Upside co-op | Building habit-forming communities

Building habit-forming communities

From ‘community hacking’ to ‘community hooking’: getting members hooked to web3 communities

Nir Eyal’s book Hooked, released in 2013, has become one of web2 reference works on product development, UX design and user engagement. Hooked examines the reasons behind the success of certain (digital) products, and how companies can build habit-forming behaviours among customers and users. The basic idea is that, to create habit-forming products, you must move users through a loop that over time with positive and self-reinforcing feedback cycles, gets them to become repeat users, without having to rely on costly advertising or aggressive marketing tactics.

The Hook model can be broken down into a four-step cycle embedded into the products of many successful web2 companies. As users move through the cycle, they get increasingly hooked to return and re-use the product up to the point that some level of FOMO (fear of missing out) gets them addicted and a behavioural habit has been formed.The loop consists of four components:

  • Triggers

    External — What gets the user to try/use the product? Internal — What intrinsic motivation drives the user to return?

  • Action


    — What is the simplest step to experience the product?

  • Variable Reward


    — What immediate, yet variable value does the product provide to the user?

  • Investment


    — What is the ‘bit of work’ required to increase the likelihood of returning?

With MX (member experience) becoming the new UX design primitive for a community-first web3 ecosystem, applying the Hook model implies looking at developing and building communities that become habits in their members’ lives. In other words, how do we create habit-forming communities where members have developed a daily routine of returning and contributing to the community? How do we optimise for community building and vibrancy through the lens of Hooked, and apply the four-step cycle to create positive FOMO and get members actively engaged and participating?

A feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together Sense of community, McMillan & Chavis

CMX did a pretty good job in looking at community building through applying the 4 steps in the Hook model. The logic isn’t that different from optimising for habit-forming products, with the exception that the trigger-action-reward-investment feedback loop is amplified by a desire of belonging and some peer-to-peer network effects. And while community vibrancy is the ultimate aspiration, you won’t be able to get every single member of your community actively involved every single day. The key is to get a core group of contributors to actively engage and co-create, for the benefit of the wider community, and for those creators to become the magnets to keep the community flywheel going.Trigger: what causes a member to think about your community

  • value perception (what’s in it for me) > highlight the utility, benefits and rewards of joining and participating, based on a deep understanding of your members’ needs and wants (what pain is your community relieving and is this a pain point that members face regularly so that they’ll keep coming back?)

  • internal triggers (sense of belonging, connecting & sharing with like-minded, shared purpose, social status …) & external triggers (push & pull, member-get-member …) > it will take a long time for your members to develop an internal trigger that keeps them coming back to your community, which means until then, you have to bring them back with external triggers (but don’t spam)

Action: what a member does to connect to the community, its content and activities

  • simplifying content discovery and access > remove as many steps as possible and get your members directly to the good stuff right away

  • seamless onboarding? > make the onboarding personal & welcoming, while requiring some level of investment (so you can ensure you’re getting the right members who will actually be committed)

  • personalised and curated member experience > highlight relevant community updates and announcements, while filtering out non-relevant noise

Reward: the value that members get when they connect to the community

  • variable reward > ensure members will actually get value from your community every time they return; it might be a great thread they can read, a sense of belonging they immediately feel when they arrive, or any sort of reward that your members get from being a part of your community

  • drips vs. drops > make each visit fresh and exciting, every interaction meaningful and fun; surprise and delight by dripping frequent rewards (e.g. NFTs as ‘Never-Finishing Treats’)

  • social & non-social rewards: fulfil member motivations whether driven by tribe (belonging, connecting with like-minded, social signalling & reputation), hunter (community utility & benefits, recognition & rewards, member-only treats and perks) or self (mastery, self-expression, identity & reputation, pursuing a passion)

Investment: the level of engagement and contribution by members interacting in your community

  • engagement and participation > determine what you want your members to actually contribute to your community (liking a post, posting a comment, starting a new thread, attending an event, collaborating in a working group)?

  • member roles > invite and recognise different levels of participation and skin-in-the-game (members, contributors, core team)

  • sense of autonomy > allow members to chose how to participate/invest while creating culture of inclusion and authenticity

  • connection and interaction > be responsive & lead by example, engage at every opportunity, be a matchmaker

By tokenising incentives, decentralising governance and sharing ownership, web3 communities and DAOs can amplify the dynamics of the Hook flywheel.

With more ways to invest and demonstrate agency, and with tokens as a way to reward contribution and grant special privileges, web3 communities are embedding and reinforcing the four-step cycle to create a positive-sum flywheel. With tokens, members can be facilitated and rewarded for every step and action they take in the community, from gating access, to rewarding participation and building reputation. This encourages members to contribute and add value to the community since they are financially or socially incentivised and rewarded for their active participation. And as continued investment turns members into agents, and token rewards create a sense of co-ownership, a web3 native Hook flywheel will add a third dimension to community network effects, supplementing member loyalty and virality with member agency.

Mutuality and agency are what ultimately sustain the flywheel dynamics. While tokens financially align participants to contribute value to web3 communities, it is grassroots leadership and ownership that enables the long-term success of a tokenised network. Sustaining participation and agency can’t be tricked, nor can it be overly gamified. Membership driven by intrinsic motivation around a shared purpose and scope is what will ultimately drive authentic engagement and meaningful interactions. People only contribute to communities if they trust that their time and energy are going to be put to good use and if they trust the collective ability to progress on the community’s roadmap in delivering utility, benefits and impact. At the end, getting members hooked is about creating a by-and-for-the-community experience that increases their sense of self, their sense of belonging, as well as their sense of (collective) impact.