Human behaviour boils down to motivation. If we are hungry we will eat (unless it’s January and we are still burning off the turkey from Christmas), if we are thirsty we will drink and if we are tired we will sleep. These are the most basic motivators for our most natural behaviours.

However, as we have evolved as a species, there are many more motivations for us to take action. In a previous article we discussed the limbic map. This shows a plethora of motivators that designers can tap into. The major motivator groups in the Limbic Map are Dominance, Stimulant and Balance and these groups have powerful messaging, branding suggestions, and sub-motivators to help you create compelling designs and content that help your ideal users engage.

However these motivators are specific to your target audience and sometimes the audience we gain isn’t exactly what we planned or shifts over time. We can do all the user research possible and our learnings can still have flaws .

The motivators in the limbic map are a specific types of motivator. Humans are, as a whole, are social creatures and this has led us to develop other global types of motivators that help us take actions based around social interaction.

The motivators Professor Cialdini’ has created below are true to (almost) everyone regardless of the motivations outlined in the limbic map. You should take each and every one into account when designing apps or any other digital solutions and see if you can utilising them to motivate your users to take your desired actions.

Cialdini's 7 principles

Robert Cialdini is a hugely influential author and professor of psychology and marketing at the Arizona State University. His leading works are built around the foundation of persuasion and how we can can use originally 6 but now 7 motivations to help persuade our audience to take actions.

Cialdini’s 7 principles tap into many of the social motivators we have developed as we have evolved and you can help your audience engage with you and we want to discuss these with you and how to utilise them effectively to increase your engagement.

1) Reciprocity

People like to help people, it is in our nature and releases endorphins that make us feel good. However, this motivator can be difficult to tap into for B2C or B2B transactions. If you go one step further and tap into reciprocity you can motivate people to take actions that might even be difficult. This can be as simple as giving something to your users for free. Then asking (with no obligation) for them to do something for you.

An example might be in a mobile game some free in-game credits. When they hit accept you then prompt your user for a review. There are several ways to make this task simple as well, maybe a 1-5 rating where a single click instead of a user filling out a questionnaire or form

Another way to use reciprocity to keep users engaged is creating user interaction. Social media apps tap into this motivation constantly as people interact with each other, creating a desire to reciprocate these interactions and keeping their users on their platform. This can be used in other types of apps by recommendations or acknowledgements between users that satisfy this motivator and keep your users engaged.

2) Commitment/Consistency

This can be tricky to utilise successfully within apps but some apps profit greatly from commitment and consistency. As people when we commit to a cause in any format we are more likely to commit to it again. For example, if someone buys one lottery ticket they are more likely to buy another and another and so on creating consistency. We want to help our users create this feeling of commitment with our products and help build consistency.

The idea is to scale your engagement and commitment with your users, which increases their likelihood of contributing more to your app, whether that be engagement or financial. Lots of apps give away free trials for certain periods of time to entice users into using their digital product, but we do not believe this is a good idea. Giving something away for free cheapens your offer and also gives no real incentive for your new user to engage as they are in no way committed. A better model is to offer a discounted period. A handy tip is to try tapping into the first principle (reciprocity) too to grab new users and start then on the path to commitment and consistency by starting then off with a small interaction where they give something back. This giving, if not monetary is still a commitment of sorts and can begin to trigger the above principle.

Making the user make some sort of commitment to you hugely increases their engagement to see if they benefit from your offering — but also makes them more likely to commit again in the future. Subscription model apps can make great use of this but so can other types of apps. Free delivery on your first few purchases, for example, can be a great way to create commitment and consistency from your users and create habits, which is the key to success.

3) Social Proof

Social proof is probably the most commonly used motivator in apps and other digital products.

Social proof includes things like eating healthy or achieving 10,000 steps a day. The more people around you do these things the more likely you are to buy in and do the same. For us as digital marketers, this means using things like testimonials or ratings to increase our engagement. However this is being used in much more subtle ways that tie into some other principles. Some apps and websites will tell you how many other people are viewing a hotel room or how many other people have a certain item in the basket. This triggers our social proofing because it means to us that this is popular and therefore compels us humans to want it more.

4) Authority

As we have developed as a society, we have developed a respect for authority. It is still true that authoritative professions such as doctors and lawyers still compel us to take action. Within digital products there are several ways we can tap into this even.

A great way is to have an authoritative figure involved in your project. For example, maybe you offer a subscription to digital copies of children’s books where users download a book each week. Having recognised children’s authors review the books in your offering is a great way to get people to download books, since an expert in the field is advocating them.

Another idea which may be even more powerful would be to have the author or authorities involved in your marketing. For example, toothbrush and toothpaste brands often have dentists endorse their products.

Furthermore, posting expertise from a wide variety of sources that support any claim of your product as part of the marketing will always help tap into the authority motivator that grabs our attention.

5) Liking

People are always more likely to be persuaded by someone they like than someone they don’t. One way to go about getting people to like you is with branding. Whether it’s personal or the company brand, creating an image people like is important. This might include sharing charity work, to be seen as someone who gives back. It can also include interacting with people in an empathetic way.

Likability outperforms all other predictive metrics when it comes to advertising which is why it’s essential to communicate outwardly in a likable way.

6) Scarcity

Scarcity is the idea that without taking action, someone may miss out — and it’s an extremely powerful motivator. You’ve no doubt seen this in action while shopping online, normally used in tandem with social proofing: “x number of people have looked at this item in the last 24 hours and only x spots remain.” This technique is extremely well used in ecommerce but we can use this for other types of digital products. Offering limited time discounts or freebies for the first x number to take action are other good examples of using scarcity to help motivate users of your products.

However, a word of caution: this can very quickly be over-used and lose all credibility. Some people find those Ecommerce notifications annoying and overly pushy. We are becoming desensitised to them as they are on every item in the shop or every hotel room we see. To bean effective motivator, this needs to be used infrequently so that the offer feels special and rewarding. For example, weekly scarcity offers may lose their effectiveness, whereas bi-annual scarcity offers may be perceived as more credible.

7) Unity

The final principle is unity. As divisive as we can be as a species, all humans seek unity in some capacity. Being part of something is a powerful motivation and many influencers use this principle to motivate people to continue to interact with them. We support teams, we have political beliefs, we divided the world into Nations and all of these things have one thing in common: the term “we.”

Even if you have a difference of opinion with someone, if you both support the same team you can say, “we support x” or “we believe Y” and even “we are from Z.” This exists to create community and the unity this creates is an extremely powerful motivator. This language should be used across your marketing and within your user journeys to create a feeling of unity.

To take it a step further, the best way to tap into the feeling of unity is to create an actual community, which apps like Fitbit let you do. As a user of Fitbit, I have my own community to compete and share goals with, which helps not only motivate me to carry on using the app for its purpose, but also pushes me to become an advocate for the brand. This is, of course, the ultimate goal for any brand.

Bake the 7 Principles Into Your Development Process

As you can see, the 7 principles of social motivation are powerful tools. As such, they should be thoughtfully considered while creating any type of digital product and throughout the entire process. In the first meetings when you are fleshing out the idea, you should be considering what will motivate your users to engage with you, both initially and throughout their journey with you.

Then, every single time a user engages with your product — from marketing touch points to daily interactions — ask yourself how you can continue to support your audience’s motivations.