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How to Use the Psychology of Addictive Technology to Create Compelling Member Benefits

Written by Julie Dietz on July 7, 2016 at 8:30 AM

How to use the psychology behind addictive technology to build compelling member benefits

Why do you check Facebook every time you're bored? Why do you reach for your phone almost before you've even opened your eyes in the morning? Go for the coffee maker as soon as you're on your feet?

It's habit. Habits are a powerful force in our lives that influence us in ways that we don't always fully recognize. Sure, we know that we have some habits, like biting our nails or fidgeting with our jewelry, but there are many other habits that we don't even realize we have.

In fact, according to acclaimed entrepreneur and author Nir Eyal, up to 40% of the things we do every day are done purely out of habit. Our habits are comfortable, familiar, and often unconsciously formed through our psyches. Technology companies including Facebook and Twitter have taken advantage of that, and used human psychology to create addicting products that deliberately cause us to form habits.

Consider it. You may be thinking now, but did you think yesterday before you pulled up Twitter? Or was it automatic?

Most of us are addicted to technology, like Twitter, without fully realizing how that happened. It's because we don't understand the psychology behind habits and how addictive technology causes us to form them.

That's what Nir Eyal set out to explain in his book, blog, and YouTube channel. Because habits, as we all know, can be good or bad. Exercising is a good habit, one that many of us wish we had. So is eating right and having healthy, productive work and social lives. Habits can be a positive force in our days.



As an association, you have the power to influence your members in a positive way. By understanding the psychology of addictive technology, you can use it responsibly in your organization's member benefits, messages, and engagement opportunities. Associations are, after all, built to make their members' lives better through education, advocacy, and other positive causes.

Take a cue from Nir Eyal, and the tech giants who have already put human psychology to good use. Get to know the psychology of addictive technology, using it to your advantage by encouraging your members to form healthy habits that enrich their lives, as well as the lives of their peers.

Applying the Psychology of Addictive Technology to Your Member Benefits

Addictive technology builds habits based on a hook, which is an infinite behavior loop that encourages your members to repeat a series of actions until they become habits. The hook consists of four parts that you can use in positive ways to encourage your members to form healthy, fulfilling habits that better their lives both professionally and personally.

The habit-forming hook infinity loop.

Hook Part 1) The Trigger


Triggers are things that tell us what to do next. Some triggers are external and are commonly used by associations already. A call-to-action is an external trigger with obvious instructions on what to do next, for example. Think about the button on your homepage prompting members to "Start Your Educational Course Today." That's an external trigger.

Other triggers are internal, which make them much more powerful than external triggers. These triggers deal with memories and emotions such as joy, sadness, and loneliness. Negative emotions are particularly influential and  effective at driving people's actions. Why? Because we don't like them. We want negative emotions to go away. If you feel sad, you take action to make yourself feel better and get rid of that negative feeling. Those types of reactions are what make negative internal triggers so influential.

How Your Association Can Use Triggers

If you aren't already, start using external triggers like calls-to-action to create a clear path to your association and its benefits.  These can be included in all your messages, including emails and blog posts in your online community. "Join Now!" and "Get Your Free Guide" are a few ideas to get you started.External_trigger_call-to-action.jpg

You should spend the most time, however, taking advantage of internal triggers because they carry more weight. Create benefits and messages that your members can turn to when they experience emotions, especially negative emotions.

To do this, create messages with information on how your association solves members' problems. If your members are feeling confused about regulation changes in their industry, your association should come to mind. Didn't you send out an email about educational courses that will explain the regulation changes and the best ways to handle them? Their negative, confused feelings will lead members to your message, and your educational benefit, to solve the problem.

The more benefits you have that cater to internal triggers, the better. Help your members solve a problem and alleviate negative feelings. Just make sure your members know about your benefits in the first place so  your association comes to mind as soon as the trigger occurs.

Hook Part 2) The Action


The second part of the hook, the action, is a behavior that is done in response to a trigger, in anticipation of a reward. For example, logging into a social media website like Facebook is an action that someone does when they feel lonely. Feeling lonely is the trigger, and logging in to the website in anticipation of feeling connected instead of lonely, is the action.

How Your Association Can Use Actions

Your association shouldn't just be something your members join, there must be something they can do after they join. Engagement opportunities should be built into all your messages and member benefits so that your members can interact. This is the action component.

Logging in to your association's website and online community are both actions you should consider building into your benefits. Similar to public social networking, logging in to your private online community is the first step toward feeling connected and alleviating loneliness, for instance. Contributing content, asking or answering questions, or completing educational courses are a few more actions you could include.

Make sure you have plenty of places where members can interact with your association, peers, and experts. Give them an array of actions to choose from, so they can personalize their experience based on what they like to do, as well as perform different actions in response to different triggers.

Hook Part 3) The Reward


The reward is the thing that people performed an action to get. They don't have to be tangible; rewards can also be positive emotions like feeling connected, seeing an interesting tweet, or watching a funny video that relieves stress.

The most effective rewards have an element of mystery to them. They're somewhat random, and may even involve a bit of a hunt. When people have to scroll down a newsfeed on Facebook or Twitter, not knowing exactly what they're going to see, they have to search for the best post, the best piece of content. They don't know exactly what they're going to see, or who they will have an update from, but they want to find out.

This element of mystery and the need to work for the reward keeps people interested. If people knew exactly what they were going to get, they wouldn't need to take the action to get it.

How Your Association Can Use Rewards

The reason why people join your association is to get some type of reward, usually one or more of your member benefits. Your member benefits can be the rewards themselves, or they could lead to a reward through engagement.

Your online community and its expert discussion forums is one example of a benefit that is also a reward. The discussion forums educate members, make them feel connected, help them meet peers and experts, and are interactive.

Checking out the latest discussions or content in your online community also meets the criteria for being somewhat random. Members never know what they are going to get in terms of value, content, and people.

A benefit that leads to a reward, on the other hand, might be an educational course. The course is the benefit, but the reward is the knowledge that members gain from it. As your members engage with the course, they receive the reward, learning a new skill that they can then use in their personal or professional life.

Create your benefits specifically with a reward in mind. Whether it's connection, education, advocacy, or making a difference in the world at large, your members need to receive something from your association and its offers.

Hook Part 4) The Investment


The final part of the hook is the investment. The investment is something that increases the likelihood of your members going through the hook again. The hook is an infinity loop, remember? It's meant to be repeated.

In its simplest form, investment is an increase in value. Every time members perform an action, the value of the benefit, tool, or product involved in that action should increase. For instance, the more people go on Twitter and tweet, the more followers they get. They establish a reputation, which is a stored form of value, for being entertaining or knowledgeable. As their reputation grows, they can reach even more people with their posts, and their Twitter account becomes more valuable.Depositphotos_19296845_original.jpg

While members should be the ones primarily performing the actions that increase investment and value, organizations can and should contribute. It is also the organization's responsibility to create the potential for investment, ensuring that members can contribute to appreciating value. Organizations need to build investment into products and services from the very beginning.

How Your Association Can Incorporate Investment

Like addictive technology such as Facebook and Twitter, your association's benefits should grow in value as time goes on. Build the principle of investment into every benefit and strategic initiative you take on. The more your members engage with your association and its benefits, the more useful they should be.

Again, your online community is a great example. The more content that you and your members add, the more valuable the community becomes. The resources and knowledge base in the community grow as members post blogs, and you add white papers and research studies. Similarly, the more members post in your online community, the more their reputation grows. In this way, your private member community is the same as social networks, it's just exclusive to your association.

Other benefits and initiatives should follow the same principle. If you're an advocacy organization, then the more your members participate, the greater their impact, and the greater the impact of your association. Value only increases with engagement.

Highlight how your benefits and association increase value for members. It should be very clear what, exactly, people are getting out of their membership, and why it's essential they remain active members to keep receiving more and more value.

Takeaway: Using Addictive Psychology to Create Irresistible Member Benefits

The four parts of the hook – trigger, action, reward, and investment – are all designed to form habits. As people go through the hook's sequence of events, and then repeat them, they become comfortable, natural, and even addicting. Habits form.

This hook is the psychology behind the addictive technology that we've all grown to use every day. It's incredibly influential, playing into our emotions to determine how we spend much of our time. It's also something that you, as an association, can put to good use.

You have the power to use this psychology to create benefits, messages, and engagement opportunities that help your members. Make offers that solve a problem, are interactive, rewarding, and appreciate over time. This will help make participation in your association become a healthy habit for your members – something they crave to have access to and interact with because of how it positively impacts their lives.

For more information on how to craft benefits that hook your members and use psychology to increase online community engagement, check out our interview with Nir Eyal.

Nine low-cost member engagement strategies for associations.

Topics: Associations, Member Experience, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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