The social behavior incentive (how your app can be as addictive as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare)

I’m an addict. You already knew that, didn’t you? After all, I’m just about to pass my 30,000th Tweet and on Facebook I have more than 10,000 friends and on Foursquare I follow more than 3,000 people (about 1% of their user base as just reported).

I’m not the only addict, though. On Google there are 402,000 results for “social media addiction.” Someone even made a rap video about social media addiction.

In my journey through these systems, I’ve been seeing how each gives incentives to their users.

For instance, on Foursquare every time I check in it gives me points. If I check in a new place that it didn’t know about, it gives me a ton of points. It is rewarding my behavior. This “reward” turns very addictive.

Twitter, on the other hand, has its own incentive system. It puts all sorts of things in your face, like how many Tweets you’ve done, how many people you’re following, how many followers you have, and how many lists you are on.

Things that are measured become games and increase addiction. But Twitter has other games going on as well. Anytime someone uses your @name in a Tweet you see it. Remember that Dale Carnegie said in his book about how to win friends and influence people that your name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Yes, we’re all narcissists and these services use that to be very addictive.

Or, look at why people hate the new Retweet Feature. I still see tweets every day about how hated that new feature is, and one of the top reasons is that they can’t see when someone has retweeted their tweets. Narcissistic behavior, yes, but understandable. We want to know when people found something we did valuable.

So, how can you make your own app addictive?

1. Serve your users’ narcissism. Make it very clear whenever someone else has done something that involves other users. This is why so many apps notify you anytime you get a new user. But look for ways to get other people to say other people’s names in your system. Make that part of the “game.”
2. Measure behavior and report it. Do you want your users to check in? Then measure it like Foursquare does and report it. What’s the home screen of Foursquare’s iPhone app show you? Everytime someone of your friends checks in they show up there. Foursquare reports how big a loser I am because there are 34 people in San Francisco area who’ve checked in more than me this week.
3. Add status for behaviors. When I visit Foursquare in huge type it tells me how many times I’ve checked in. It also shows you my badges that I’ve earned.
4. Make multiple status reports. Foursquare reports how much status I’ve earned, but if you visit, say, the Golden Gate Bridge, it also tells who is the mayor. That is two ways you can see status, and get addicted. Can you come up with other ways in your app?
5. Make undesired behavior seem lame. Why is everyone finally putting their photos into Twitter? Because if you don’t have your photo in Twitter the icon it puts there looks, well, lame. So, Twitter is putting a subtle enticement to all of its users to upload a photo. In Foursquare it reminds me that I’ve done 0 tasks. So, that’s looking pretty lame. Since Foursquare only will win if it gets engaged users, they want to make it more likely that you add a tip or complete a task. They might as well have just painted a big “L” on my forehead for “loser.”
6. Make it easy to share success with others. Foursquare has done this in spades. To the point where now I, and others, consider Foursquare messages on Twitter almost spam. You know the kinds “Robert Scoble just became Mayor of the Half Moon Bay Peets.” I turned them off, but if I ever want to taunt you with my mayorship I just need to click a slider in the iPhone app.
7. Make an API for studying behavior. Developers love to build apps to study data and report that. Don’t believe me? Look at Osnapz’ list of top Foursquare users. Or look at MustExist’s display of my Twitter lists. Or look at who keeps track of my 13,000 favorite Tweets and who I’ve handed them out to.
8. Make it easy to join in other users. Facebook, for instance, makes it very easy for me to try to tag you in a photo I take of you. If you aren’t in the system it makes it easy for me to invite you to join my addiction.
9. Give people more “hooks” to addict their friends. Facebook, for instance, asks you what your relationship status is, and what your political persuasion is. Why does it ask you those? So you’ll force your friends to join!!! How many more hooks can you put in your app to addict users?

Can you think of any other ways to make your applications more addictive?