Sandy Parakilas, who was a platform operations manager at Facebook
in 2011 and 2012, said there was definitely an awareness that Facebook
was habit-forming when he worked at the company.
What separates Hooks from a plain vanilla feedback loop is their ability
to create wanting in the user. Feedback loops are all around us, but
predictable ones don’t create desire. The predictable response of your
fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep
opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the
mix — say, a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time
you open it — and voilà, intrigue is created. You’ll be opening that
door like a lab animal in a Skinner box.
High-end – As an example of a high-end brand who used social media
to build a strong community following, Moleskine (producers of high
quality notebooks) managed to position their brand very well in China.
They focused on their story and vision. The story of the humble black
notebook being adored by and synonymous with artists and intellectuals
in Europe for more than two centuries. This imagery and association
resonated with thousands of Chinese via platforms like Weibo, especially
Douban and Zhihu where art lovers and high profile intellectuals gather.
Similarly, a formerly unknown designer, has turned himself into an
ad-talent by building stories around art pieces on a WeChat official
account and achieved 100,000+ ad exposure for each work.
The platforms have become so dominant because they benefit from
“network effects”. Size begets size: the more sellers Amazon,
say, can attract, the more buyers will shop there, which attracts more
sellers, and so on. By some estimates, Amazon captures over 40% of
online shopping in America. With more than 2bn monthly users, Facebook
holds sway over the media industry. Firms cannot do without Google,
which in some countries processes more than 90% of web searches.
Facebook and Google control two-thirds of America’s online ad revenues.
On the second major question; namely “What are Chinese netizen’s fond
of?”, and what draws the attention of various groups on these platforms?
When looking at age demographics the answer appears to be that this
correlates fairly closely to the West in a broad sense. For example, if
you happen to be in a WeChat group with your 50+ year old relatives, it
is very likely that you may often receive shared articles with scare
head like “100 health care tips that 99% people do not know”. Any of the
health related headlines can instantly stimulate the nerves of these
people. Similar to family groups, there are classmate groups, mother
groups with certain age bracket, and groups categorized by hobbies such
as food lover groups, shopper groups. The size of some groups reach the
The early signs are already visible. The European Commission has accused
Google of using control of Android, its mobile operating system, to
give its own apps a leg up. Facebook keeps buying firms which could
one day lure users away: first Instagram, then WhatsApp and most
recently tbh, an app that lets teenagers send each other compliments
anonymously. Although Amazon is still increasing competition in
aggregate, as industries from groceries to television can attest, it
can also spot rivals and squeeze them from the market.
When Barbra lands on Pinterest, not only does she see the image she
intended to find, but she’s also served a multitude of other glittering
objects. The images are associated with what she’s generally interested
in — namely, things to see during a trip to rural Pennsylvania — but
there are also some others that catch her eye. The exciting
juxtaposition of relevant and irrelevant, tantalizing and plain,
beautiful and common sets her brain’s dopamine system aflutter with the
promise of reward. Now she’s spending more time on the site, hunting for
the next wonderful thing to find. Before she knows it, she’s spent 45
minutes scrolling in search of her next hit.
The benefits of effective social media management are no secret to many
businesses and their customers worldwide. Even for “old-school” formerly
state owned postal services, as a customer you can often get better
service and satisfaction via Twitter than more traditional methods such
as hotline or email. In China, however, there are additional
complexities when it comes to engaging with your target market. In China
there is no Facebook, no Twitter, and no YouTube, which makes you
wonder, how did Durex engineer this change in fortunes using Chinese
Social Media when facing such obstacles? How was the above written with
not one double entendre?
The rivalry remedy
The degree to which a company can utilize habit-forming technologies
will increasingly decide which products and services succeed or fail.
However, the barriers to entry are rising. Facebook not only owns the
world’s largest pool of personal data, but also its biggest “social
graph”—the list of its members and how they are connected. Amazon has
more pricing information than any other firm. Voice assistants, such as
Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, will give them even more
control over how people experience the internet. China’s tech firms have
the heft to compete, but are not about to get unfettered access
to Western consumers.
Using the example of Barbra, with a click on the interesting picture in
her newsfeed, she’s taken to a website she’s never been to before called
Pinterest. Once she’s done the intended action (in this case, clicking
on the photo), she’s dazzled by what she sees next.
– In the evening purchase groceries or buy dinner using WeChat Wallet;
The dominance of Google, Facebook and Amazon is bad for consumers and
Aza Raskin from the Centre for Humane Technology said social media
companies deliberately use addictive technology in their apps in order
to lure us in to spending as much time on their platforms as possible.
But, like it or not, habit-forming technology is already here. The fact
that we have greater access to the web through our various devices also
gives companies greater access to us. As companies combine this greater
access with the ability to collect and process our data at higher speeds
than ever before, we’re faced with a future where everything becomes
more addictive. This trinity of access, data, and speed creates new
opportunities for habit-forming technologies to hook users. Companies
need to know how to harness the power of Hooks to improve people’s
lives, while consumers need to understand the mechanics of behavior
engineering to protect themselves from unwanted manipulation.
– Buy breakfast with WeChat Wallet;
There is thus a justified fear that the tech titans will use their power
to protect and extend their dominance, to the detriment of consumers
The tricky task for policymakers is to restrain them without unduly
The trigger is the actuator of a behavior — the spark plug in the Hook
model. Triggers come in two types: external and internal. Habit-forming
technologies start by alerting users with external triggers like an
email, a link on a website, or the app icon on a phone. By cycling
continuously through these hooks, users begin to form associations with
internal triggers, which become attached to existing behaviors and
emotions. Soon users are internally triggered every time they feel a
certain way. The internal trigger becomes part of their routine
behavior, and the habit is formed.
Chinese Netizens’ Taste
If this trend runs its course, consumers will suffer as the tech
industry becomes less vibrant. Less money will go into startups,
most good ideas will be bought up by the titans and, one way or another,
the profits will be captured by the giants.
Jan 18th 2018
Type the name of almost any successful consumer web company into your
search bar and add the word “addict” after it. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try
“Facebook addict” or “Twitter addict” or even “Pinterest addict,” and
you’ll soon get a slew of results from hooked users and observers
deriding the narcotic-like properties of these sites. How is it that
these companies, producing little more than bits of code displayed on a
screen, can seemingly control users’ minds? Why are these sites so
addictive, and what does their power mean for the future of the web?
So what do these social network services provide and how are they used?
Some people would offer this simple answer:
This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under
the headline “Taming the titans”
In essence this means giving people more control over their
information. If a user so desires, key data should be made available
in real time to other firms—as banks in Europe are now required to do
with customers’ account information. Regulators could oblige platform
firms to make anonymised bulk data available to competitors, in
return for a fee, a bit like the compulsory licensing of a patent.
Such data-sharing requirements could be calibrated to firms’
size: the bigger platforms are, the more they have to share. These
mechanisms would turn data from something titans hoard, to suppress
competition, into something users share, to foster innovation.
But how do companies create a connection with the internal cues needed
to form habits? They manufacture desire. While fans of Mad Men are
familiar with how the ad industry once created consumer desire during
Madison Avenue’s golden era, those days are long gone. A multiscreen
world, with ad-wary consumers and a lack of ROI metrics, has rendered
Don Draper’s big-budget brainwashing useless to all but the biggest
brands. Instead, startups manufacture desire by guiding users through a
series of experiences designed to create habits. I call these
experiences Hooks, and the more often users run through them, the more
likely they are to self-trigger.
– Check chats from time to time at work;
But big tech platforms, particularly Facebook, Google and Amazon, do
indeed raise a worry about fair competition. That is partly because
they often benefit from legal exemptions. Unlike publishers, Facebook
and Google are rarely held responsible for what users do on them; and
for years most American buyers on Amazon did not pay sales tax. Nor do
the titans simply compete in a market. Increasingly, they are the market
itself, providing the infrastructure (or “platforms”) for much of the
digital economy. Many of their services appear to be free, but users
“pay” for them by giving away their data. Powerful though they already
are, their huge stockmarket valuations suggest that investors are
counting on them to double or even triple in size in the next decade.
Aza Raskin invented the endless scroll – the app feature that means
you don’t have to click to get to the next page and can keep scrolling
for far longer than maybe necessary or healthy.
Creating associations with internal triggers comes from building the
four components of a Hook — a trigger, action, variable reward, and
What else do you need in order to build connections between you and
Chinese netizens via social media? The straight answer would be at least
the experts who are always aware of what are the trends in the country,
what is no-go, culturally, politically and legally, as making friend
with the government is as important as making friend with netizens in
Second, trustbusters need to think afresh about how tech markets
work. A central insight, one increasingly discussed among economists
and regulators, is that personal data are the currency in which
customers actually buy services. Through that prism, the tech titans
receive valuable information—on their users’ behaviour, friends and
purchasing habits—in return for their products. Just as America drew up
sophisticated rules about intellectual property in the 19th century, so
it needs a new set of laws to govern the ownership and exchange of data,
with the aim of giving solid rights to individuals.