Social Engagement Checklist

by May 21, 2010

Having recently heard several overviews of what fundamentally motivates people to engage with others, I decided to try turning these principles into a high-level checklist for social Web applications. These questions attempt to answer the most vexing social design question: "why would people participate in a new service/product?"

While I don't think this is an exhaustive list, I believe it can force teams to think through how their social (community-based) Web application addresses people's core behaviors, motivations, and needs. Not every question listed here needs to be answered but considering if you should have an answer for each question may be useful.

Core Needs

These questions address the most basic elements of any service: what does it do it, for who, and how?

  • Need: what is the existing problem we are solving for people?
  • Segment: who really has this need (primary audience)?
  • Measurably better: how is our solution to the problem substantially better than current solutions people employ?

Core Social

Having very focused answers to these questions really matters. They attempt to address "what's in it for me?" and why that brings people back.

  • Identity: do people's contributions make them look good/better?
  • Connections: does using the product build deeper/better connections between people?
  • Daily engagement: what activity brings people back every day?
  • Reengagement: if people don't come every day on their own, what brings them back?

Basic Behaviors

Have you considered how people generally behave and how your product accounts for or takes advantage of that?

  • Least resistance: is there an easy path to people's goals?
  • Small commitments: how can initial commitments be small and scale up?
  • Reciprocity: is there a perceived sense of debt in the activities people are doing?
  • Bonding: is is possible for people to do things synchronously with others?
  • Dopamine Loop: what kinds of information can people find of interest to them?


These questions get you to think about the ways your product can encourage appropriate and valuable behavior from people.

  • Status: is there an ability to increase your standing among people?
  • Feedback Loops: how do people get responses to their actions?
  • Social proof: can people follow the lead of others to make decisions?
  • Sequencing: can activities be broken down into sequential goals or challenges?
  • Ownership bias: how much will people value their contributions?
  • Scarcity: is there limited availability that encourages people to take action?
  • Set completion: will people be able to create collections and curate them?


What kinds of relationships are you focusing on in your product?

  • Strong ties: how does the product allow people to interact with the closest 7 (or less) people to them?
  • Weak ties: how does the product allow people to interact with much more but less important connections?

The psychological motivators used in many of these questions come from: Susan Weinschenk's presentation on Neuro Web Design; Stephen Anderson's analysis of what motivates people to change their behaviors in his Mental Notes card series; Paul Adams' research on the differences between online and real-world social networks; and Christian Crumlish's overview of social design principles and patterns. Thanks all!