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How Communities Increase Habit Formation (and Retain App Users)

Laura MacPherson November 29, 2018

Why is it so much easier to be consistent with your workout when you go to your gym vs. exercising at home? And why does it seem so much easier to eat healthy food when you’re with your group of health-conscious friends? The answers go beyond peer pressure, which is powerful but easily overcome when you’re met with a cold, rainy day or presented with a delicious-looking, double-cheese pizza.

Why is Community So Powerful?

The reason we’re able to do things we would normally find difficult is often the reward of being part of a tribe. Humans have, since the beginning of time, depended on one another for survival. We’ve evolved a desire to connect with other people like ourselves. We actively seek out acceptance, inclusion, and love. You can hear it in someone’s voice when they talk about their people. It’s why CrossFit and book clubs have such loyal followings — the people in these groups have formed an identity around the activity because they’ve created a tight-knit community.

How Community Impacts Habits

If you want to build a lasting habit, find a dedicated group of people doing that thing and become a part of the group. When your motivation wanes, you’ll be driven forward by the promise of positive reinforcement when you gather with the group. You’ll see smiling faces that validate you, and you’ll experience a rush of dopamine as you’re flooded with a sense of belonging. The more you gather with your group, the stronger the effect becomes.

How to Apply Community to Retain App Users

This phenomenon is why social media is so addictive. Despite the fact that people regularly berate themselves for wasting hours on Facebook, they continue to click the app, scrolling endlessly as if hypnotized. Each image they see of their tribe members and each like on their own posts delivers that dopamine hit and fuels the habit cycle.

While social media addiction is an example of the use of community gone wrong, it’s possible to use the power of community for positive results. If you’re building a workout app, incorporate a social element by encouraging users to invite friends to an exercise challenge. If you’re creating a personal finance app, encourage users to invite friends to work on shared goals together. Nearly every type of app could make use of community.

Here are a few ideas to get your creativity flowing on how to use community to retain app users:

  • Use leaderboards to encourage friendly competition
  • Allow community members to upvote user-posted content
  • Give status badges as users participate in app activities
  • Give users the ability to set challenges or goals and invite friends or the community to participate

Social rewards are free for your company to offer, but they’re one of the most powerful types of rewards available. As you’re developing your app concept, think through all the different ways you could incorporate social rewards.

Want to learn how our SolutionLab process helps clients brainstorm and evaluate different types of rewards? Get in touch!


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