Instagram — The Hook Model

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Instagram — The Hook Model

Trigger, Action, Variable reward and investment — the recipe to keep a user hooked. This article is my take on how Instagram makes use of the hook model by Nir Eyal.

The Hook Model

The hook model in brief consists of the following four stages

  1. Trigger(Internal & External)
  2. Action
  3. Variable Reward
  4. Investment

Let’s understand what these terms mean with Instagram as an instance.


I wake up in the morning. I roll over and reach out to my phone. I go through my notifications and open Instagram. Now I, swipe left and dive right into DM to tend to my messages.

Sooo, what is a trigger?
A trigger is an internal or external prompt towards a certain action.

When I initially began using Instagram, the trigger was the push notifications. This is referred to as an external trigger. But now, I don’t need notifications to prompt me to open Instagram. The trigger is my need to connect with a friend as soon as I wake up. This trigger is internal. It fits perfectly into my routine. So now, every time I am alone and feel the need to connect with someone, I open Instagram.


The second phase of the model is Action. This is where I carry out certain tasks because of the trigger. The act of opening Instagram, going to DMs, reading a message and replying is the action I perform following the trigger.

Variable Reward

The best part of the reward is that it’s variable. When I open Instagram, I don't know who has texted me, what memes I were tagged in, what is in my feed, or what is in the curated feed, what reels am I gonna come across or what my friend has posted. All of these invokes excitement. The exact content that I am going to consume is always variable. That plays a key role in multiplying the effect of the reward.


I have n number of follow requests. I invest time to sort through them to accept or decline. I have followed people, pages and hashtags based on my interest which again has made me invest time and effort. I can mute or unmute conversations based on my liking.

To build a feed I enjoy, I have put in a considerable amount of time and mental effort.

If I were to recreate the same, perhaps in a new account, time and energy are unsaid variables that are required and that is an investment. I, the user have done work(Time, energy, mental effort) to get the variable reward that I am now, fond of.

This leads to habit-formation


Through consecutive Hook cycles, successful products reach their ultimate goal of unprompted user engagement, bringing users back repeatedly, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

The more the hook cycles I get myself into, the more likely it will become a habit of mine.

In other words, the more I responded to the push notifications by engaging with the posts by liking, commenting, saving and sharing, following or unfollowing pages to have a bespoke feed, the more the trigger shifted from external to internal and led to the formation of the habit.

Thank you for reading. If you liked my work and would like to have a conversation, you can reach out to me at or on Linkedin

Instagram — The Hook Model was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.