do, and "T" is triggers, which we just talked about.

Let's work through these three things, because Fogg posits that for any singular behavior to occur, we have to have these three elements of motivation, ability, and trigger occurring, at the same.

Let's dive into motivation first. Motivation, according to Edward Deci the father of Self-Determination Theory, is very simply, "the energy for action", how much we want to do something. One industry that is focused on driving motivation, increasing the energy fraction is, of course, advertising.

What I'm going to do is show you some ads that demonstrate these six levers that we can use to increase motivation. These six levers, according to Fogg, are "seeking pleasure and avoiding pain"; that we "seek hope and avoid fear"; we "seek social acceptance and we avoid social rejection".

This is a quick disclaimer. Psychologists have been arguing about the nature of motivation forever. But this, I think, is a model that is a simple enough to be useful, in a startup context, or in a product development context.

See if you can spot the motivator, one of these six motivators that's being used to drive behavior, in the following ads. The first one is a freebie; this one's easy. Do you remember this poster for Barack Obama's first presidential campaign? Of course, the motivator here, is seeking hope. It's written across the bottom of the poster.

But even if you didn't see the word, you could probably guess, based on what the President is looking towards. What is the President looking towards here? He's looking towards hope for the future.

Here's another ad. What's being sold here is hamburgers. But what is the motivator? Well, in this case, the motivator is seeking pleasure, because the target demographic here, who are these ads targeted towards? They're targeted towards teenage boys. Teenage boys are the target demographic, and for teenage boys, sex is a very salient motivator associated with please.

Now for other demographics, this doesn't work at all, right? This backfires. So it's a great demonstration of how we have to align the right motivator with the right user, with the persona we're targeting.

Let's do another one. Here's an ad for wearing motorcycle helmets. It has this guy with a large scar, and he says, "I won't wear a helmet; it makes me look stupid." And it has his mental age of two years old. Of course, the motivator here is fear.

Finally, the motivator for this ad. The advertisement is for beer. What's the motivator? What's the lever that's being pulled to increase our energy for action, to increase our motivation? Well, in this case, it's about social acceptance, right? "I'm having a beer with my buds."

So advertisers have to use these levers of motivation, because they don't have much ability to move this other access, called "ability", to move the user's capacity to do a particular action. But it turns out that, as product designers in technology, and the kind of clients I work with and for whom I write, technologists, actually have a great ability to move this factor, to make behaviors more likely to occur by making them easier to do.

Here again, there are six factors of ability, six ways that we can make an action more likely to occur, according to Fogg, make a behavior more likely to occur based on these six levers.

We can make a behavior more likely to occur if it takes less time, if it takes less money, if it becomes easier because it requires less physical effort, if it requires fewer brain cycles.

Now brain cycles are a big one. It turns out, we call this "cognitive load", that if something is difficult to understand, the more difficult it is to understand, the less likely the user is to do that behavior. This is why simplicity is so important, making the behavior as easy as possible to understand will increase the likelihood of that behavior occurring.

Social deviance, that people will do things, they're more likely to do things if they see others like them doing them, as well.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is non-routine. That is, we become familiar with a behavior when a behavior becomes part of our day-to-day lives, it literally becomes easier to do. We become more likely to do a behavior simply because we've done it in the past.

What do we call that? "Practice". And this is why habits are so powerful and so important. Because the more we can get a user to do a particular behavior, it literally becomes easier for them to do, over time.

So Fogg puts together these three elements of motivation, ability, and triggers, into this graph, that I think is simple enough to be useful in a startup context.

You can ask yourself, "For any given behavior, for any singular thing I want the user to do, that they may or may not be doing, do they fall above this threshold where a trigger would succeed? Or, do they lack motivation? Or do they lack ability? Is the behavior too difficult? And now they fall below the threshold."

For any given behavior, we need sufficient motivation, the behavior has to be easy enough to do, and, of course, the trigger must be present. The user has to see the trigger and be cognizant of the trigger.

Let's take a quick look at how Twitter has evolved over the years, and see how motivation, ability, and triggers, have affected the product evolution. Take a look at Twitter 2009; get a good look, here. Here's Twitter in 2010, and here's Twitter as of very recently. Actually, this is, I think, their current page, here, as of 2014, as well.

What's changed? What you may notice is that there are a lot fewer calls to action. There are way fewer triggers on that page. Look back here, again, at 2009. Where "what" is a button; "why" is a button; "how" is a button; "Watch a video" is a button. "Click here". "Click there". "Get started". "Join".

There are so many triggers pulling the user's attention. Whereas they discovered that when they just got users to take the intended action, as opposed to explaining to people about the product, and trying to convince them they should use the product. Instead, by getting them to take the intended behavior of signing in, or signing up, they increased the likelihood of their forming these habits.

So this is a great example of how they made the product simpler in order to encourage the behavior. Now some of you may be thinking, "Well, isn't Twitter now in a different place, right?" In 2009, nobody knew what Twitter was about. Of course, you had to explain to them what Twitter was about.

I disagree. In the research that I did about how Twitter evolved, it turns out that when Twitter made this critical change, to make the product as easy as possible to get into and just start using, that's when they started seeing the hockey stick. That's when they started seeing this growth that propelled them to today, mainstream adoption.

The next phase of the hook model, after the user has been triggered, after the action, the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward, it's time to scratch the user's itch in the reward phase.

To understand rewards, we have to start in the brain. In particular, an area of the brain called the "nucleus accumbens", which was first studied in the 1940s, by two researchers by the name of Olds and Milner.

Olds and Milner did some very interesting experiments where they actually implanted electrodes into the brains of lab animals. And actually, in later experiments, other researchers did the same things with people, and they found when they allowed these test subjects to stimulate this very special part of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, when they allowed them to self-stimulate that part of the brain, they wanted nothing else.

The test subjects would click, and click, and click, hundreds and hundreds of times, to continue to stimulate this part of the brain. It turns out that you dont need electrodes to stimulate the nucleus accumbens. Certain things that we desire: a good sale, certain chemicals, junk food, sex, and of course, in the middle there, technology. All these things activate this very same brain region.

But it turns out that what Olds and Milner thought they had discovered, which was the "brain's pleasure center", right? Why else would lab animals and later, people, consistently keep clicking incessantly on the button, if it wasn't because it felt good?

It turned out that that actually wasn't the reason that we enjoy the sensation around the nucleus accumbens. It's not about pleasure; it's about, what I call "the stress of desire". The role of the nucleus accumbens is not necessarily to make us feel good; it's to make us crave. It's to make us want.

And here is some of the science that demonstrates this. In this study, done at Stanford back in 2001, subjects were placed in an FMRI machine, where scientists could observe blood flow in their brains. They found that a spike in activity in the nucleus accumbens occurred, in anticipation of a reward.

In this case, they put people in the FMRI, and they asked them to play a gambling game. They were literally wagering inside the MRI machine. It turns out that that area of the brain, the nucleus accumbens, became most active right before the reward was achieved.

Then when the thing arrived that was supposed to make them happy, the thing that was supposed to be pleasurable, that's when that area of the brain quelled. So it turns out that the nucleus accumbens is about anticipation. It's about wanting; it's about this craving reflex. It's about this itch of desire.

It also turns out that there's a way to super-charge the stress of desire. Is anybody curious out there, how? Anybody want to know how to do that? Exactly. That's my point.

The unknown is fascinating. So when I asked you a question, just now, and I changed my cadence a bit. And I did something a little different, maybe some of you perked up. "What's going to happen?" There was a bit of mystery about what's going to go on here.

We know that variability causes us to increase focus, increase engagement, and it's also highly habit-forming. Some of the research that has proven this, of course, comes from a person you may remember from your Psych 101 class, the work of B.F. Skinner.

B.F. Skinner put lab animals, in his case he used pigeons, inside a box with a tiny lever. Every time the pigeon would click on this lever, they would receive a food pellet. When this reward was predictable, the pigeons would eat whenever they were hungry.

But when Skinner introduced variability, when he gave the pigeon an intermittent reward, so that the pigeon would click once, and nothing would come out. The next time, something would come out. When there was a bit of variability, it actually increased the behavior; the action became more likely to occur, because of this variability.

Why? Because variability spikes the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which runs through the nucleus accumbens, increases our focus, increases our attention, and is highly habit-forming.

It turns out that in many of the products that we use, day-to-day, I hope that after this presentation, you'll start looking at the world a little bit differently. You'll ask yourself, "What is it?" What are the variable rewards behind many of the products that wrap your attention, that cause you to be engaged?

What you'll find that they fall into one or more of these three variable reward types. In the world around us, many things that capture out attention use one or more of these variable reward types. Rewards of the tribe, hunt, and self.

Let's start out with the search for social rewards, what I call rewards "of the tribe". The search for social rewards are all about things that feel good, that have an element of variability, right. There's an element of mystery. That come from other people. Empathetic joy, feeling good because other people feel good, partnerships, cooperation, competition, sex, these things have an element of mystery, and, of course, a social element to them.

A great example of a habit-forming technology that uses rewards of the tribe is, of course, social networking. On social media, when Mark Zuckerberg gets married on Facebook, 1,300,000 people "liked" it.

Think about all the variability that's involved with Facebook. When are people going to post? What are people going to say? How many people might "like" it? It's a constant stream of variability.

Another example, for those of you who are familiar with Stack Overflow, another great example of rewards of the tribe. Stack Overflow, for those of you who aren't familiar, is the world's largest technical question and answer site; 5,000 questions get answered every single day, for free. Nobody gets paid to answer these questions.

And these questions are not easily answerable questions. These are highly technical, sophisticated answers that take quite a bit of time to answer properly. Why do people do it? It's essentially technical documentation that people are doing for free. Why?

It turns out that when you post an answer onto Stack Overflow, your answer is up-voted or down-voted. Those up-votes and down-votes turn into points, and points turn into badges. But these aren't just decorative badges. These badges mean something. They confer status to how important you are to member of your community, of your tribe.

Next is a search for resources, what I call rewards "of the hunt". The search for resources stems from our primal search for food. And, of course, in modern society, that translates into money. When people think of "variable rewards", many times, people think of slot machines, where the reward is, of course, currency. It's money, and the variability of whether you'll win.

Shopping, of course, has an element of variability, as well.

When you think about one element of rewards of the hunt, is this element of "information rewards". This is very relevant to us in technology when you think about, perhaps, the "feed". Why is it that the feed is so prevalent in technologies today? Why is it that the feed is just everywhere?

Instagram didn't used to have it,; now it does. What is it about the feed. Let's think about it for a minute. If you were to open your Twitter feed, and you start scrolling, you might see one things that's not interesting, another thing that's not interesting.

But, the third thing might be extremely interesting. So what do you do to find more? To get more rewards? Just keep scrolling. So that scrolling and scrolling, and never-done scrolling, is very similar to this slot machine of variable rewards, of information.

Finally is the search for self-achievement, what I call rewards "of the self". Rewards of the self are things that feel good, in and of themselves. They don't come from other people; they're not about material, or information rewards.

If you've read the work of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's self-determination theory, it's about intrinsically motivating things. Things that feel good on their own. It's about the search for mastery, competency, completion.

A great example of this would be in game play. In video games, for example, if you're playing them no your own, getting to the next level, the next achievement, the next accomplishment, is all about the search for mastery, competency, control.

If you say to yourself, "I'm really not much of a game player. I've never really understood why people play video games so compulsively," I bet you that you play this game, every day.

Your email. Now your compulsion to check, and constantly check those unread messages, or perhaps your to do list, to check items off your list. This is a great example of rewards of the self, that need for consistency, completion, control, is exemplified by this checking mechanism, this checking instinct we have around our technologies.

Now some words of warning. Before you go off and sprinkle variable rewards all over your products and think, "Okay, that's going to increase engagement," I want to tell you that you need to be careful.

Variable rewards are not a free pass. If we don't align the reward with the internal trigger, with the reason the user is coming to use the product in the first place, we'll fail.

This is kind of what we're seeing a little bit today with gamification. The use of points, and badges, and leaderboards was kind of tried. Now we have a bunch of people saying, "Hey, it doesn't work." I don't agree that it doesn't work. And I'm not anti-gamification, nor am I pro-gamification.

I'm for "gameful design". That the design of the product, and this is a term that Sebastian Deterding, around gameful design, that we have to align the reward with the reason the user is using the product.

So just slapping on badges and points, and leaderboards, may not be meaningful to your user. In short, we have to scratch the user's itch, and the first way to scratch the user's itch is, of course, with understanding their internal triggers that we discussed earlier.

In summary, the variable reward phase is all about scratching the user's itch, but leaving them wanting more. So that when they come to the app next time, there's something new. There is some pull around what they might find the next time they use the product.

Finally, the investment phase. After the user has been triggered, they take the simplest action before a reward. they get the reward itself. Now it's time for the investment phase. And this is the area that I think most startups, most product development teams miss.

They think, "If we can just do the thing that the product needs to do as quickly as possible, that will be good enough." And that might be. But I think if you're not asking your user for a bit of investment, after the reward, so it must be in this order, of trigger, action, reward, investment, you're missing a huge opportunity.

The investment phase is all about the bit of work the user does for future benefits. Not for immediate gratification, but for a future benefit. So something that makes the user more likely to use the product next time, by investing a little bit of work. So a little bit of money, social capital, time, effort, data, emotional commitment.

Something they put into the product, that increases their likelihood of the next pass. Investments increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hook in two ways. Now let me walk you through those two ways.

Number one, investments load the next trigger. Remember, investments aren't about immediate gratification; they're about the anticipation of the future reward.

Let's take a messaging app, like WhatsApp, or text-messaging, or email. The investment that you make is sending a message out. You don't get any kind of immediate gratification; you don't get points; you don't get badges.

Yet we send those messages out, and every time we send a message, we're making it more likely that we'll return to the product, because we've loaded the next trigger. Why? Because it makes it more likely that someone will write us back, and now we have this beautiful, little, jeweled reminder here, that someone has sent us a message back.

The trigger has been loaded for the next cycle, through the hook.

The next way that habit-forming products increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hook through investments, is by storing value. This is a big reason why I love technology. Because, unlike physical goods, things made out of atoms as opposed to bits, things in the physical world depreciate, right. Our phones, our computers, our furniture, these things get less and less valuable, over time, with use. They depreciate.

However, habit-forming technology should appreciate; it should gain value over time. So that the more the user uses the product, the better it gets for them.

Let me show you a few examples of how products can store value. By storing value through content, the more music I put into iTunes, the more valuable it becomes as my one and only music library.

Data is another example of stored value. The more information I put into a personal finance software, like Mint.com, the better that experience becomes for me.

Another example might be on Pinterest. The more pinning I do on Pinterest, the more my experience is customized just for me. It gets better and better with the more data I give the product.

Followers the more followers I have, the more likely I am to return to using that product, as opposed to a different product. So if Twitter sent out an email tomorrow, and said, "Guess what, Twitter is shutting down unless you pay us some money." Who's more likely to sent them a check? The person with a lot of followers, or a few followers. Followers is a form of stored value.

Finally, another investment is reputation. The more users accrue a reputation score on a platform, the less likely they are to leave. So on TaskRabbit, or eBay, or Airbnb, the higher my reputation, I can literally take that value to the bank. I can get paid more for my goods and services, based on my reputation, and I become less and less likely to leave for a competing service.

That's it, in a very. very brief overview, a 30,000-foot overview of the hook model. Hook has four parts; a trigger, an action, a reward, and an investment. A hook is essentially an experience designed to connect your user's problem to your solution. And through successive passes through the hook, by running users through these four steps, continually and frequently, we shape user preferences and attitudes.

Just as a quick reminds, remember "ATARI", A Trigger, Action, reward, Investment. And if this was a lot of information, if this felt like a fire hose, it was. I was trying to get in as much as I possibly could to help you, but, of course, for more information, there is a book and a blog.

If there is one thing I'd love to leave you with, it's this canvas, that you can take and start applying to your company, immediately, to make your product potentially more habit-forming, or to assess the habit-forming potential of a product that perhaps is still on the drawing board.

You can ask yourself, "What is the internal trigger that your product is addressing? What is the user's itch?"

"What external trigger gets the user to the product?"

Number three, "What's the simplest behavior in anticipation of reward? And how can you make it simpler?"

Number four, "Is the reward fulfilling, and yet leaves the user wanting more?"

Then finally, "What is the bit of work done to increase the likelihood of the next pass through the hook?"

That's it in a nutshell, but I think I have an obligation to speak for a few words around the morality of manipulation. A reader of my blog once sent me an email that said, "You know you have a super power when it can be used for good or evil."

I think that's what we're seeing today, when it comes to technology. That we, as designers, have a special, moral obligation to use habit-design, to use our power to build better products, for good. Because, designing habit-forming products can be a form of manipulation.

So we have to take that responsibility very seriously. Because the technologies that we build, the technologies that are habit-forming, are the ones that users take to bed with them. They're the technologies that they wake up to, first thing in the morning, before saying, "Good morning", or giving a kiss to their loved ones.

As Ian Bogost said, "Technologies are becoming the cigarettes of this century." So we as designers, have a very special obligation to take what was once used, frankly, for nefarious, or just time-wasting purposes, and use the psychology behind product-design, behind habit-formation, for good.

Because if there's one thing we have no shortage of, it's problems to fix. I would encourage you to help others find meaning, to work on something important to you and that improves people's lives. And to borrow from the words of Gandhi, I encourage you to "Build the change that you wish to see in the world".

Thank you,very much, and before you go, I would love your feedback, if you would be as kind, to go to this website: opinion2.us. Again, there, it's opinion2.us, not dot com. I have a very short survey for you.

I'd love to hear what you think; I read every single person's response. What you liked; what you didn't like, if you have any additional feedback. Then, as soon as you do that, you can have all these slides. And there's actually some extra content on my SlideShare page, which I'm happy to share with you, and you can use as you wish.

Of course, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, or through my blog, Nirandfar.com. Thank you, again.