Getting People Hooked on Your App

Happy 2017! We hope this year holds prosperity and success for you. We’ll do our part to advance your success by including content in our blog that is interesting and informative to people like us: people inspired and energized by technology and all its nuances. We’re kicking off the year with a review of a book that we think you should add to your reading list for 2017.

When someone comes to us with a new app idea and says, “I know nothing about app development,” we always encourage them to get a free copy of our book. It provides a broad overview of the business and technical considerations involved in an app development project. We have recently come across another book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, that we think is an excellent companion to it.

Why do some apps succeed while others do not? Author Nir Eyal would suggest it’s because use of the app has become a habit. Habit creation is both an art and a science, and Eyal unpacks the science of it through explaining a design pattern called “the hook.” A hook is an experience designed to connect the user’s problem to the company’s solution with enough frequency to form a habit.

The Hook Model

The Hook Model is a four-phase process, and to be effective, a hook must contain each of these parts:

Trigger: A trigger cues the user to take action, and external triggers like “Buy Now” or “Play” buttons surround us. To build a habit-forming product, though, the external trigger must transition to an internal trigger over time. A habit won’t be formed if the user relies on constant external prompting to repeat the desired behavior. Internal triggers range from places to people to situations. The most frequent internal triggers are emotions, particularly negative emotions like boredom, depression, or uncertainty. Effective apps leverage these negative emotions to trigger an action that the user believes will alleviate it. For example, if we’re bored, we may open Pinterest or YouTube to alleviate the feeling.

Action: After the trigger tells us what to do next, it’s time for the action itself. The action phase of the hook is where the habitual behavior occurs. The action is the “simplest behavior done in anticipation of the reward.” It has to be easy enough that a user can complete the action without thinking – things like swiping, scrolling, clicking, etc.

Variable Reward: The reward happens immediately after the action, and the anticipation of the the reward is key to motivating the action. Eyal names 3 types of the most compelling rewards: tribe rewards (fueled by connecting with others), hunt rewards (fueled by searching for information), and self rewards (intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence, and completion). For example, “hunting” through your feed enables you to find a key piece of interesting news. You’re willing to keep hunting because of the anticipation that one more scroll down could reveal something else equally exciting.

Investment: The investment phase seeks to increase the likelihood of another pass through the hook by storing value. If a user’s ongoing investment of time, information, etc. can lead to user benefit, the user becomes further committed. For example, the more positive sales someone has on eBay, the better their reputation becomes. This leads to increased likelihood of additional sales on the platform – which keeps them coming back AND and deters them from going elsewhere, even if a new option comes out that is better.

Implications of Getting People Hooked

After explaining the model in detail, Eyal addresses the moral implications of creating habit-forming products and the manipulation of users. We found this section especially interesting because he suggests asking questions that are not always considered: Will I personally use the app I want to develop? Will it influence positive or negative behaviors? How does it make me feel? Am I proud of the way it will influence the behavior of others? Considering the moral side of app creation is an important step in designing an app.

We recommend this book and the Hook Model if you are considering a new app idea. The book notes that “the model is intended to be a practical tool (rather than a theoretical one) made for entrepreneurs and innovators who aim to use habits for good.” We believe it can help clients improve the impact of the apps they create – or help them see that their idea might not be successful without change.

We’d always love to help you process an idea, so contact us if you’d like to chat about a concept – or the book!