ForumCon 2013: Nir Eyal on How to Hook Your Community

At this year's enlightening ForumCon, there were some fantastic, educational, and fun sessions. Allison covered Ted Rheingold's energetic talk on making social work for your community. The presentation that really stuck with me was Nir Eyal's "Hooked Model." A writer, lecturer at Stanford University and frequent speaker, Nir's specialty is educating companies and consumers on habits and behaviors that help and hinder their lives, both online and off. In talking about what traits apps need to "hook" users, much of his information was directly relevant to building communities that keep members coming back . 

To "hook" users, Nir identified a model of four behaviors: Trigger, Action, Reward, and Investment. 


This is the reason that a potential member looks for your site or a current member comes back. Internal Triggers (within the individual) will commonly draw new members to your community: seeking information for a new purchase, frustration over a product change, or excitement over a new development. Current members will be drawn in more by external triggers initiated by others: Email newsletters, message notifications, blog or social media updates. External triggers are often within your control, but internal triggers are usually emotions within the user and harder to grab onto. Think about what emotional needs your community fulfills for your users. Is it relieving boredom, encouraging camaraderie, providing support from the community or something else?


Action is the behavior you want your users to take when faced with a trigger. Eyal cites BJ Fogg's Behavior Model in his presentation: Behavior (Action) equals motivation combined with ability and a trigger. Making your intended action easier for your user greatly increases the chance that they will act on the trigger you provide them with. When sending out notification messages, make sure to include direct links to the content referenced so they will be taken right to what they've been triggered by. 


Potential rewards are the reason we click on links in email, log in to communities, and post discussion topics. Variable rewards are sometimes even more compelling. Think of updating your Facebook newsfeed as a variable reward: you don't know if there will be new posts to read, or from whom, or what they will say. You are acting (updating) for the potential of an unknown reward (new content). You still have to give the user what they came for, though, otherwise they will become disenchanted with your rewards and stop acting. 


The last stage is investment, something that online communities generally excel at. People attribute more value to something to which they have contributed. A user who has added something to a discussion is more likely to come back to it, to see if others have recognized their input. This investment sets the entire cycle up to repeat, by storing value and giving the user more variable rewards to anticipate. 


Want to learn more? You can view Nir Eyal's presentation below or visit his website to see if he'll be speaking near you soon. 


(Image: Baby, you've got me hooked(explored :D), a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from g-ratphotos's photostream)

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