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In less than a year, Product Hunt (PH) has become the preeminent daily destination for thousands of people who love being the first to discover new and cool products. It now has over 100,000 users.

Engaging a community of any size, let alone one that has tens of thousands of users, is difficult. Yet Product Hunt keeps thousands looking forward to coming back day after day after day (you just have to spend a little bit of time on Product Hunt to confirm this).

So how does Product Hunt do this from a product perspective? What elements of this community-centric product really drive community engagement?

Today we’re going to answer this by looking at what the PH product does through the lens of Nir Eyal’s Hook Model which consists of a trigger, action, variable reward, and investment.

Before we jump in, as with any community, let’s clarify that Product Hunt has:

  • A majority of “consumers” who don’t add content – be it product submissions or comments. They either lurk and/or upvote products.
  • A minority of “creators” that submit products and take part in conversations around them. This is otherwise known as the 80/20 rule.

It’s significant that Product Hunt has made the Hook model work for consumers and creators alike, as we’ll see in a bit. Let’s dive in…

First a quick overview of the Hooked Model:

The basic idea is that you’re going to move a user through a loop that over time will help them develop a habit of returning and contributing to the community. It looks like this:

the_hook

 

A trigger, internal or external, drives a user to the platform where they get some sort of variable reward, contribute something of their own and return to the platform later for the same loop.

Let’s take a look at how this loop works so well for Product Hunt.

1. The Trigger

Product Hunt exercises both internal and external triggers to get its users to think about coming back every day. What are these triggers and how are they built into the community product?

Internal Triggers:

Product Hunt’s users by definition are early adopters and/or inherently interested in what’s new and cool. They were already looking for something like Product Hunt to come along to meet this need. When it did, it didn’t take any prodding for these users to convince them of Product Hunt’s value. They are internally motivated by the value that Product Hunt brings to the table: they’ll be the first to discover new products and services.

As one Product Hunt power user, named JMJ put it, “In early 2014, Ryan Hoover made me a contributor, and this actually changed my life quite a bit. Every night, I began scouting AngelList, Hacker News, and Kickstarter — trying to find the next cool startup to submit.”

This is one of the most powerful techniques community experts use. Figure out what people are already trying to do and just make it easier for them.

External triggers:

There are five key product triggers that remind people to come back again and again. These are the small prodding actions that get people to engage over time, cementing their bond with their fellow community members.

a. Daily emails: Product Hunt sends out an email every morning at a set time. The majority of the email is about the top hunts of the previous day and also includes new collections around specific topics, like community products or travel products. Users come to expect these regular roundups of new information each day.

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b. Email notifications when you get a @mention on Product Hunt: This is self-explanatory. When someone @mentions you, you’ll get a notification via email, prompting you to engage with the person who mentioned you.

c. Email notifications when someone you follow does something: The ability to follow and be followed (like Twitter) is very new on Product Hunt. Currently, when someone you follow submits a product that is published on Product Hunt, you get an email.

d. iOS App: This is also a recent addition to Product Hunt’s armory. In a meta way, this feeds users’ desires to be the first to know when something’s happened on the site. They are able to get push notifications, download products straight away to their phones, and engage on-the-go.

e. Product Usage: Every use of a product that a user finds via Product Hunt reminds a user of where they learned about the product, further cementing their desire to return to the app to find more products like the one they’re using.

f. Tweets: Product Hunt automatically tweets out new products that are posted and since a lot of the community follows them on twitter, this triggers a lot of users to return to the site.

In the end, the cycle of internal and external triggers ingrains Product Hunt as something to check out daily. As a result, the community comes together on a regular basis to engage around new products.

2. The Action

Remember, the action is how a user responds to a trigger, like clicking a link or going directly to the site.

Product Hunt raises the odds that users will respond to the trigger by making it easy to act on these internal and external triggers.

Many users are already motivated from within to check out what’s happening on Product Hunt today. But even the ones that aren’t as inclined to check out Product Hunt daily are likely to be persuaded to check it out. Let’s see how.

a. Daily emails: When you see the top hunts you missed yesterday, directly under them is an unmissable link in the email to get you back to Product Hunt.

There’s also a blurb about the latest collection, which is a selection of products around a certain theme.

This section of the email has the prominent red call to action button as well. It takes you straight to the collections page and see all the products that Product Hunt has curated around that theme.

b. Email notifications on @mention: The email contains the name of the person that @mentioned you, their comment and a nice bright red button to reply to the comment. There’s no need to (remember to) come back to Product Hunt to see and participate in the conversation.

c. Emails when someone you follow does something: The email contains details of who submitted what along with the familiar looking red button to take you back to Product Hunt.

d. iOS App:

By releasing this app, Product Hunt removed the need to get back to the desktop to be able to see (and, if needed,  respond to) notifications.

As the odds of users coming back to the site increase, the chances of them interacting with other members of the community go up as well.

3. The Variable Reward

Product Hunt succeeds in spades here by hitting the trifecta of variable reward types for creators.

1. Rewards of the tribe (for creators)

This is all about receiving social validation from the community.  At the end of the day, it’s individuals working together towards a common goal that makes a community succeed. As part of helping achieve that  goal, our brains are hardwired to seek recognition for these efforts. Product Hunt enables this in 4 ways:

a. On site with upvotes & comments: When a product a user submits hits the Product Hunt front page, the number of upvotes that post receives provides social validation. This lasts through the day. If the post engenders positive comments, that’s just the cherry on top.

If the submitter has the app, their phone is likely going to be pinging a lot.

b. Leaderboard: Product Hunt-philes know about the leaderboard. This is a daily updated list of top products and “hunters” (as a function of upvotes their hunts have received). Being on this list means that you’re among the top 0.1% of product submitters. How bad do you think some users want to be on this list?

c. On Twitter: The @ProductHunt twitter handle tweets out posts that make it to the front page with a hat tip to the submitter. This provides even more validation (and re-validation as the tweet gets retweeted and favorited)

d. By email: Remember that daily email with the top hunts of the day before? Right next to the titles of the top hunts are the names of the users that added them along with the number of votes and comments that post got.

2. Rewards of the hunt (for creators and consumers):

This has to do with onsite content and how it’s presented, which Product Hunt does in 3 ways:

a. Built-in variability: You have no idea what’s going to show up on Product Hunt everyday. This is true as a creator or a consumer. It’s especially variable as a creator because there is no guarantee when or if the product you submitted will even show up on Product Hunt. This variability is core to the site’s functionality.

By design, a list of product names with short attention grabbing taglines makes users want to read down the list to see what else is new today.

b. Manufactured curiosity: The “Show X More Products” feature also plays into this curiosity to see what’s been submitted beyond what users can see immediately.

c. Collections: Every few days, Product Hunt also puts out a collection of products around a certain theme.

This gives users another way to experience Product Hunt beyond the daily submissions. Perhaps they’ll find other interesting products they may have missed.

The most brilliant part of collections is that Product Hunt doesn’t make past ones available anywhere. You literally have to hunt old Product Hunt email or tweets to find links to them. Or you get driven so nuts that you’re compelled to create this.

3. Rewards of the Self

This has to do with personal gratification. Our brains are always on the look out for new challenges to overcome. The more success we have, the happier we are. Product Hunt enables this in 3 ways:

a. Submissions: For some, having a submission show up on Product Hunt can itself feel like a overcoming a barrier. The more votes (and positive comments) a post gets, the better the user feels. Of course, nothing feels better than having the top hunt of the day.

b. Leaderboard: As users’ posts get upvotes, they also move up the leaderboard. Seeing their “Hunter Rank” get better just compounds how good the users feels.

c. Invites: Product Hunt allows you to give other users the ability to comment ONLY IF you meet a certain bar.

The FAQ says: “Each week, invites are awarded to the most engaged and thoughtful contributors based on a variety of factors.”

That translates to: “We’ll decide if you can contribute or invite someone to comment based on things we’re not going to tell you.”

Talk about the definition of variability!

This variability helps keep the quality of discourse high, as users are on their best behavior in the hopes of getting added privileges. But it also plays to users’ desires to not have to keep seeing that big zero next to their profile pic.

4. The Investment

Product Hunt’s mechanics are set up to make users do a bit of work that will set them up to continually to engage with the community. Let’s look at this from the perspective of consumers and creators.

Consumers:

Lurkers have an endless stream of products to scroll through. They can come back every day, but they will always have to do that little bit to scroll down and click “Show X more products.”

For more engaged users, the ability to upvote a nearly endless stream of products keeps them engaged onsite that much more.

Consumers can also share the products that they discover, which in turn drives more people through the Hooked loop.

Once users are logged off, the email the next morning prompts them to go through all the stages of the Hook Model all over again.

Creators:

These are the users that constantly submit new products to Product Hunt and comment consistently on new products.

You can be sure that there’s a subset of them submitting products like crazy every day. As we’ve seen, if even one of those products gets featured, that improves their “Hunter Rank” on the leaderboard. How many people do you think are trying for the two-fer of being listed in both the Product and Hunter columns?

There’s also one other dynamic at play currently: Only a subset of users can add comments. The more they comment, the greater the likelihood of getting a response. And round and round we go.

All the creator investments prime those users to go through all the stages of the Hook Model all over again.

In the end, both consumers and creators investments serve the ultimate goal of surfacing “the best products, every day”. It’s a beautiful example of cooperative design.

Summary: Consumer and Creator Journeys through the Hook

Here are all the Product Hunt community hooks set out for you:

1. Consumers

Email or App Notification (Trigger) -> Open Notification and click on a link (Action) -> View new content (Variable Reward of the Hunt) -> Scroll through and maybe even upvote new content (Investment) -> Repeat -> Habit

2. Creators

Email/App Notification (Trigger) -> Open Notification and click on a link (Action) -> Submit new content & get social validation/personal gratification (Variable Rewards of the Tribe & Self) -> Submit even more content and/or comment on new content (Investment) -> Repeat -> Habit

Since creators are also consumers, they experience that journey as well.

The secret to Product Hunt’s ability to keep its users engaged is a thoughtfully architected system built on the Hook Model. It’s designed to raise the odds of becoming a community that is also a daily habit, whether you’re a content consumer or creator.

What lessons did you take away from Product Hunt’s use of the Hook Model? Or are you doing something that’s working that they aren’t? Leave a comment with your thoughts below.

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