Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Community Systems

Nir Eyal

What’s the last app you used? What site do you check more than once a day? What’s the last thing you posted to Instagram or Pinterest? Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, says the HOOK is an experience designed to connect user’s problems to your solution with enough frequency to form a habit. The HOOK can be broken down into four parts.

  1. Trigger:  External triggers are CTAs we see all around us daily. Click here, buy now, download this. Internal triggers is the info for what to do next through an association in the user’s memory. Internal triggers are based on places, routine, emotion, and situations. What triggers you when you’re bored, lonely, or unsure? Do you know your customer’s internal trigger? What itch are you going to scratch?
  2. Action: The simplest behavior in anticipation of getting a reward like scrolling down on a feed, searching, or playing a video on YouTube.  According to BJ Fogg, for any behavior to occur we need motivation, ability and a trigger. The factors that can increase or decrease motivation include seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, seeking hope, avoiding fear, seeking acceptance, and avoiding rejection. The factors that affect ability are time, money, physical effort, brain cycles (how difficult is it to understand), social deviance, and non-routine. The user’s level of motivation and ability determine if action will occur.
  3. Reward: Scratch that itch. Our reward system activates with anticipation and calms when we get what we want. There is a way to supercharge the stress of desire because the unknown is fascinating. Variability causes us to increase focus and engagement and increases behavior.
  4. Investment: Users “invest” for future benefits. Money, social capital, personal data, time, effort, and emotional commitment.

Get your users to pass through the trigger again by loading the next trigger and store value through content, data, followers and reputation. Each pass through the hook helps shape users preferences and begin to form habits. What responsibility do we have when changing user behavior? The world is full of problems to fix.

Editor’s Note:  We’re live from the #CMXSummit all day today at Dogpatch Studios in San Francisco.  We’ll be covering all of the sessions, but you can livestream the event as well: 

Photos by Abby Sturges.  See more of her work on

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About the author

Ashley McGregor Dey

Ashley is based in San Francisco and currently heading up Social Media for Indiegogo. She's passionate about community building, comics, and cupcakes. Follow her on Twitter @ashlaf.