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What Social Media can Teach us About Engagement

  • You visit an amazing place, do you reach for your phone to take a photo for Instagram?
  • You receive a Facebook notification, do you check what it is as soon as you see it?
  • You post on LinkedIn, do you keep checking how many likes you get?
These actions are common for many of us and the platform where this plays out is.. *drumroll* media.

According to a study by Mediakix, people spend more time on social media in comparison to eating, drinking and socialising combined (Osman, 2017). Crazy, though totally believable right? How often have you been out and about and noticed that everyone around you had their eyes locked on their phones? Have you ever been out for dinner with a friend or partner who ended up dining with their phone instead of you (third wheel alert!)? Social media is the new smoking and many of us are addicted (Castellano, 2017).

So, we can confirm that people are motivated to interact with social media. Well, you may be thinking, “Cool, and…?”. Social media has the golden thing that we all strive and work tirelessly for in the learning and development industry… engagement (*cue shimmering stars). Social media hasn’t just by chance engaged the majority of the population. There is a root cause for how this has happened and if we are smart about what we do, we should figure it out.

If you are reading this and you are an Instructional Designer, L&D guru or HR Manager then strap yourself in because you are about to discover the secrets of engagement, proudly supported by our dearly beloved social media.

Social media is all about building habits and here is a model that does just that.

This model, created by Nir Eyal is called, ‘Hook’, and consistents of four parts being:

1. Trigger
2. Action
3. Reward
4. Investment

In this blog we will explore each stage, relate each stage to how it has made social media so engaging and most importantly, provide you with practical tips to use for your learning solutions.

1. Trigger

Every hook starts with a trigger as it tells us what to do next (Eyal, 2015). Triggers can be external or internal. External triggers are prompts like buttons that tell us to ‘click here’, ‘share’ or ‘buy’. Internal triggers on the other hand are critical to forming long-term habits. They happen from direct association to a memory (Woo, n.d.) with little to no conscious thought, promoting an urge to act (Serenity at Summit, 2014). For example, if you are on your own, you may unconsciously feel lonely and this will then trigger the need to connect with your friends. Ta-dah! You pull out your phone and Facebook messenger is right at your fingertips (message away and you don’t feel as lonely anymore a.k.a. problem solved!).

So, how can you create triggers for your learning solutions? External triggers are easy and are often included in eLearning courses by default such as messages like ‘click next to X’ but we know that external triggers don’t create long-term habits and internal triggers are crucial (Eyal, 2015).

Here are some ways you can create internal triggers in your learning solutions:

  • Provide learners with the learning content in the moment, when they need it. If your learner is struggling with a task or concept their internal trigger will be to find the answer and your learning content can become easily accessible in that moment. 
  • Don’t provide learners with resources in your eLearning course until they need it. For example, if you are sharing a framework with the learner, share it when they need to use the framework to apply it to a decision, not just where you introduce it as content.
2. Action

Action in this case is the most simple action a user can take to bring them closer to a reward (Cowan, 2016). For example, if you want an answer to a question, you do a quick search in Google. If you need to catch transport at your doorstep, rather than waiting outside and looking around for one, you simply click a button on your Uber app. If you want to create a product that is engaging you need to make actions as simple and quick as possible.

The harder you make the action, the less likely your learner will be inclined to do it. Have you ever found a free guide or workbook online, clicked to download it, realised you have to fill out your personal information and decided against it due to the effort required? That is an example of an action being too hard to take (and BAM motivation is lost!). Social media is the king of action. Think about how simple it is to scroll through a feed and access new content.

In terms of eLearning design, how can you make actions required from your learner as effortless as possible? Here are some considerations: 
  • Make the appearance of buttons consistent throughout your course so that learners are not wasting time figuring out how to interact with it. This could mean making all buttons the same colour, shape and size.
  • Make course instruction text stand out from normal text so the learner unconsciously focuses on the action information on screen that will in turn show them the next course of action. 
3. Reward

Now we are up to the good part, reward! Who doesn’t love a good reward right? We post a photo on Instagram in the hope that we will be rewarded with likes and comments, we look through our Facebook feed in the hope that we will be rewarded with interesting content and we click play on a YouTube video in the hope that we will be entertained.

What is interesting is that it is not the reward itself that gives us a sense of gain but rather the anticipation of it (De La Hera, 2018). The brain gets us to act by creating this sense of anticipation and this is what motivates us to pick up our phones and scroll through social media instead of finishing that overdue work project. This anticipation is of the unknown (for example, who and how many people liked our recent post). According to a video by Nir Eyal (2015), there are three types of variable rewards. They are:
  • Rewards of the Tribe: As humans we are meant to be part of a tribe, so we instinctively look for rewards that make us feel accepted, important and included (Nir and Far, 2012). Rewards of the Tribe refers to social rewards such as receiving likes and comments on your photos. 
  • Rewards of the Hunt: It’s human nature to hunt. We once hunted for food, today we hunt for information (Nir and Far, 2012). Whether it’s scrolling through online shopping websites to find that perfect outfit or scrolling through Twitter to find that one entertaining tweet. 
  • Rewards of the Self: Rewards of the Self refers to the seeking of personal gratification. Think about how good it feels to tick items off your to-do list, clear your email inbox and complete game levels. This is our way of seeking mastery of the world around us (Nir and Far, 2012).
Here are some ways you can create elements of reward in your learning design:
  • Provide learners with public recognition if they do well in the learning experience such as sending out an all staff email recognising learners that exceeded or have a ‘learner of the month’ award.
  • Offer rewards for correct actions and decisions such as the opportunity for further learning opportunities relevant to their goals.
  • Break up long-term goals into smaller achievable chunks that they can tick off as they progress e.g. providing a badge for each completed topic. 
4. Investment

The more time that users invest in a product or service, the more likely they are to continue to use it (Online Learning Insights, 2016). Each time you visit social media you don’t know what content will appear but what you do know is that it will always be new and updated. This is what brings people back for more. 

In the case of eLearning, depending on the skill that is being trained, you may not require the learner to revisit the course (especially if the content doesn’t update over time). What about if you have a procedure or piece of learning that is updated over time and requires investment and buy-in from the learner to return to it? Here is what you could do:
  • Your content should not depreciate, it should appreciate over time through providing updated content or the offer of extra activities (Eyal, 2015). For example, you could create a learning experience when, as completed, offers benefits outside of the online environment. When a level is completed, you could offer the learner a chance to connect with a mentor and the next level could enable the learner to run a training session to share what they have learnt. Think about what motivates your end-user and provide rewards that are achieved from revisiting and investing extra time in the learning experience.
That’s it for this blog on what social media can teach us about engagement. We hope that you gained value from the tips and tricks behind the engagement of social media and are able to apply them to your own projects.

Engagement from your learners is crucial for an effective learning experience and we think that taking a page from the book of social media is a great way to achieve this. If you liked this blog, please give it a like or share it with your community (we are craving a reward of the tribe after all!). 

If you are interested in this topic and would like to discuss it in further detail please don’t hesitate to contact our passionate founder, Kim Tuohy, by emailing or by connecting with her on LinkedIn.


Castellano, O. (2017). Social Media is The New Smoking, And You Are Addicted. Retrieved from

Cowan, A. (2016). Making your Product a Habit: The Hook Framework. Retrieved from

De La Hera. (2018). Anticipation is Worth More than the Reward. Retrieved from

Eyal, N. (2015). [Fight Mediocrity]. (2015, October 4). HOOKED: HOW TO BUILD HABIT-FORMING PRODUCTS BY NIR EYAL ANIMATED - NARRATED BY NIR EYAL [Video File]. Retrieved from

Nir and Far. (2012). Variable Rewards: Want to Hook Users? Drive Them Crazy. Retrieved from

Online Learning Insights. (2016). Can ‘“Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” Help Make Learning a Habit? Retrieved from 

Osman, M. (2017). What Makes Social Media so Addictive? Retrieved from

Serenity at Summit. (2014). What are Internal Triggers? Retrieved from

Woo, R. (n.d.). How Internal Triggers Power Effective User Engagement Strategy. Retrieved from

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