Social Media Tech

Reward Psychology

On the human addiction for digital rewards:

Today, technology companies are creating new habits by running users through a series of desire engines—and variable rewards fuel the chain reaction.

Companies like Kiip, Zynga, and American Express drop pellets. Every time we use their services we get something back like points and even discounts.

A like, comment, or a badge on Foursquare create similar gratification. There’s even email games that test your inbox management against friends.

Every app, game, or company incentives us in one of three ways as Eyal points to.

The Tribe. Social networks fuel our emotions with constant positive feedback. We get annoyed when no one likes or comments on posts.

The Hunt. We need to find the next thing whether it’s through search or an article in our RSS feed. Discovery feels good.

The Self. Rewards keep us coming back. Any positive return even if it’s a point increases happiness.

Mash all three together and we’re in a never ending need for appeasement.

This is why I quit video games years ago. There’s not any substance to easy points. And this is why recently I’ve become just as doubtful over likes. They really are a passive way of affirmation and don’t really show commitment.

Many people delete their Instagram photos after getting no likes in the first minute of posting. We’re addicted to positive feedback even if it’s trifling.

Yesterday at the grocery store I saw $15 Facebook Credits. Yes, people actually subsidize their digital points.

I don’t think the rewards system ever stops in the digital world. It’s too easy and costs virtually nothing. The main challenge is really for the the company giving our the rewards. Do these rewards get people to use the product, create a memorable experience, and generate sales? That’s the end goal, anyway.

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.