Forum Software, Variable Rewards, And Serendipitous Flukes

Last week we examined how Nir Eyal’s Hooked Model applies to forum software. We acknowledge the power of the Hooked Model and argue that as more and more users make a habit of using a given forum, powerful network effects occur that strengthen existing hooks which in turn attracts new users and keeps existing users engaged.

During his presentation, Nir said, “The unknown is fascinating.” He went on to explain that variable rewards (as opposed to constant or predictable rewards) cause users to increase focus and engagement. He presented findings from various studies that prove dopamine spikes in anticipation of random rewards. And what’s more is that variable rewards can be used to instill habits in users.

Variable rewards are meaningless if they’re devoid of any real substance. Imagine, for example, “winning” a search badge but not getting the desired search results. This is not a positive outcome. However, coupling variable rewards with whatever the user is seeking is a powerful and virtually irresistible 1-2 punch.

Let’s put variable rewards in the context of forum software. Some common rewards from participating in a forum include:

  • Answer to a question
  • Humor/entertainment
  • New friends
  • Satisfaction from helping others
  • Reputation points, badges, etc.

The reason these rewards are so appealing is that they are infinitely variable. There is no shortage of knowledge that can be gained, new people to meet, or ways to impress others. When these endless possibilities result in something new and fun and positive and exciting, we call them serendipitous flukes. A serendipitous fluke is a chance encounter that results in a net gain of some kind for all parties. As a forum owner and community manager there are few things more gratifying that engineering serendipitous flukes on a daily basis.

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