with Nir Eyal

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How to hook your users

Nir Eyal

Expert Where Behavior, Business & The Brain Meet

Lessons Learned

A hook is an experience designed to connect a user's problem to your solution.

An internal trigger, like a specific emotion, cues action through an association in the user’s mind.

Your habit forming product needs to appreciate with use and get better over time.


Lesson: Hooked with Nir Eyal

Step #2 Hooked: How to hook your users

When it comes to this book, I really wrote the book I was looking for and couldn't find. I've started two companies and in my last venture I was working at the intersection of gaming and advertising. And at the intersection of these two businesses, which to be honest deal a lot in mind control, they deal a lot in influencing people to behave a certain way, I didn't find any manuals. I didn't find anything that talked about the nuts and bolts of using psychology to influence user behavior. I found a lot of academic research out there, but the academic research wasn't brought down in terms of into the nuts and bolts of how do I help my users do these behaviors?

And so while I was working at my last company I saw a lot of people trying a lot of different things and some patterns would work and be copied by other people in the space, particularly in the gaming space, but nobody really knew why these things were working or what the psychological principles behind why these things worked. So that's why I wanted to venture into is to look for these patterns we see repeated time and time again inside habit-forming technologies so that we can use what we know for good. So we can help people live happier, healthier lives by using the psychology of habit design.

So to form a habit, I break down the process into these four basic steps, and this is really about habit-forming products. So when it comes to habit-forming products, we need to look at these four phases that we see endemic to all sorts of habit-forming technologies, and we see this pattern repeated time and time again. These four phases of a trigger, an action, a reward and an investment. And by passing through successive cycles through these hooks, this is how customer preferences are shaped and how routines become part of user's day-to-day lives.

A hook is very simply defined as an experience designed to connect the user's problem to your solution with enough frequency to form a habit. And through these successive passes through the hook, this is how customer preferences are shaped and habits are formed. These hooks have four basic parts: a trigger, an action, a reward and an investment. And to give you a very quick summary it starts with a trigger. There are two types of triggers: external triggers and internal triggers.

External triggers are things in our environment that tell us what to do next, where the information is in the trigger itself. So a “Click here” button or “Buy now,” any kind of call to action on the web that tells us what to do would be an example of an external trigger in the virtual world. In the real world, a police officer telling you which way to go in traffic, or a friend telling you about a great app you should really try out all examples of external triggers. We're very familiar with these; we see these all day long.

What I think designers don't think of enough, and what product people don't consider, is to form a habit we have to understand the internal triggers. Internal triggers are things that cue action just as reliably as those external triggers, but where the information for what to do next is stored through an association in the user's mind. So what users do in response to the situation, a routine, an emotion, certain people, what they do in response to these things where the information is not in the trigger itself, it's in an association, dictates what they'll do next. Dictates their next action.

And it turns out one of the most frequent internal triggers are these emotions. That's why a lot of the products I work with, I work with my customers to figure out how they can delve deeper into what that emotional trigger, what's that pain point that prompts the user to look for the solution to their problem.

After the trigger comes the action phase. The action phase can be summarized as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of reward. Something extremely simple. So flicking through the Twitter feed or the Pinterest feed, something just as easy as that, or hitting the play button on YouTube, something just as simple as just these very small micro interactions that can be summarized by a formula that was developed by BJ Fogg, who is a researcher at Stanford, tells us that for any behavior we need three things. We need significant motivation, ability and a trigger. So there's a lot more to be said about that, but that's sort of the 30,000-foot overview of these simple, simple actions done in anticipation of reward.

Next comes the reward itself. The reward is something the user does to satiate their need. It's something that was triggered by that internal trigger and now we're scratching the user's itch, but that leaves them wanting more. So these rewards are often variable. There's some element of mystery, some bit of the unknown that keeps the user coming back. Some bit of intrigue about what they might find next time they engage with the product.

And then, finally, comes investment phase. So after we've figured out the user's itch, we've given them an external trigger to bring them back to the product for the first few times then they'll be prompted with their internal trigger, then the action, the reward, and now it's time to get the user to invest, to put something into the product before they go. The investment phase is defined as something the user does in anticipation of a future reward. It's not about immediate gratification; it's about a future reward. And investments increase the likelihood of the next pass by loading the next trigger, there's a lot of examples I talk about in the book about companies loading the next trigger, doing something in the investment phase that then brings you back in the future. And they also store value, and this is a big deal.

So unlike things in the physical world, your phones and these chairs and these tables, your computers, all of these things depreciate over time. The more wear and tear the less they're worth. Habit-forming products should do the opposite. Habit forming products should appreciate with use, they should get better the more we use them because this concept of stored value.

So every time I accrue followers on Twitter or I give data to a company like Pinterest or personal finance software like Mint.com, or I put more content into a product like iTunes or I spend time learning a technology like Photoshop, the more I invest in that product, the more likely I am to come back to it in the future.

So that's basically the summary of the hook model—a trigger, action, a reward and an investment.

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