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How Facebook Hooked 1.23 Billion People

Approximately 1.23 billion ‒ that’s around one-seventh of the entire world’s population. That’s also the number of people checking Facebook on a daily basis.

Facebook use has almost become a full-fledged addiction: a visit just out of boredom and you’ll find yourself still scrolling through the home page hours later. Facebook becoming a habit wasn’t a mere accident; it is clear that it was built to get us hooked. Facebook understood the underlying psychology of habit-making, and embedded the same to the product.

Based on this theory, can we also build products that will be used out of habit?

Let’s take a closer look at this well-oiled machine.

What Gets Us Hooked?

We tend to get on Facebook when we are bored, sometimes without much conscious thought. One reason is that it is easy to check what’s happening with your friends, or to put up a status, or to watch a video. We tend to pick Facebook over other social media platforms and activities due to its ease of use, diversity in activities offered, and content available.

But, what motivates us to get on Facebook and engage with the platform so much?

One theory could be that we do these things simply for the kick that we get from stimulating our emotional triggers, which helps us get over our boredom. This eventually leads us to look for more things that interest us, and to engage in them, to make sure that we get an internal trigger to check Facebook the next time we are bored.

But internal triggers are not the only reason we check Facebook. We often spend a considerable amount of time checking notifications even when we’re not bored at all, just out of curiosity and to get the notifications cleared. These external triggers come in many forms, from push notifications to emails.

Products can be designed in a way that it becomes habitual to use them. Entrepreneur and behavioural designer, Nir Eyal, extensively talks about how to build habit-forming products. Let’s take a look at his “hook” framework given below.

This framework can help us better understand the above-mentioned Facebook scenario. Our internal trigger [Box1] is boredom, while external triggers are the notifications that we get. These prompt us to take action. An action [Box 2] can be a simple thing such as scrolling. We keep scrolling, looking for something that will emotionally stimulate us. These emotional stimuli are the reward [Box 3] we get. The product encourages us to “react” to ‘like’ things that stimulate you. This is the investment [Box 4] that will make way for another trigger, putting you on an endless loop.

“A behavior that occurs with enough frequency and perceived utility enters the Habit Zone, helping to make it a default behavior.” –  Nir Eyal.

Facebook understood the value of habit-making products at a very early stage, and embedded in it core product functionalities.

Why Build Habits Into A Product?

If a product is being used by habit, that means it ensures a very high level of engagement that will dramatically increase retention rates.

Products used out of habit means

  • Increased customer lifetime value →  increased valuation of the company (Snapchat, for example, is worth USD 22 billion.)
  • Pricing flexibility →  increased revenue and profits.
  • Upselling opportunities →  increased revenue and profits.
  • Creating brand evangelists → saving on your promotions budget.
  • Establishing a competitive edge →  minimising the threat of losing customers to competitors.

Nir Eyal also has a great workbook that will help immensely in building a habit-forming product. The model is simple; however, embedding this into a product isn’t that simple.

The real game is putting it in the product, but how did Mark Zuckerberg do it? By experimentation. The entire Facebook team was aligned to facilitate Digital Marketing  Evangelist at Google and Authorhigh tempo experimentation. Zuckerberg and his team understood that growth was a company-wide thing, and it cannot be assigned to a single team. Zuckerberg made sure that experimentation is facilitated from the top-down across the company to this day.

“The odds are good that everyone on Facebook has been, at some time, part of a test.” –   Andrew Bosworth, VP Engineering, Facebook.

Let’s take a look at how we can build a habit-making product with the help of experiments.

How Zuckerberg Got Us Hooked

Step 1: Build a measurement framework

Clearly understand what matters to you and define how it can be measured. Start off with your business objectives at a very high level, and define goals for each objective. Then define the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) under each goal.

Facebook’s key objective at its initial stage was to increase engagement. Their goal was to improve time on site per user. Some of the KPIs were:

  • Activity per session – the number of activities done by a user during a single session
  • Sessions per hour/day – the number of sessions by users within an hour/ day
  • Daily Active Users – the unique number of users that log in on a daily basis
  • Average lifetime –  the number of days a user stays active before becoming dormant

Author and digital marketing evangelist at Google, Avinash Kaushik, has a brilliant article on how to create a measurement framework. Once you are done with the framework, look at how you can implement analytics that will collect necessary metrics to represent your KPIs.

Step 2: Ideate

Get lots and lots of ideas from various teams, from HR to Engineering to Leadership. But keep in mind what your key business objectives are. Come up with ideas that would impact the KPIs of your set objectives. This aligns your company to the set objective and drives you towards growth. Build a hypothesis and test these ideas.

“You can learn what matters through testing and research. But testing without research will result in tons of wasted tests.” – Peep Laja.

If you are confused about where to get started, use this framework to bucket test ideas.

Given below are three kinds of the test, according to Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group.

Innovative testing is when we create tests that combine all the above-mentioned buckets. These are ideal types of tests if you are not seeing significant outcomes from iterative testing (A/B tests), and also if your site has very low traffic. However, innovative testing can have a negative impact, since there are multiple changes that take place at once, and it might be very difficult to identify what change really impacted the outcomes.

An insightful case of how an innovative test made a negative impact on Facebook can be found here.

Step 3: Prioritise

Where do you want to take your product? What is your key objective? Take a look at your measurement framework. This should answer the question. But how do we actually choose what to prioritise?

Given below is the framework put forward by the CRO team at the popular travel website,  Hotwire, that is often used to prioritise tests.

Priority measurement framework by hotwire

When determining value, we could look at our measurement framework again and see if the test has a strategic fit (aligned with strategy), has a high impact on KPIs. and the reach of the impact (all visitors/segments). In terms of effort, we can easily look at the effort put into do Ads, Landing Pages, development, and coordination.

Hotwire also has a great point system that makes it easily to prioritise the tests.

Step 4: Test

Make sure that all your analytics are in place and that you are closely measuring all the necessary success metrics. Hopefully, you have the measurement framework with past data in relevant reports to benchmark against the previous performance and understand the impact.

“Velocity is the key when it comes to execution. It is not about going through the process, it’s about how fast we can move through the process effectively. Wins comes in different shapes and sizes and they are compound in nature. You can stack these wins on top of each other and lead to more growth.” – Morgan Brown.

Step 5: Analyse

Once you understand what moves the needle for your business, make sure that it is recorded in an easily accessible manner. Always segment your users by source, behaviours, and outcome to get a better understanding of where the test has impacted. Every business is different, and just testing things that have worked out for someone else might not work for you. However, if you do not create a log of your tests, you might duplicate tests, or find it difficult to move forward.

Step 6: Implement

Iterative test learnings can be rolled out right away, since the risk is significantly lower than that of innovative testing, which changes multiple things at a time.

Remember the hook model? If you can identify your hooked customers (by looking at their retention and engagement), you could easily show the new changes to this group and see how they respond. This helps you see if the changes you have made has impacted your most profitable customers.

Implementing innovative test learning segment by segment will help you to mitigate the risk, and if the change has a negative impact, it would make things easier to roll back.

Building a product that would be used out of habit would be awesome; however, it is essential to understand what creates habits, and the best way to go about it is to experiment and test. At a glance, it might look like an impossible task to create another habit-making product just as good as Facebook, but Snapchat has beat them to it.

“Where do we go from here? Left foot, right foot, repeat.” – Andrew Bosworth, VP Engineering, Facebook.

May the growth be with you!

Featured image courtesy digitalinformationworld.com

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