Have you been hooked?

To while away the hours on a return flight to Melbourne recently I completed reading “Hooked” by Nir Eyal. The book made me think about the way companies such as Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram (amongst others) approach the world. Investors often ask start-ups a question “Are you a vitamin or a painkiller?” Clearly pain killers are more investible since there is demand. Who cares about vitamins? If you miss one it doesn’t really matter. What’s impressive to me is how some companies have turned vitamins into painkillers!

Perhaps I should elaborate? Or leave you guessing? Need a painkiller?

Let’s consider Instagram:

First there is the Trigger to use Instagram – perhaps a friend has used it and tells you how great it is. You don’t want to miss out on the latest thing do you? So you take the Action of downloading it and taking a look. You take a picture and post it. That was nice – just like taking a vitamin. Doesn’t really matter much does it?

Suddenly you get a spontaneous message from someone saying what a great picture it is. You feel Rewarded for your effort. You decide to Invest a little time to configure the app since it seems like it might be useful.

The next day you are walking along and the sunlight shines on a spider’s web. Looks great. You’d like to save the image. Ahh – you use the Instagram app to take a photo and it gets posted. That’s odd no responses yet. Wait ten minutes and there is a response. Wow, they like the photo too. That feels great.

Better look out for another one image. Found one. Oh no! The battery is flat. That’s a real pain. Better take a painkiller… you’ve become Hooked!

The same is true of Facebook, people are hooked… apparently “50% of 18-24 year-olds go on Facebook when they wake up.” They feel the need otherwise they get withdrawal symptoms.

So what is the Hooked Model?

Eyal’s hooked model is simple and here it is in 150 words.

There are four parts to the hook loop: 1. Trigger; 2. Action; 3. (Variable) Reward; and 4. Investment. Users start with an External Trigger (e.g. they may be paid, see a reference to the service or a friend tells them) and take some action. According to Dr B J Fogg, to take an action users must have the motivation (they want it); ability (e.g. time, money, brain cycles, etc.) and trigger (something tells them about it). Once an Action has been taken there must be a variable reward to that user’s tribe, the hunt or self which triggers further investment by the user. Companies who get the investment right cause an Internal (or allowed external) trigger to start the cycle again. The more times the cycle is repeated the more ingrained the cycle becomes and it starts to form a habit requiring little conscious effort to start.

Clearly there are good and bad ways of using the Hook concept. Eyal devotes a chapter to this issue and presents a “Manipulation Matix” where those who produce products are either Peddlers, Dealers, Entertainers or Facilitators. The biggest issue I see with the model is that how a product is rated depends upon the creator’s norms which might be at odds with society at large.

Why don’t you think about the things you are “hooked into” and write them below? Are you really getting the value you perceive or has it become no more than a painkiller? After all, painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen will give you headaches if you use them for more than three days a week…


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