Nir Eyal is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and blogs about the psychology of products at NirAndFar.com. For more insights on using psychology to change behavior, join his newsletter and receive a free workbook.
None of this will be simple, but it would tame the titans without wrecking the gains they have brought. Users would find it easier to switch between services. Upstart competitors would have access to some of the data that larger firms hold and thus be better equipped to grow to maturity without being gobbled up. And shareholders could no longer assume monopoly profits for decades to come.
A Bonus Question
- Watch shared videos, read articles on Moments, join group chatting, or walk with WeChat Run (exercise monitor) after dinner;
The early signs are already visible. The European Commission has accused Google of using control of Android, its mobile operating system, to give its own apps a leg up. Facebook keeps buying firms which could one day lure users away: first Instagram, then WhatsApp and most recently tbh, an app that lets teenagers send each other compliments anonymously. Although Amazon is still increasing competition in aggregate, as industries from groceries to television can attest, it can also spot rivals and squeeze them from the market.
人文技术中心（Centre for Humane Technology）的阿扎·拉斯金说，社交媒体公司故意在他们的应用程序中使用让人上瘾的技术，以吸引我们尽可能多地呆在他们的平台上。
As Barbra enjoys endlessly scrolling the Pinterest cornucopia, she builds a desire to keep the things that delight her. By collecting items, she’ll be giving the site data about her preferences. Soon she will follow, pin, re-pin, and make other investments, which serve to increase her ties to the site and prime her for future loops through the Hook.
The benefits of effective social media management are no secret to many businesses and their customers worldwide. Even for “old-school” formerly state owned postal services, as a customer you can often get better service and satisfaction via Twitter than more traditional methods such as hotline or email. In China, however, there are additional complexities when it comes to engaging with your target market. In China there is no Facebook, no Twitter, and no YouTube, which makes you wonder, how did Durex engineer this change in fortunes using Chinese Social Media when facing such obstacles? How was the above written with not one double entendre?
The rivalry remedy
Aza Raskin from the Centre for Humane Technology said social media companies deliberately use addictive technology in their apps in order to lure us in to spending as much time on their platforms as possible.
Variable schedules of reward are one of the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users. Research shows that levels of dopamine — the neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s pleasure center — surge when the brain is expecting a reward. Introducing variability multiplies the effect, creating a frenzied hunting state, activating the parts associated with wanting and desire. Although classic examples include slot machines and lotteries, variable rewards are prevalent in habit-forming technologies as well.
Aza Raskin invented the endless scroll – the app feature that means you don't have to click to get to the next page and can keep scrolling for far longer than maybe necessary or healthy.
Habit-forming technology creates associations with “internal triggers,” which cue users without the need for marketing, messaging, or other external stimuli.
- Check chats from time to time at work;
The less severe contest
But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed to form habits? They manufacture desire. While fans of Mad Men are familiar with how the ad industry once created consumer desire during Madison Avenue’s golden era, those days are long gone. A multiscreen world, with ad-wary consumers and a lack of ROI metrics, has rendered Don Draper’s big-budget brainwashing useless to all but the biggest brands. Instead, startups manufacture desire by guiding users through a series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these experiences Hooks, and the more often users run through them, the more likely they are to self-trigger.
- Read articles on Moments on the way to work;
There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers (see article). The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly stifling innovation.
We’re on the precipice of a new digital era. As infinite distractions compete for our attention, companies are learning to master new tactics to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives. Today, just amassing millions of users is no longer good enough. Companies increasingly find that their economic value is a function of the strength of the habits they create. But as some companies are just waking up to this new reality, others are already cashing in.
The dominance of Google, Facebook and Amazon is bad for consumers and competition
Sandy Parakilas, who was a platform operations manager at Facebook in 2011 and 2012, said there was definitely an awareness that Facebook was habit-forming when he worked at the company.
Convenient – Of the approximately 700 million Chinese netizens, more than 89% are regularly online via mobile. “Fast” and “Convenient” have steadily increased as major key words for many socially aware services. More and more Chinese are turning to online verification via chat app, bank accounts and cards bound to chat apps and virtual wallets such as WeChat wallet, and daily transactions via QR code. Interestingly, when compared to their Western counterparts, many Chinese netizen’s appear to fall into the “early adopter” category and tend to be more open to new business models that offer greater convince through technology. As a further illustration of this, Chinese people are not used to browsing new arrivals in online stores anymore; instead, their purchase decisions are guided more by recommendation engines and push notifications from apps based on their shopping history and preferences, as well as updates from social media sites (e.g. brand and retail subscription accounts). According to a research institute that more than 77% Chinese expect a brand to have a social media presence. These trends do not only apply to people’s everyday life, but also to some traditions such as lucky money that Chinese people prepare in red envelopes as gifts for occasions like weddings, birthdays or the lunar New Year. In recent years you will see red envelopes fly around in WeChat groups, on Weibo, QQ, Momo, etc. In 2016, over 8 billion “red envelopes” were sent via WeChat during Chinese New Year period.
The lack of a simple solution deprives politicians of easy slogans, but does not leave trustbusters impotent. Two broad changes of thinking would go a long way towards sensibly taming the titans. The first is to make better use of existing competition law. Trustbusters should scrutinise mergers to gauge whether a deal is likely to neutralise a potential long-term threat, even if the target is small at the time. Such scrutiny might have prevented Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and Google’s of Waze, which makes navigation software. To ensure that the platforms do not favour their own products, oversight groups could be set up to deliberate on complaints from rivals—a bit like the independent “technical committee” created by the antitrust case against Microsoft in 2001. Immunity to content liability must go, too.
美国硅谷的内部人士告诉 BBC ，社交媒体公司故意让用户沉迷于他们的产品以从中获取经济利益。
Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try “Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict,” and you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers deriding the narcotic-like properties of these sites. How is it that these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so addictive, and what does their power mean for the future of the web?
- After lunch share the bill via WeChat Transfer;
America’s trustbusters have given tech giants the benefit of the doubt. They look for consumer harm, which is hard to establish when prices are falling and services are “free”. The firms themselves stress that a giant-killing startup is just a click away and that they could be toppled by a new technology, such as the blockchain. Before Google and Facebook, Alta Vista and MySpace were the bee’s knees. Who remembers them?
However, the barriers to entry are rising. Facebook not only owns the world’s largest pool of personal data, but also its biggest “social graph”—the list of its members and how they are connected. Amazon has more pricing information than any other firm. Voice assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, will give them even more control over how people experience the internet. China’s tech firms have the heft to compete, but are not about to get unfettered access to Western consumers.
I wrote Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products to help others understand what is at the heart of habit-forming technology. The book highlights common patterns I observed in my career in the video gaming and online advertising industries. While my model is generic enough for a broad explanation of habit formation, I’ll focus on applications in consumer internet here.
Before using social media to raise brand and product awareness, understanding some of the detail of the landscape helps you determine via which platform and at what time to target certain groups of people most effectively.
The last phase of the Hook is where the user is asked to do bit of work. This phase has two goals as far as the behavior engineer is concerned. The first is to increase the odds that the user will make another pass through the Hook when presented with the next trigger. Second, now that the user’s brain is swimming in dopamine from the anticipation of reward in the previous phase, it’s time to pay some bills. The investment generally comes in the form of asking the user to give some combination of time, data, effort, social capital, or money.
In China, platforms like WeChat can be considered as closed or semi-closed. Users are mainly connected with people they know through direct contact, therefore “word of mouth” spread tends to depend on an initial impetus such as a push notification from official account where the user is a subscriber or content shared via WeChat Moments that can only be seen by friends. When it comes to mass publicity, Sina Weibo (“Weibo” = micro blog) is a comparatively easier place to manage. With roughly 200 million MAUs (monthly active users), Weibo provides users the platform to interact with celebrities, companies and organizations, such as Tom Cruise, Macy’s (the American department store), United Nations etc. Basically one post can be pushed to the Weibo home page or reposted by KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) via certain promotional features, thus increasing potential reach to millions of users. Additionally, features like polls and lotteries can further increase reach. These are cost-effective channels to get feedback and attention from a large number of users.
But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market itself, providing the infrastructure (or “platforms”) for much of the digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users “pay” for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade.
The platforms have become so dominant because they benefit from “network effects”. Size begets size: the more sellers Amazon, say, can attract, the more buyers will shop there, which attracts more sellers, and so on. By some estimates, Amazon captures over 40% of online shopping in America. With more than 2bn monthly users, Facebook holds sway over the media industry. Firms cannot do without Google, which in some countries processes more than 90% of web searches. Facebook and Google control two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues.
business model 商业模式
What else do you need in order to build connections between you and Chinese netizens via social media? The straight answer would be at least the experts who are always aware of what are the trends in the country, what is no-go, culturally, politically and legally, as making friend with the government is as important as making friend with netizens in China.
In essence this means giving people more control over their information. If a user so desires, key data should be made available in real time to other firms—as banks in Europe are now required to do with customers’ account information. Regulators could oblige platform firms to make anonymised bulk data available to competitors, in return for a fee, a bit like the compulsory licensing of a patent. Such data-sharing requirements could be calibrated to firms’ size: the bigger platforms are, the more they have to share. These mechanisms would turn data from something titans hoard, to suppress competition, into something users share, to foster innovation.
Before addressing the more pertinent of these question and attempting to identify and replicate the success of Durex when building your product or service to China, there are two more fundamental questions to consider:
NOT long ago, being the boss of a big Western tech firm was a dream job. As the billions rolled in, so did the plaudits: Google, Facebook, Amazon and others were making the world a better place. Today these companies are accused of being BAADD—big, anti-competitive, addictive and destructive to democracy. Regulators fine them, politicians grill them and one-time backers warn of their power to cause harm.
The tactics that the best digital brands use to stay relevant in users’ minds and lives.
High-end – As an example of a high-end brand who used social media to build a strong community following, Moleskine (producers of high quality notebooks) managed to position their brand very well in China. They focused on their story and vision. The story of the humble black notebook being adored by and synonymous with artists and intellectuals in Europe for more than two centuries. This imagery and association resonated with thousands of Chinese via platforms like Weibo, especially Douban and Zhihu where art lovers and high profile intellectuals gather. Similarly, a formerly unknown designer, has turned himself into an ad-talent by building stories around art pieces on a WeChat official account and achieved 100,000 ad exposure for each work.
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Taming the titans"
Aza says he did not intend to hook users with it but says the business model of many social media companies is designed to maximise user time online. He says this encourages designers to come up with technological tricks that hook users.
When Barbra lands on Pinterest, not only does she see the image she intended to find, but she’s also served a multitude of other glittering objects. The images are associated with what she’s generally interested in — namely, things to see during a trip to rural Pennsylvania — but there are also some others that catch her eye. The exciting juxtaposition of relevant and irrelevant, tantalizing and plain, beautiful and common sets her brain’s dopamine system aflutter with the promise of reward. Now she’s spending more time on the site, hunting for the next wonderful thing to find. Before she knows it, she’s spent 45 minutes scrolling in search of her next hit.
China’s Social Media Landscape
Second, trustbusters need to think afresh about how tech markets work. A central insight, one increasingly discussed among economists and regulators, is that personal data are the currency in which customers actually buy services. Through that prism, the tech titans receive valuable information—on their users’ behaviour, friends and purchasing habits—in return for their products. Just as America drew up sophisticated rules about intellectual property in the 19th century, so it needs a new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data, with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals.
桑迪·帕拉吉拉斯在 2011年和 2012年间担任脸书的平台运营经理，他说他在任期间，公司内部确实意识到脸书容易让用户上瘾。
Consumers must understand how habit-forming technology works to prevent unwanted manipulation while still enjoying the benefits of these innovations.
If this trend runs its course, consumers will suffer as the tech industry becomes less vibrant. Less money will go into startups, most good ideas will be bought up by the titans and, one way or another, the profits will be captured by the giants.
endless scroll 无限下拉滚动
The degree to which a company can utilize habit-forming technologies will increasingly decide which products and services succeed or fail.
Article by Run Zhang. For the use of the content, please contact the author. Thank you!
Jan 18th 2018
For example, suppose Barbra, a young woman in Pennsylvania, happens to see a photo in her Facebook newsfeed taken by a family member from a rural part of the state. It’s a lovely photo, and since she’s planning a trip there with her brother Johnny, the trigger intrigues her.
User engagement patterns over these various platforms can play an important role in your strategy when scheduling social media activities. For instance, on WeChat the peak engagement time is normally between 22:00 and 22:30, while on Weibo the “rush hours” are rather scattered. Weibo Data indicates that during weekdays followers of education and finance accounts are more active in commenting and reposting from 9:30 to 11:00; online shoppers prefer the time between 14:00 and 15:00; there are more interaction between users and local merchants from 21:00 to 23:00; and generally more events occur on Wednesday and Thursday.
What to do? In the past, societies have tackled monopolies either by breaking them up, as with Standard Oil in 1911, or by regulating them as a public utility, as with AT&T in 1913. Today both those approaches have big drawbacks. The traditional tools of utilities regulation, such as price controls and profit caps, are hard to apply, since most products are free and would come at a high price in forgone investment and innovation. Likewise, a full-scale break-up would cripple必威， the platforms’ economies of scale, worsening the service they offer consumers. And even then, in all likelihood one of the Googlettes or Facebabies would eventually sweep all before it as the inexorable logic of network effects reasserted itself.
After the trigger comes the intended action. Here, companies leverage two pulleys of human behavior: motivation and ability. To increase the odds of a user taking the intended action, the behavior designer makes the action as easy as possible, while simultaneously boosting the user’s motivation. This phase of the Hook draws on the art and science of usability design to ensure that the user acts the way the designer intends.
Much of this techlash is misguided. The presumption that big businesses must necessarily be wicked is plain wrong. Apple is to be admired as the world’s most valuable listed company for the simple reason that it makes things people want to buy, even while facing fierce competition. Many online services would be worse if their providers were smaller. Evidence for the link between smartphones and unhappiness is weak. Fake news is not only an online phenomenon.
Facebook and Instagram have told the BBC that their apps are designed to bring people together and that they never set out to create addictive products.
A reader recently wrote to me, “If it can’t be used for evil, it’s not a superpower.” He’s right. And under this definition, habit design is indeed a super power. If used for good, habits can enhance people’s lives with entertaining, and even healthful, routines. If used to exploit, habits can turn into wasteful addictions.
- Browse Moments again before going to sleep.
What separates Hooks from a plain vanilla feedback loop is their ability to create wanting in the user. Feedback loops are all around us, but predictable ones don’t create desire. The predictable response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix — say, a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it — and voilà, intrigue is created. You’ll be opening that door like a lab animal in a Skinner box.
With the knowledge of groups and their subjects, you can further polish your social media strategies by identifying what the netizens like. This will direct you to the pursuit of Chinese society nowadays: high-end, diversified and convenient.
How Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest Hook Users
The trigger is the actuator of a behavior — the spark plug in the Hook model. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming technologies start by alerting users with external triggers like an email, a link on a website, or the app icon on a phone. By cycling continuously through these hooks, users begin to form associations with internal triggers, which become attached to existing behaviors and emotions. Soon users are internally triggered every time they feel a certain way. The internal trigger becomes part of their routine behavior, and the habit is formed.
• What does China’s social media landscape look like?
From “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal
So what do these social network services provide and how are they used? Some people would offer this simple answer:
Chinese Netizens’ Taste
Using the example of Barbra, with a click on the interesting picture in her newsfeed, she’s taken to a website she’s never been to before called Pinterest. Once she’s done the intended action (in this case, clicking on the photo), she’s dazzled by what she sees next.
It was sad news for Durex when they found out that only less than 10% of sexually active Chinese people were regular condom users. Moreover, inefficient distribution systems increased costs; counterfeits worked against their premium pricing strategy; and expensive television advertising brought them little increase in market share. As is often the case, things that worked elsewhere, may not work in China. However, Durex’s sales have tripled in the last a few years, driven largely by gaining and engaging with millions of followers on social media. This in a country where the topic of sex is still in some sense taboo even among young people and hundreds of sex related “sensitive words” are censored online by Chinese government.
Renren is the Chinese Facebook; Weibo is the Chinese Twitter; Youku is the Chinese YouTube and so on.
The social media ecosystem in China is, however, more than just the carbon copy of the West, and in many ways is far more diverse and evolving more rapidly. Take Tencent’s WeChat as an example. The WeChat app has about 600 million daily active users, 93% saturation rate in first-tier cities, over 600 million users subscribing to official accounts, and more than 3 billion daily page views. With a strong focus on user experience and usability, WeChat has successfully attracted users aged from 10 to 60 by integrating a host of features including chatting, friend finding, sharing of photos, videos, status, exercising monitoring, charitable donations, payments, and many more. In China this feature rich and accessible medium has led to so called “WeChat lifestyle”, also known as “WeChat addiction”:
Creating associations with internal triggers comes from building the four components of a Hook — a trigger, action, variable reward, and investment.
• What are Chinese netizens fond of?
But, like it or not, habit-forming technology is already here. The fact that we have greater access to the web through our various devices also gives companies greater access to us. As companies combine this greater access with the ability to collect and process our data at higher speeds than ever before, we’re faced with a future where everything becomes more addictive. This trinity of access, data, and speed creates new opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users. Companies need to know how to harness the power of Hooks to improve people’s lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior engineering to protect themselves from unwanted manipulation.
The evolution of China’s mainstream social media networks has been driven not only by WeChat and Weibo but other interest-based social networks, for example, Douban where mainly music, movies and book lovers gather, Baidu Tieba (forum) where about 50 million active users are scattered across more than 8 million forums, and Momo where people friend strangers.
A company that forms strong user habits enjoys several benefits to its bottom line. For one, it creates associations with “internal triggers” in users’ minds. That is to say, users come to the site without any external prompting. Instead of relying on expensive marketing or worrying about differentiation, habit-forming companies get users to cue themselves to action by attaching their services to the users’ daily routines and emotions. A cemented habit is when users unconsciously think, I’m bored, and Facebook instantly comes to mind. They think, I wonder what’s going on in the world? and before rational thought kicks in, Twitter is the answer. The first-to-mind solution wins.
Nothing is static, so when your company does decide to enter or expand in the Chinese market, you will need to look carefully at the current state of play in terms of tastes, trends, and regulation across China’s social media landscape. Things change fast, and they change faster in China, including laws and regulations. Nevertheless, with the help of the right partner with local market expertise, social media can be a great tool in building brand love and your brand community in China.
But unlike a sales funnel, which has a set endpoint, the investment phase isn’t about consumers opening up their wallets and moving on with their day. The investment implies an action that improves the service for the next go-around. Inviting friends, stating preferences, building virtual assets, and learning to use new features are all commitments that improve the service for the user. These investments can be leveraged to make the trigger more engaging, the action easier, and the reward more exciting with every pass through the Hook.
On the second major question; namely “What are Chinese netizen’s fond of?”, and what draws the attention of various groups on these platforms? When looking at age demographics the answer appears to be that this correlates fairly closely to the West in a broad sense. For example, if you happen to be in a WeChat group with your 50 year old relatives, it is very likely that you may often receive shared articles with scare head like “100 health care tips that 99% people do not know”. Any of the health related headlines can instantly stimulate the nerves of these people. Similar to family groups, there are classmate groups, mother groups with certain age bracket, and groups categorized by hobbies such as food lover groups, shopper groups. The size of some groups reach the 500-member limit.
Diversified – When people follow your account, they do not only want to see the brand / product updates, but also peripheral information. Durex’s success is in some degree thanks to its diversity strategy. It created a cute and animated condom-like character called “Little Dudu” who shares love stories, sex education, and health information to encourage Chinese people to talk openly about sex on social media sites. It’s entertaining and humorous style of posting some little nothings of daily life has drawn a great deal of attention across mainland China. Durex leveraged on this momentum with active postings relating to trending topics. During one torrential rainstorm in Beijing where people found themselves stuck at work late in the evening, a Durex OP team member posted “I feel lucky to have two f Durex in my pocket today!” together with a picture showing how he had used the condoms to cover his sneakers. This simple post hit the 6000 repost record by midnight and won more brand followers. Meanwhile, Durex’s mascot “Little Dudu” connected its online presence to the offline world through events such as Valentine parties and package design competition streamed via Weibo, once again winning thousands of followers overnight.
Companies must understand the mechanics of habit formation to increase engagement with their products and services and ultimately help users create beneficial routines.
- In the evening purchase groceries or buy dinner using WeChat Wallet;
- In the morning people wake up and check chats and Moments (posting wall);
- Buy breakfast with WeChat Wallet;
In China, most Western mainstream social media platforms are blocked through government control. Nevertheless, the growth of China’s indigenous social networks has been staggering, particularly from 2009 onwards. China is now home to roughly 700 million netizens, with social media household names such as QQ, Renren, Sina Weibo, WeChat and Youku.
- Browse Moments to see friends’ status;
As every coin has two sides, the speed of social media broadcasting can build brand awareness rapidly, but it can also bring you into the path of very public and visible criticism or crisis if not managed with care. Even seemingly innocuous cultural differences can open you up to a degree of public ridicule, therefore you need local expertise with the larger strategy as well as content review. For example, it would be ill-advised to develop a gifting strategy with a clock in the content (sending Chinese people a clock means “I send you to death” due to the homophony), a man wearing a green hat means that his wife cheats on him (one reason why St. Patrick’s day can be quite amusing to Chinese people), and an image of chopsticks in a rice bowl is associated with a memorial ceremony for the dead. There are political sensitives to consider too, some more obvious than others; e.g. references to the Dalai Lama, Taiwan, Tibet and Uygur etc. Should an influencer harbor negative feelings for your product and feel strongly enough about it as an unsatisfied customer, this can result in that opinion leader taking out their frustrations on said product by smashing it and sharing the video across Chinese social media channels. This is a trend that has become more common in China.