Slack isn’t just another office collaboration app. The company has been called, “the fastest-growing workplace software ever.” Recent press reports claim that “users send more than 25 million messages each week,” and that the company is, “adding $1 million to its annual billing projections every six weeks.”
Smelling an opportunity, investors just plowed $120 million into the company, giving it a $1.12 billion valuation.
“Our subscription revenue is growing about 8 percent monthly, before we add new sales,” says Slack’s business analytics lead Josh Pritchard. “This is, as far as I know, unheard for an enterprise SaaS company less than seven months after launch.”
Perhaps even more surprising, Slack’s user retention stands at an astonishing 93 percent.
How does Slack get its users hooked?
On the surface, no single factor seems to set Slack apart from a plethora of other online collaboration tools.
However, a closer look using the model described in the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Product, reveals the user psychology behind the company’s success.
A habit is an impulse to take an action automatically, with little or no conscious thought.
Slack’s ability to quickly form a habit could be the key to the company’s tremendous customer loyalty and high engagement.
Slack leads users repeatedly through a cycle called a “hook.”
The four steps of the hook include a trigger, action, reward, and investment, and through successive passes through these hooks, the new habit is formed.
The Slack Habit
The Slack team understood that it is much easier to displace an existing habit than to create an entirely new one. Slack doesn’t try to radically change user behavior. Instead, it makes existing behaviors easier and more efficient.
Slack also meets one of the most important prerequisites required to form a new habit: the key behavior occurs frequently. The company says the average Slack user sends 40 messages a day.
Habituated users send twice as many.
Slack’s Triggers Are a Cue to Take Action
Users keep Slack open all day on a variety of devices and receiving a notification prompts opening Slack. Pritchard says, “It becomes a way of saying to your co-workers ‘I am at work and I am available.’”
The company has focused on making Slack easy to use when on the go. Slack user James Gill said, “I personally have found myself catching-up on things much more from my phone now than I ever did before.”
Though Slack clearly utilizes effective triggers in its own product to get users checking the app, don’t all those notifications overwhelm people? How can a company with the slogan, “Be less busy,” avoid perpetuating mindless multi-tasking with each new ping?
The key appears to be how Slack helps workers avoid other distractions.
Teams often use multiple tools in their work — Asana for project management, Github for version control, and Dropbox for files — all the while receiving notifications and reminders from those tools via email. However, all these messages and notifications can clutter a worker’s day, especially when they are received and processed in the same email inbox they use for all their other messages.
Combined with all the interoffice chatter we send back and forth through email and we soon find ourselves in the email deluge we swim in today.
Slack provides shelter from the storm.
By offering a centralized hub for team communications, including the information streaming in from work-related tools, professionals reduce distraction from the irrelevant messages bombarding their email inbox throughout the day. “Anything in Slack is internal,” says Slack user Jamie Lawrence. “Anything in my inbox should be external.”
Slack acts as a protective shield focusing user’s attention on what’s important by reducing irrelevant triggers.
Slack’s Action and Rewards
By focusing on only the triggers that matter and by making it easier for users to respond through any number of devices, Slack increases the likelihood of the user taking the key action — opening the app.
The next step in Slack’s hook is the reward…
Slack taps into team members’ need to feel included as well as their fear of missing out (FOMO) on important work-related information. Like any number of social media apps and sites, Slack provides variable rewards to its users in the form of new tidbits of information or approval from their peers, which arrive at unpredictable intervals.
Intermittent rewards are endemic to all sorts of habit-forming apps and products. In fact, Pritchard says the product reminds him of his former employer, “My time at Slack is definitely … reminiscent of early Facebook,” he says.
Investing in Slack
The final step of the hook is the investment…
Here, users put in a bit of work into the product to make it more useful and therefore increase the likelihood of using it in the future.
Users invest in Slack in multiple ways:
- inviting colleagues
- sending messages (which then become part of the searchable archive)
- adding integrations with external tools
- and of course, eventually paying for the service.
Slack understands the power of getting users to invest.
In fact, whereas most enterprise tools offer limited features during free trial periods, Slack holds almost nothing back.
The company wants to maximize usage and therefore opportunities to form the Slack habit. The only difference between Slack’s free and paid version is the quantity of messages that can be searched and the number of external tools which can be connected.
By the time companies need this functionality, their teams are already hooked.
Habit-forming apps make it as easy as possible for users to invest. Persuading users to pay, for example, is often a challenge for a previously free tool. However, Slack found a way to overcome some users objections to ponying-up. Pritchard said, “teams will not be charged for inactive users. This seems to significantly reduce the cognitive friction in the purchase process.”
Slack’s 30 percent conversion rate from free to paid customers is one of the highest in the enterprise business.
Slack makes the path from new to habituated user as smooth and as swift as possible. It effectively triggers checking the app, delivers immediate social and information rewards on an intermittent basis, and prompts users to invest by adding colleagues, content and eventually cash.
Nir’s note: This post was co-authored with Ciara Byrne, a technology journalist whose work has appeared in Fast Company, Forbes, VentureBeat and The New York Times Digital.
Photo Credit: Zuerichs Strassen
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- The New Norms of Business: Interview with Nathalie Nahai
- Can We Regulate Social Networks To Curb Addiction—Without Making Them Suck?
- So, You Want To Become a Great Product Manager? [Q&A with Jackie Bavaro]
- Will Clubhouse be a Habit or Has-Been?
- The One Fitness App That Hooked Me For Good
- Here’s How Fortnite ‘Hooked’ Millions
- How Apps Can Shape Your Future Self
- How Netflix’s Customer Obsession Created a Customer Obsession
- Want to Design User Behavior? Pass the ‘Regret Test’ First
- How to Trigger Product Usage that Sticks
- Avoiding Bystander Effect: Getting People to Help Each Other
- Here’s How Amazon’s Alexa Hooks You
- How to Use Psychology to Make Persuasive Video
- How to Use Personality Science to Drive Online Conversions
- The Unbelievable Future of Habit-Forming Technology
- The Secret Marketing Power of Evolutionary Psychology
- Don’t Ask People What They Want, Watch What They Do
- How Cognitive Biases Can Help (and Hurt) Your Business
- What Most People Don’t Know About Behavioral Design
- How to Start a Career in Behavioral Design
- Your World is Full of Placebo Buttons (and That’s a Good Thing)
- How to Build Technology that Feels Like a Friend
- 3 Pillars of the Most Successful Tech Products
- Here’s How to Ethically Manipulate Other People
- How Two Companies Hooked Customers On Products They Rarely Use
- How to Hook Users in 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Die Dashboards, Die! Why Conversations Will Reinvent Software
- The Secret to Sending Emails and Notifications That Work
- How to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Hooked for Good: How Habit-Forming Products Improve Lives
- Good Products Start With Good Questions
- Human + A.I. = Your Digital Future
- Why ‘Assistant-As-App’ Might Be the Next Big Tech Trend
- People Don’t Want Something Truly New, They Want the Familiar Done Differently.
- 4 Ways to Win Your Competitor’s Customer Habits (Slides)
- Here’s Why You’ll Hate the Apple Watch (and the Important Business Lesson You Need to Know)
- The Secret Psychology of Snapchat
- The Psychology of Notifications: How to Send Triggers that Work
- How Technology Tricks You Into Tipping More
- Building Community Starts with Understanding People
- When Persuasion Becomes Deception
- Mastering Pricing Principles
- A Handy Behavioral Design Toolkit
- Onboarding Matters – Getting Users Engaged in your Product
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You’re Toast
- Dual Process Theory: Is Your Product the Elephant or the Rider?
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition’s Customers
- Web Psychology – The Science of Online Persuasion
- Developing User Empathy with Design Sprints
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- Want To Be A Game Psychologist? What You Need to Know
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can’t Stop Messaging
- How to Do Effective User Research
- Context Driven Design (The “Context Effect”)
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Writing Copy for Your Reader’s Brain
- Designing Habit-Forming Products
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- Games, Play, and Motivation
- How Scarcity & Impatience Drive Irrational User Behavior
- Should You Listen To Your Users or Your Data?
- Emotional Engagement – Designing with the Heart in Mind
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- Product Psychology: The 3 Things Everyone Should Know About
- Getting Traction: How to Hook New Users
- Designing for Behavior Change Book Review
- The Sneaky Trick Behind the Explosive Growth of the Kardashian Game
- How Successful Companies Design for Users’ Multi-Device Lives
- The Link Between Habits and User Satisfaction
- What Triggers The Best Word of Mouth Marketing?
- What Tech Companies Can Learn from Rehab
- The Secrets of Addictive Online Auctions
- Teach or Hook? What’s the Real Goal of Online Education?
- Using Mind Control to Raise Startup Cash
- How To Build Habits In A Multi-Device World
- How To Cope with Your Insane Jealousy Of The WhatsApp Deal
- Why Do Fads Fade? The Inevitable Death Of Flappy Bird
- You’d Be Surprised By What Really Motivates Users
- Nostalgia: A Product Designer’s Secret Weapon
- How You Can Help Users Change Habits
- Is “Lean Startup” Right for Your Idea?
- Hunting for Habits: Keying in on smart design to make a product irresistible
- Are Companies Too Obsessed With Growth? How to Measure Habits
- Refresh: The App a Secret Agent Would Love
- Angel or Devil: Who’s Really Investing In Your Start-Up?
- In 10 Years, We Won’t Use Personal Technology
- 4 Simple Things I Did to Control My Bad Tech Habits
- “Yes, And”: The Two Words that Created a #1 App
- From Laid to Paid: How Tinder Set Fire to Online Dating
- What if In-App Purchases Came to Real Life?
- Hooking Users One Snapchat at a Time
- How To Save Your Startup From The “Spotlight Effect”
- Bible App: Getting 100M Downloads is Psychology, Not a Miracle
- How to Boost Desire Using the Psychology of Scarcity
- Marketplaces & The Curse of the Network Effect
- Today’s Behaviors, Tomorrow’s Startups
- Venture Capital and The Superstitious Investor
- The Future is Driven by Interface Changes
- Why Business is Addicted to Habits
- Viral Loops Or Viral ‘Oops’?
- Making a Marketplace
- What Killed Turntable.fm?
- What You Don’t Know About Human Intuition Can Hurt You
- Designing to Reward our Tribal Sides
- New Video – “Hooked: Building Habit-Forming Products”
- How Technology is Like Bug Sex
- Ways To Get People To Do Things They Don’t Want To Do
- The Network Effect Isn’t Good Enough
- Mass Persuasion, One User At A Time
- How Investment Drives Engagement (Slides)
- Getting Your Product Into the Habit Zone
- Where Have The Users Gone?
- Infinite Scroll: The Web’s Slot Machine
- Designing User Habits Video
- Psychology of Sports: How Sports Infect Your Brain
- This is Your Brain On Boarding: How to Turn Visitors Into Users
- User Investment: Make Your Users Do the Work
- Behavior by Design Video
- When Designing for Good Is Bad
- Stop Building Apps, Start Building User Behaviors
- The Next Secrets of the Internet
- User Growth and Engagement: A Hacker Metric
- Spotting the Next Facebook: Why Emotions are Big Business
- The Billion Dollar Mind Trick: An Intro to Triggers
- Why Everyone Hates I.T. People
- Hooking Users In 3 Steps: An Intro to Habit Testing
- Abolish The Reference Check
- Variable Rewards: Want To Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy
- How to Design Behavior (The Behavior Change Matrix)
- How To Design For “Normals”
- The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire in 4 Steps
- User Habits: Why Startups Must Be Behavior Experts
- What Is, and Is Not, Your Product’s Job
- Pinterest’s Obvious Secret
- Personalized eCommerce Is Already Here, You Just Don’t Recognize It
- Where is the Web Going?
- The Developer Divide: When Great Companies Can’t Hire
- Being a Quitter Makes You a Good Entrepreneur
- Behavior by Design
- Why You Should Run Your Business Barefoot
- Are you a Startup Star, Wacko, or Wannabe?