How often do you type ‘F + Enter’ into your browser without even thinking? Or automatically check your Instagram the moment you get stuck in a line? These habits don’t just develop by accident/chance/happenstance. The effects these products have on us are well-thought out and intentionally designed.

In his 2014 book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, author and entrepreneur Nir Eyal takes the reader through the steps of the hook model and the user psychology of creating habit-forming products that ‘stick’ with consumers.

While his approach is primarily focused on a consumer experience, the same theory can and needs to be applied to the employee experience. Understanding what makes external networks ‘stick’ is a necessity, as your internal channels and tools are now directly competing with a host of apps for your audience's attention and time. In this series we will apply the hook model to internal communication challenges and demonstrate how you can borrow the same techniques as these billion dollar services to engage your employees.

The ability to create habit-forming products and communications, can be controversial. Eyal cautions that creating habits in people is indeed a superpower and should be used for good. The objective for internal communications professionals is to apply the formula to create and improve employee engagement. We’d say that’s a worthy cause.

Understanding what makes external networks ‘stick’ is a necessity, as your internal channels and tools are now directly competing with a host of apps for your audience’s attention and time.

To illustrate how the hook model works, and before applying it to internal comms, let’s look at some familiar examples of how product designers have applied the model to increase engagement on our favorite social networks: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. These apps demonstrate the power of the hook model and how habit-forming products become part of the user’s everyday life.

The Steps of the Hook Model

The hook model is comprised of four stages: Trigger, Action, Reward and Investment. Let’s apply each stage to Facebook for a better understanding of how the model works:


the hooked cycle for internal communications

    • Trigger: The trigger can be either an internal or external trigger. External triggers prompt the user to take an action and provide information of what to do next. They include the notifications you get from Facebook -- you’ve just been invited to an event or a friend liked your new profile photo. Internal triggers, on the other hand, come from feelings we have. The information of what to do next is communicated through an association the user stores in their memory. A good example is the feeling of boredom we experience, followed by a desire to check Facebook. The site becomes associated with that emotion. 
    • Action: This step is the simplest action a user takes in anticipation of reward. Think of logging into Facebook to see your recent notification, typing F + Enter, or the act of scrolling to the bottom of the Facebook newsfeed to load more posts from friends and family. It’s crucial that these actions require minimum effort or it will take a lot more motivation for the user to complete it to reach their reward.
    • Reward: The reward stage is where the user reaches their true objective. Rewards create a “stress of desire”. Our brain lights up with anticipation of reward, almost like an itch we seek to scratch and settles down when we’ve received the reward. Rewards and variability create an opportunity for fine tuning in order to stimulate the stress of desire. Eyal explains that there are three types of rewards: the tribe, the hunt, and the self. Facebook plays to the reward of the tribe, otherwise known as social affirmation (think of that latest ‘like’ you got on a new profile picture). But don’t worry too much about these just yet -- we’ll go over the types of rewards in greater detail later in this series.

    • Investment: Investment is the crucial final stage that closes the loop. The goal is to increase the likelihood that the user passes through the hook again. The way to do this is to get the user to store value. Adding friends on Facebook, uploading a profile picture and commenting are good examples of this. The more you invest the more difficult it is to break the habit. The more friends you have on Facebook, the more you have to lose in getting off the site -- it’s now how you create relationships, meet people and keep in touch. As users invest they become primed for the next trigger and the cycle repeats.

 

The Facebook Example

the facebook model for internal communications

Why Internal Communicators Should Care About 'Hooked'

Applying lessons from this model to your internal channels is a prime opportunity to get strategic at a psychological level and best of all, it doesn’t have to be overly complex.

In fact, you’re almost certainly practicing some of these principles without having realized it. Every time you send an email, put up a poster or a send a mobile notification you are creating an external trigger. Your audience moves to the action stage when they sign up for an event or click a link to read more in a newsletter. Rewards occur when they get the answer to a question they were looking for, read something that makes them feel proud of where they work and they become invested as they leave comments on your intranet, share an article with a team member or participate in a company event.

The next step is the most important one -- linking these together in a thoughtful way. Finding ways to make the rewards more powerful and the investment more valuable, then reinforce that behavior.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be going over the steps from Hooked in greater detail beyond this introduction and applying it to internal communications, with a focus on internal email. Complete with examples, resources, and in-depth coverage of the power of habit-forming communication and finishing of with a webinar -- you’ll be sending engaging internal emails in no time.

Next will be articles on the Trigger and Action and then Rewards and Investment. Keep reading for more!

What are your thoughts on the hook model and applying it to internal communication? Let me know what you think in the comments below!