Triggers tell people to “do it now!”


The third element of the Fogg Behavior Model is Triggers. Without a Trigger, the target behavior will not happen. Sometimes a Trigger can be external, like an alarm sounding. Other times, the Trigger can come from our daily routine: Walking through the kitchen may trigger us to open the fridge.

The concept of Trigger has different names: cue, prompt, call to action, request, and so on.

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Examples of Triggers
Facebook uses Triggers effectively to achieve their target behaviors.

Here’s one example: I hadn’t used my “BJ-Demo” Facebook account in a while, so Facebook automatically sent me this Trigger to achieve their target behavior: Sign into Facebook. I’ve posted a screenshot of the email below.

Note how this specific behavior -- signing in -- is the first step of Facebook’s larger goal: reinvolve me in Facebook. (What the system doesn’t know is that I’m already super involved using Facebook with my real account. My demo account is for teaching only.)

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Three Types of Triggers

My Behavior Model names three types of triggers: Facilitator, Signal, and Spark. Those designing for persuasion should use the Trigger type that matches their target user’s context, which combines motivation and ability.

Look at the Facebook example above. What type is it? As I see it, this message from Facebook is mostly a Facilitator. The green “sign in” button is super prominent, making it easy for me to click and perform the target behavior. In addition to the green button, the Trigger message provides three other links that take me to Facebook.


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Triggers can lead to a chain of desired behaviors

Triggers might seem simple on the surface, but they can be powerful in their simplicity (that’s the definition of elegance).

An effective Trigger for a small behavior can lead people to perform harder behaviors. For example, if I can trigger someone to walk for 10 minutes a day, that person may then buy some walking shoes without any external triggering or intervention. That’s elegant persuasion because the walker doesn’t feel like she’s being persuaded to buy shoes. It’s a natural chain of events that an effective Trigger puts into motion.

Note how this behavior chain works in the Facebook example above. This uncluttered Trigger from Facebook offers me four ways to click and log into Facebook. In any of the four cases, the link takes users to a specific page on Facebook, called “Find people you know on Facebook.” That’s smart! Instead of just logging inactive users into the main page, the Facebook Trigger takes people to a page where they can find more friends.

So the behavior chain to reinvolve users in Facebook looks like this:

1. Get users to log in (the email does this)
2. Get user to link to more friends (the “Find people” page does this)
3. Trust that new friends will respond to inactive user (a natural result of friending people)
4. Trust that inactive user will respond to friends and get more involved with Facebook (again, a natural reaction)

Note how these steps move inactive users toward Facebook’s bigger goal -- making Facebook a daily habit, a ritual, and perhaps an obsession.

Also note how the initial Trigger from Facebook did not say “connect to more friends - click here!” That would seem like a complicated behavior to novice users. That would have been like asking a sedentary person to buy walking shoes.

The smart persuader asks people to do simple things -- walk for 10 minutes, click here. Once achieved, the simple behavior then opens the door to harder behaviors: buy walking shoes, connect to more friends.

Many designers make the mistake of asking people to perform a complicated behavior. A corresponding mistake is packing too much into a Trigger. Neither path works well. Simplicity changes behavior.

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Below is a screenshot of Step #2 in Facebook’s “Reinvolvement” Behavior Chain. The Trigger -- [sign into Facebook] -- opens the door to the more complicated behavior of adding friends.


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Facebook has figured out many ways to trigger a simple behavior than then leads to other behaviors. No one uses Triggers better than Facebook. This is why Facebook is adding 700,000 new users each day. This is why Facebook is winning.

The takeaway message for designers is to map out the behavior chains you need -- the user flow you want to happen. (You will likely have more than one.) Then figure out how to get people to do the first behavior in a chain. If people don’t naturally take the next step in the chain, then figure out how to get the next step to happen. Step by step. Continue this process, until the chain works.

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