If this is your first hooked article, you may want to check out our intro to the hook model for internal comms or our second post where we applied the first two stages of the hook model, triggers and actions to internal emails.

Watch our webinar on hooking employees on internal comms here. 

In this post we’ll be covering the final two stages of the hook model: variable rewards and investment.

We’ll take a look at how these concepts apply to internal email and how communicators can use this model to present content in ways that create stronger relationships between employees and the primary internal channel they get information from. .

To begin let's review the stages of Nir Eyal’s hook model as they apply to internal emails:

internal-email-example-hooked model- bananatag

Variable Rewards

To recap, triggers are how you get someone’s attention and actions are the steps they take to get their reward. Rewards are the reason why your audience takes that action. Finding ways to create meaningful rewards is really the heart of this engagement model.

In the previous post, we described how rewards create a stress of desire as our brains light up in anticipation of the reward. The more powerful the reward the more action your audience will be willing to take and the greater chance they will complete the cycle several times, creating a habit.

So how do we create powerful rewards? Variability. Variability amps up our excitement and it seems to be baked into our DNA. To illustrate, a 1950s experiment conducted by psychologist B.F. Skinner looked at how variability and rewards impacted animal behavior. Skinner placed a few pigeons inside a box set up to give the pigeons a food pellet every time they pressed a lever establishing a cause and effect relationship between pressing the lever and receiving a food pellet (their reward). Where things get interesting is when Skinner’s introduced variability into the experiment.

Variable rewards can be thought of as "the itch we seek to scratch."

Initially, the pigeons would receive a pellet every time they pressed the lever but this time around, sometimes a pellet would appear when the lever was pressed and sometimes it wouldn’t. The reward was variable. Skinner found that this variability caused the pigeons to press the lever even more. Because of the variability nature of this reward, behaviour and frequency increased.

Now this is not to suggest when you send an internal email, sometimes you include content and sometimes you don’t. This is meant to highlight how the unknown is fascinating, especially when it means a reward is involved. We only need to look to our favourite social networks to see how variable rewards (new ‘likes’ and comments for example) fuel our engagement by consistently providing a different reward.

For all the biology majors out there, you might remember the science behind this: the nucleus accumbens is a small area of the brain that gets activated when we crave something. This stimulates the stress of desire, with the reward system in our brains activating with anticipation of the reward – and calms us when we get what we want.

Eyal calls this “the itch we need to scratch” and variability is what boosts this stress of desire into high gear. Variability is also powerful in creating habits because, as mentioned above, the unknown is fascinating.

A great, simple example of variable rewards being applied is the browser extension Momentum. Every time you open a new tab in Chrome, you’re greeted with a new inspiring image.

What would this look like if you applied this to the header of your newsletter?

Ideas of Variable Rewards for Internal Emails:

  • Seeing the results of a previous survey or poll
  • Sharing monthly success metrics with employees

Beyond variability, there are three distinct types of rewards and most engaging products we know and love play to one or more of these.

Reward of the Tribe:

The reward of the tribe is our search for social rewards driven by our natural desire to be connected with one another. For example, once this post is done and shared I’m sure I’ll be refreshing the social networks we share it on every five seconds until it gets its first ‘like’. This type of tribal validation is inherent whenever we share content regardless of the platform, from Facebook and Instagram to internal channels like Yammer and Slack. Variability is built-in since receiving likes or comments isn’t ever a given and reactions can be positive or negative.

Ideas for applying rewards of the tribe to internal emails:

  • Social reactions (likes, loves, happy faces, etc.)
  • Send email from different sender, executives or even the average employee
  • A recurring featured employee story


Reward of the Hunt:

This is also known as the search for resources. Eyal prefaces this explanation with human’s hunt for food and how humanity’s quest for survival was reliant on attaining the reward of food. Nowadays, we hunt in a different way. The most common hunt is for information or even finding a deal online. A good example is Pinterest, where users scroll endlessly with ‘new’ photos of things they like appearing with every move they make down the page.

Ideas for applying rewards of the hunt to internal emails:

  • Material rewards like a new contest employees can sign up for
  • Information rewards like an important company update or recent organizational change


Reward of the Self:

Also known as the search for self-achievement, this variable reward is a bit more personal than the others as it’s something we seek for our own satisfaction. We have it ingrained in us to take on challenges, conquer obstacles, and achieve mastery – put another way, our desire for rewards of the self is the reason you can’t stop playing Candy Crush.

Ideas for applying rewards of the self to internal emails:

  • Inbox is at zero -- eliminating any unopened emails (this reward is already built into email)
  • Making sure you're familiar with your department's work and progress
  • A recurring riddle

cluttered_inbox-reward of the self-bananatag



This is the last stage of the hook model -- we’re almost there! While rewards are the biggest opportunity for your comms, investment is a close second. The goal of the investment stage is to increase the likelihood that the user, or employee will pass through the model again. This cycle needs to be completed several times for the habit to develop and to hook employees.

Eyal uses social platforms to best describe this step of the framework: it’s often understood as investments of time, personal data, capital, effort, emotional commitment.

Think of how you become invested in the social platforms you use. It starts with creating a profile, uploading a profile picture and building a network. All these steps require work and since we highly value our time, they create a sense of investment in the platform.

Ideas for creating investment in your internal emails:

  • Include link to provide comments/feedback
  • Sharing personal successes with your colleagues
  • Signing up for a contest or an event (aka the little bit of work employees must put in for future reward)
  • Including short survey/poll and showing results of a previous one


But how can you tell employees are really hooked?

The proof is in the pudding -- the pudding being your internal email data, of course. Having the data to compare your latest communication with lets you see results over time and see how your application of the hook model is working in your comms. Are employees clicking? Are they reading and opening your emails? Is your internal content habit-forming?

While there are some concerns about the “addictive” aspects of the hook model, internal communicators shouldn’t be worried. Most any tool can be used in a positive and negative way and getting employees engaged with internal content should create a better work environment and the ability to address current issues in an organization. Further actually creating an addiction to internal content and channels would be a pretty impressive feat.

You can also apply the hook model beyond internal email – if you’re evaluating adding another channel or tool, look to see what elements of the hook model they have built in. When you’re setting up a new system think of what initial triggers will be and what follow up triggers will look like. Ask yourself how you can make actions simple, rewards strong and variable and what opportunities for investment may be.

Fully implementing the hook takes time, trial and error and it won’t happen overnight but think of small opportunities or steps in the workflows you have in place where the principles can be applied. Use data as proof and motivation to keep testing and improving. Try applying this concept to other areas of your internal communications, not just internal email. Finally, don’t forget to share your success!

If you’re interested to hear more we’d love to have you join our webinar on February 8th!