We’ve all asked the question at some time or another – whether during a marketing campaign, a product launch or on good old social media – “how do we get this (insert item here) to go viral?”
As much as I dislike the term and what it’s thought to stand for, the bigger issue here is that we may have been asking ourselves the wrong question.
Or so thinks the fantastic Nir Eyal, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with in this week’s podcast, The Good, The Bad and The Dirty.
Viral is so passé
Having written, lectured (at Stanford) and given workshops on the subject, I thought Nir’s take on how we form habits – and in particular, how we can use this to help our businesses succeed – would be a particularly exciting theme to discuss.
And exciting it was.
He kicked us off with this wonderful challenge:
“Products that can form habits are actually more important than products that can just go viral”
Because, in a nutshell, habit-forming products tend to engage their users for a longer period of time, their adoption spreads more organically, and they therefor tend to provide a more sustainable result when it comes to the growth of your business.
A very leaky bucket
Nir explained that if you’re not engaging your customers in any meaningful way (if it simply ‘goes viral’), users will come in and they’ll go straight back out again – just like a leaky bucket.
It doesn’t matter how much volume you pump in there, your customer retention will be negligible regardless. In fact, Nir goes so far as to say that:
“Virality without engagement is useless”
Ever heard the saying that slow and steady wins the race?
Well in this case, the parable tends to hold true. If you look at the Evernotes, Amazons and Spotifys of this world, you’ll notice that none of them grew ‘virally’.
Their users didn’t ‘infect’ other users in order for the product to grow, and yet many of these companies are now huge, having taken out established competitors in the process.
How? Nir explains that it’s by creating user habits.
That’s why, when it comes to technology, designing user habits should be a key consideration as you’re developing your product and your strategy to get it out there.
Don’t follow the white rabbit
It’s so easy in our culture of celebrity and immediate gratification to fall into the trap of believing that success can happen overnight, if only we knew the magic formula.
“For a while we got mistaken into thinking that virality was enough”
But as Nir points out, those behemoths who’ve blazed the trail (Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter) only ever come around once every five years or so, and they’re simply not representative of how most businesses succeed.
We believe in these white rabbits because they’re visible – not because they’re numerous.
“We get confused with an attribution bias… Company X had a very high growth rate, and it was viral, therefor all companies that are successful must have that attribute”
Their heady, unlikely ability to strike it rich stems from an intoxicating combination of creating a product that is both virally adopted and compellingly habit-forming.
So what is it about taking a habit-driven approach, that is so effective?
Behaviour design: the key to future-proofing your business
While figuring out how best to spend his human capital, Nir developed a thesis around the future of tech. He arrived at the idea that:
“As the interface gets smaller… habits become more important. We just don’t have the real estate to trigger people like we used to”
In web design, certainly, it’s long been a familiar refrain – “you only have 2 web-seconds to capture your users’ attention” etc. We know that our attention is limited, that our ability to focus online is changing, and that our user habits are evolving along with the technology we use.
“We’re approaching an era where figuring out behaviour design becomes increasingly important”
In fact, as the interfaces we use become smaller and smaller, and the role of tech in our lives changes, it’s behavioural design (and our ability to create products that are behaviourally persuasive) that will be the key as to whether your business succeeds or fails.
So how do you build this into your design process?
The 4-step Hook Model
Well, you can do it using Nir’s Hook Model,
“A four-step process which creates an experience to connection your solution to the user’s problem, with enough frequency to form a habit”
Here are Nir’s four habit-forming steps:
- Variable reward
This sequence, used in the above order, will help your users create associations so that they’ll understand what your product is for, and when to use it in their lives.
It’s a powerful method that seems to work because it relies on observed insights about human behaviour, which any business can tap into to create more compelling products.
Rather than blow it wide open here, to read more about these four steps and how to use them, I highly recommend reading Nir’s book, Hooked, which you can download for free here.