mobile app development

The Habit Driven ‘Hooked Model in 2021’ and How Apps are using it

What’s the hooked model? How does it help in making habit-forming apps?

hooked model

You check Facebook for one last time before dozing off or opening Instagram even before opening your second eye in the morning. 

At work, you randomly check into Pinterest and pin some boards even if you never intended to in the first place. Or open YouTube to check some trending videos.

Whenever you get the time, you pick up your phone and browse (at times aimlessly) through social media. 

Virtually strolling through social media has become a haven for people, especially for the millennials and Gen Z and the internet is the answer to everything. You want to find out an answer to a certain query, you immediately google it up. You want elaborative descriptions you quickly go through Wikipedia. Media has been constantly competing to increase app engagement and answering the question, how to make customers come back? They are skillfully creating mobile app retention strategies to maintain the mobile app engagement. Remember the Howard Beale Show from the 1976 multiple Oscar-winning film Network exactly reiterated this trend? Now replace TV with the presently relevant Social Media. 

It’s fascinating, at the same time scary to observe how the progression of addiction is growing every day. An app developer realises the power s/he wields only when his/her creation is downloaded and used by millions of people worldwide. It feels like swinging Thor’s hammer. Consider PUBG, Call of Duty, Snapchat or TikTok. Such apps don’t necessarily demand your motivation but emit immense addiction power. They can be easily classified as the best habit forming apps as each of them is excellent app engagement. 

As an app developer, this is the ultimate objective. But before you learn to get users hooked on to your app, you must learn more about habit driven design. 

What is the hooked model and how it increases app engagement?

In this ingenious concept devised by author Nir Eyal called the ‘Hooked Model’ or simply ‘Hook’, he explains the design pattern which companies use to form habit making apps. It consists of 4 steps- 

What is the hooked model and how it increases app engagement?

Number #1: Trigger

The Trigger generates action as it pushes you to do something. Suppose there’s a notification on your phone and you’re prompted to click it. The action (later) results in the opening of the app. Triggers can be further categorised into two- External and Internal. The notification or simply viewing the icon of an app causes an external trigger. The emotion or the urge is Internal Trigger. For eg., you want to google a piece of information before putting it up on Twitter or you want to read the latest Premier League standings as you see a notification on your device. Studies reveal that negative emotions trigger to use your devices more. Like, if you’re feeling bored, helpless, lonely or sad, it’s more likely you’ll pick up your device.

Number #2: Action

Now that you’ve been triggered, there has to be a course of action. You open Instagram and scroll down, and in the process, you double-tap on a couple of photos or stop to view a video. Maybe check out stories as well. According to a formula theorised by B.J. Fogg, a behaviour scientist at Stanford University, said that for any user behaviour there should be considerable motivation, ability and trigger put together. To put it mathematically-


Number #3: Reward

App makers who use creative mobile app marketing techniques are aware that once you are using an app, you should feel exalted or satisfied. The number of reactions your post receives, you come across some hilarious memes on Twitter, someone DMs you a BTS scene from Avengers: Endgame on your Insta are some instances that make you feel good, and you end up spending more time on these apps. In the words of Nir Eyal, if ‘your itch is scratched’.

The element of surprise is what is taken into consideration. That’s why ‘Variable Rewards’ are important. Now, what are those?

how to make customers come back

A Variable Reward is divided into 3 categories-

  • The Tribe- This is the joy you derive online from other people’s activity. You don’t know (as of yet) how many likes, replies or retweets your tweet has received or any other post for that sake. It imbibes a sense of competition and excitement. 
  • The Hunt- You visit Facebook and start scrolling. The first couple of posts in your newsfeed might not interest you, but the seventh does, and you feel good looking at it. Now psychologically you want more of such posts to appear on your feed. What do you do? Keep scrolling. Hence, the hunt.
  • The Self- This is more like a reward for the self. You are necessarily not a gamer, but you play Clash of Clans or Angry Birds 2. You aren’t even winning but continue. That’s because you earn a sense of accomplishment. Not just games, it can include other things like reading all your unread messages/emails or completing your to-do lists. It’s like the search of mastery, consistency, competency and control.

Number #4: Investment

These habit-forming apps procure your interests in the form of investment. For eg., if you open YouTube and watch a couple of videos and seek inspiration, you may want to modify your channel. You may want to upload videos and put them on for the world to see. A developer with acute knowledge of pulling you into the game knows that you have invested a portion of your self to the app, meaning now, you are likely to be a regular visitor of the same. This applies to e-commerce websites too. Suppose, you buy a book from Amazon and you receive it on time, like the packaging and most importantly, the book. You read it and review it on the product page itself. It garners audience. This makes your experience worthy, and now you’ll develop a knack for repeating the course. That’s how mobile app engagement is created and the investment is analysed.

Now as an app developer you know what is a hook framework, what do you need to follow to place your app in the same league? It’s not easy to put into words unless you comprehend hooked model examples of popular app makers who have done it or are still doing it. 

Understanding the Principles Behind Popular Hooked Apps

The following explains how two popular apps are following the Hooked model to be the best habit forming apps.

1. Facebook

Hook canvas for the facebook

Step 1: Trigger
Whenever a push notification pops up on your phone, you are filled with anticipation. It can be of someone who shared your post or your friend’s birthday, you never know.

Step 2: Action
You see the notification of a friend tagging you in Memory, get persuaded to click on it and it takes you directly to the app. 

Step 3: Reward
You see, it’s a throwback photo that a friend has tagged you in. You instantly feel overjoyed and recall those old memories.

Step 4: Investment
You make the urge to Haha react to it along with adding a jovial comment to it. In turn, your friend Love reacts to the comment and makes an effort to reply. 

2. Call of Duty

Hook canvas for the call of duty

Step 1:Trigger
You’re scrolling your phone when you notice the CoD app, and you feel like you should play it. 

Step 2: Action
You remember how well you played the other night and feel like continuing the streak. Thus, you click on the app icon.

Step 3: Reward
You see there are unclaimed awards from your last win including the daily reward as well. This makes you instantly happy with a sense of moral achievement.

Step 4: Investment
You claim all the awards and now get pumped up to play more which you eventually do.

What you need for the Best Habit Forming Apps

Now that you’re thorough with the model and also the examples, it’s time to put your app development skills into fruition and create the app with some mobile app retention strategies. Understanding the psychology that goes into creating a hooked app is the foremost thing.

Your objective should be clear

This is the first step in any situation and the primary requisite in app development. If you want a user to visit your app even once a day, it should be so compelling that he/she should do it out of habit. As a developer, your job is first to realise the predicament that people are facing and mould an app that should faithfully fulfil it. That is your objective.
It’s difficult nowadays to find the ‘pain point’ as there are like 10 apps for every grievance and creating something out of the box is easier said than done. But it’s not stopping people from making apps. If there’s no problem, then introduce something different; something that people may not easily reckon. Take the ViewBug Photography app as an example. It has filters and tools which you may find in other editing apps as well, but it introduces the concept of online contests where your photos will be seen by users, and they can reward it accordingly. For the long and short of it, ViewBug’s serving you 2 purposes- click/editing photographs and partaking in genre-based contests; the objectives are transparent. 

Fluid interface for smooth app engagement 

Now that you know what your app is about, the approach should be easy to understand for the users. The UI and UX design are the two most vital components of your app, and it should be such that the user feels the urge to use your app more and more. It should be simple. Now simplicity doesn’t mean it has to have minimal features; it means to give value to the consumer without jargonising much. The maiden version of your app need not have everything you planned as you can slowly unfurl them with timely updates. 

Focus on onboarding for enhanced engagement

Onboarding is key to your app’s success. For the user, it should be a worthy experience. Apt onboarding is critical to increase mobile app engagement rates and user lifetime value. It includes cutting edge design, effective hook model UX, total customer satisfaction and value for services. To nail this, you need to follow certain aspects like-

  • Reduce Sign Up fields, at best keep one
  • Ease the login and Sign Up process
  • Avoid using too complex features
  • Explain the merits of the app to users instead of bombarding with ‘this-that’ features
  • Include tutorials to ease the usage process

habit building app

The first impression of an app is usually its acid test. 67 per cent of the customers back out from an app after using it for the first time because of bland user experience. Therefore, the onboarding process should make it cohesive for them. 

Adopting the Hook Model Canvas

Coming to a full circle, your app yearns to become the hooked app by following the hook canvas model and other adobe mentioned procedures. Once that stage is reached, there will be no looking back. Nir Eyal explains in his book Hooked, “To change behaviour, products must ensure the user feels in control. People just want to use the service, not feel they have to.” But make sure your app has a high visibility rate and properly optimised in the respective app markets so that people can download it more and more. 

To conclude, a hooked application ensures the ways you bring a user into a system. Make the app a daily habit for the user and make sure they keep getting the variable rewards which pushes them to invest progressively on your app. Study other models with higher app engagement and find out which features of design hooked them in the hearts of the audience. Learn from their experience and draft a strategy for your model. If done right, you will have higher app engagement and much more user retention rate than before.

General FAQ

  • How Do You Make People Keep Coming Back to Your Platform?
  • How to get your app noticed?
Aparna <span>Growth Strategist</span>
Written By
Aparna Growth Strategist

Aparna is a growth specialist with handsful knowledge in business development. She values marketing as key a driver for sales, keeping up with the latest in the Mobile App industry. Her getting things done attitude makes her a magnet for the trickiest of tasks. In free times, which are few and far between, you can catch up with her at a game of Fussball.

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