How to hook users with Internal Triggers in Instagram

In 2014 Business Insider published an article with comments from Nir Eyal, a Stanford University lecturer and author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” stating a couple of reasons why users are addicted to Instagram. Namely, a desire to capture precious moments, an immediate reward by making cool photography easy, and FOMO acting as strong internal triggers.

In 2017, TIME published an article “Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health” stating how Instagram leads to anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO. General negativity around social media aside, there is a lot to learn from the small tricks that Instagram uses to get users hooked on the app.

Like to get more likes

One of the most obvious reward examples in Instagram is “hearting”. After using Instagram for a while, users will realize they get more reactions from users whom you interact more with. The hypothesis is that users’ actions are affecting their recipient’s feed. The following are examples on how Instagram makes users heart more to get more hearts.

  • It is easy to like posts. Users simply have to double-tap the post. Also, all social action CTAs (heart, comment, share) are listed on left side, which catches eyes better but may be harder to reach when user holds the phone on their right hand, while personal CTA (save for collection) is on right side.
Double tap to heart a post
  • Once others like your post, comments on your post, or follows you, there is a clear indication of notification CTA in the bottom navigation. Instagram does it elegantly without cooling the spell.
An elegant popup indicating recent reactions becomes an immediate rewards for your post

Expand network: Suggest Users to Follow

Similar to how hearts affect users’ exposure in recipients feeds, expanding their network is another key driver to increase reactions. Instagram has a number of interesting methods to suggest more people to follow. Most obvious location is from the discover CTA within the profile page. However, this is not the main path for the user to follow more users. As listed below, Instagram integrates suggested users list in multiple pages and circumstances, so users encounter these lists while taking another actions in the app.

  1. The list appears within the main feed, between regular posts; This method is also commonly used in another social media platforms.
  2. The list appears in the notification page, under recent and not-viewed activities. The notification page is extremely important to keep heavy users hooked on the app, but at the same time older items and already viewed items do not serve much of a purpose. On top of that, when I imagine why heavy users visit the notification page, I realize it is due to a strong desires to explore how to get more followers, this placement seems to be extremely logical.
Suggested for you after recent notification list

Leading to Compete:

Once a user’s network expands enough, reactions keep constantly feeding for their internal triggers. In the notification page, there is a separate tab “Following” where summarizes recent users activities within your network.The page is essentially a dashboard without using graphs; It lists what other users started to follow, heart, or comment on, and its layout is made easy to scan faces of who are active recently. The page serves two purposes; users can explore more content outside of their daily activities, and heavy users feel competition with other users who may be more active than themselves. For this reason, the page is not easily accessible so as not to overwhelm light users.

A “Following” tab in the notification page, where it lists your network’s actions in the timeline format.

Another Hook: Comments

Other than the heart, commenting is another popular interaction in Instagram. Due to image-heavy content and block-users / report-spam functions, we don’t see so many nasty comments in threads but text communication in social media always has a potential risk.

The below example is a relatively new and interesting small trick guiding users to comment. When a user gazes at a post and pauses scrolling for a moment, a small text input field appears below the post. Modifying layers of information based on users’ behavior and doing that over time is a nice touch. Providing a quicker path for users to comment is one positive aspect, but it also lets users comment directly on a post rather than being influenced by others’ comments, which may be a fundamental cause of trolling and bullying.

A small comment field below a post only appears when user pauses for a same post for a moment

However, I am not sure whether emphasizing text commenting too much is a good direction for Instagram considering for measures against social media stress. Instead of public commenting, I would bring the focus on direct messaging function more; It is a nice breeze to have a way to connect privately within a stressful social media platform.

Currently, direct message function is hidden at the top right of the main feed. The direct message function is hidden, being at the top right corner of the main feed. Many people seem to miss it all together. In order to prioritize the direct message, I would switch its placement with where the profile is at the bottom navigation. The main function for the current profile page is to revisit user’s own posts or other user’s posts that are saved as user’s collections. In addition, users can access settings, profile, or to discover more people. However, none of these functions seem to require prime real estate, especially as there are many other locations where the app suggests more users to follow. This way, I believe it can balance public exposures and networking with methods for keeping communications private.

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