How to Drive User Engagement with the “Hook Model”

Honestly, I thought that “Hooked: How to Design for Engagement” -- a tech entrepreneurship workshop held Tuesday night at the Draftfcb office on East Erie -- was going to be about web design. Fancy new trends and pretty graphics, that sort of thing. I was wrong. It was more about strong business principles and practical behavioral insights useful to anyone who’s building a product, service or app.

At the workshop, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and TechCrunch contributor Nir Eyal talked about the “hook model”: a framework for designing compelling products that “hook” users and drive engagement. Here’s a recap of what went down, with thoughts on how the hook model can work for entrepreneurs, designers and product makers:

Defined by Eyal as “an experience designed to connect a solution to the user’s problem with enough frequency to form a habit,” the hook is something successful products/services/apps have harnessed effectively. Instagram, say, has users hooked on taking and sharing vintage photos; you can say the same about Twitter users on tweeting and checking feeds. They have this itch to do it and to do it repeatedly. In the case of my own product, an online review management tool for businesses called Review Trackers, “hooking” users means getting them to listen to what their customers are saying online, as well as respond to what’s being said.

A hook has four parts: trigger, action, reward and investment. The trigger gets the user to the product -- which is why it’s essential for entrepreneurs and designers to identify it. Instagram’s trigger can be anything from a notification (external trigger) to a user’s fear of losing the moment (internal). For Review Trackers, meanwhile, users can be triggered by feelings (anxiety, fear, anger, gratitude) about how customer reviews are affecting their online reputation.

These then “trigger” users to take action: signing up for an account, logging in, performing a search or what-have-you. These actions are performed in anticipation of a reward, which, in my case, is delivering the review data that users hope to read, monitor and manage. If the reward gives users what they came for -- solves problems -- then they’re likely to make an investment: in Eyal’s terms, a “bit of work” that involves “paying with something of value.” For a lot of products/apps, this investment can be in the form of time, money, effort, social capital, personal data, etc. Once investment is made, it’s critical that one loads up the next trigger -- continuing the cycle of keeping users hooked and engaged.

The hook model is much simpler than you think: the more habit-forming your product/service/app is, the more engaged your users will be. Personally, I emerged from the workshop with a much better idea of how to get businesses in the habit of checking and replying to reviews. “Habit design is a super power,” Eyal emphasized, and it’s true. For entrepreneurs and designers of all kinds, it’s essentially by helping users form positive habits that they can solve real problems and enhance people’s lives.

Chris Campbell is the CEO of Review Trackers, a leading online review management platform for multi-businesses looking to track, analyze, and generate reviews on sites like Yelp, Google+ and TripAdvisor.

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