When Snapchat first launched, critics discounted the photo-messaging app as a fad - a toy for sexting and selfies. Their judgements were reasonable. It’s impossible to predict the success of a product on day one, let alone its ability to change user behavior. But hindsight is beginning to prove critics wrong.
Snapchat boasts 5 million daily active users sending 200 million photos and videos daily. That’s an average of 40 snaps a day per user! But why are users so engaged to Snapchat? After all, what real need is Snapchat solving anyway?
Snapchat popularized a new form of expression, using photos and videos as a communication medium. For many, Snapchat is a daily routine - the go-to app for interacting with friends in a playful way. This habit is not a happy mistake but a conscious effort driven by Snapchat through several subtle design choices.
As Nir Eyal describes, habit-forming products must have two things - high perceived utility and frequency of use. In Snapchat’s case, as with most communication services, each individual message isn’t particularly valuable in isolation. But through frequent use, Snapchatters enter the “Habit Zone", instinctually turning to Snapchat to solve their desire to communicate and feel connected with others. This key insight has enabled Snapchat to craft an experience tailored for high engagement.
Here are five ways Snapchat drives habitual engagement with their product:
This tweet about Snapchat recently caught my eye:
As Jack mentions, this is far from Snapchat’s intended use case but exemplifies the speed and ease-of-use of the service. After launching Snapchat, the camera is immediately activated, encouraging instant photo-capturing. Traditional photo-sharing apps like Instagram open a feed to consume media, requiring an additional tap to create. This may appear like a minor inconvenience, but in reality, even the slightest friction can have a large impact. By reducing this process to a single tap, Snapchat enables users to capture fleeting moments faster and with less effort. And to capture a video, simply hold down on the screen to begin recording. No need for additional taps on Snapchat to toggle between photo and video modes.
On Snapchat, nothing is permanent. Photos and videos vanish immediately after consumption. Some argue it’s a gimmick but in reality, this ephemerality lowers our inhibitions to share. When we are less self-conscious, we are less hesitant to act. We care less about creating the “perfect" photo or message, knowing it will disappear in an instant.
In comparison, the permanence of email or text messaging establishes an entirely different context. The artifacts of these conversations live on forever and we acknowledge the possibility that they could be forwarded or leaked to unwelcome eyes. This establishes reservations, censoring what we share and encouraging more thoughtful and ultimately, less frequent communications.
One-to-One Communication at Scale
Group messaging and social network “feeds" are channels for one-to-many communication. These messages are implicit broadcasts, not directed to specific individuals unless mentioned. In turn, consumers of the message have no obligation to respond and in some cases, may be hesitant to reply in a public forum.
After crafting a message, Snapchat users must select who to send it to. They are given the option to send to one or many individuals yet recipients are unable to discern whether a message was explicitly sent to them or several people. And this is the genius of Snapchat. It enables a single message to have a broad reach while maintaining the intimacy of one-to-one communications, leading to a higher volume of messages sent and increased response rates as users feel more socially obligated to return the favor.
We’ve all received an unwanted text message, email, or voicemail and ignored it. We pretend we didn’t see it or delay our response. When senders ask, “Did you get my message?" we make up an excuse. But on Snapchat, there’s no pretending. Each snap includes a read-receipt, informing senders their message was viewed.
This subtle indicator has significant impact on the dynamics of these interactions, creating a social obligation for recipients to reply in a timely manner. This leads to higher response rates and more expedient replies, increasing usage.
Response rates are critical to the success of Snapchat. Without it, users won’t stick around for long. Our craving for feedback and reciprocation is one of the strongest drivers of social products. To illustrate the effect of response rates, I’ll use a very simple example:
Let’s pretend there are two messaging apps, App A and App B. App A’s average response rate - the percentage of messages sent that users reply to - is 80%. App B’s response rate is 20%. For every 1,000,000 new messages sent, another 800,000 are generated in App A and only 200,000 in App B. In turn, these additional messages have a compounding effect as the original sender replies (assuming response rates remain constant). After 9 interactions, App A generates an additional 3,463,129 messages from the initial one million sent, 13x more than App B’s 250,000 messages.
But response rates are just one piece of the equation. Cycle time, the amount of time elapsed between each message, also has a significant influence on engagement. If it takes an average of 4 hours for users to respond to each message, App A will send its 4,463,129th message after 36 hours. However, if the app’s cycle time is reduced to 1 hour, the same number of messages will be sent within 9 hours, intensifying engagement.
The human brain feeds off of variability. When things become mundane and predictable, we become disinterested. Consider your own reading habits. After finishing a book, are you motivated to read it again? Once the mystery is gone, so is our interest. But humans are unpredictable and its this variability that makes social products engaging and long-lasting.
Snapchat communications are highly variable. Each message is composed of various forms of self-expression, captured and created at that moment in time. When notified of a new message, one might question, “I wonder what it is. A photo, a message, a doodle, a video? Where is my friend? What are they doing? Is this a message just for me?"
These questions fuel our curiosity as we hold our finger on the screen to view, knowing the snap will disappear forever in an instant. Ephemerality encourages us to treasure these moments, capturing our attention and transforming ugly photos into novel interactions. This variability keeps things interesting, increasing our motivation to remain engaged to uncover the mystery.
As people continue to use Snapchat several times per day, behaviors emerge that perpetuate engagement and retention. Soon, they are hooked and unlike the ephemeral communications it produces, engagement persists as users turn to Snapchat again and again.
Snapchat succeeds because it encourages frequent use by:
- Making it easy and quick to create photos or videos
- Reducing inhibitions with temporary communications
- Creating a social obligation for users to reply to explicit, one-to-one communications
- Increasing response rates and timeliness of replies using read-receipts
- Motivating consumption through novel, highly variable interactions
Top Consumer Psychology Articles
- 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
- How to Get People to Help Each Other, Online and Off
- 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
- The Limits of Loyalty: When Habits Change, You're Toast
- 4 Ways to Use Psychology to Win Your Competition's Customers
- The Real Reason “Stupid” Startups Raise So Much Money
- The Psychology Behind Why We Can't Stop Messaging
- The Psychology of a Billion-Dollar Enterprise App: Why is Slack so Habit-Forming?
- Framing Reward is as Important as Reward Itself
- A Free Course on User Behavior
- It’s Not All Fun And Games: The Pros and Cons of Gamification at Work
- 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 100 Million Downloads is More Psychology Than Miracles
- 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 Morality of Manipulation
- 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”
- Hooks: An Intro on How to Manufacture Desire
- 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?