How Internal Triggers Power Effective User Engagement Strategy


There are many methods that drive a successful user engagement strategy—none more important than sending effective messaging to your customers.

No one enjoys getting a spam message. We’ve all been there—getting never-ending calls from random sales reps or watching as our spam folders quickly reach triple-digits every week. If you aren’t careful, your potential power user might read your messaging as spam, disengaging them from your product and leading them to churn.

So, what is the difference between annoying spam and powerful messaging that drives action?

Best-selling author and product designer Nir Eyal explains that the key to forming habits and activating your users is tying your external triggers to internal triggers.


But what is an external trigger?

Nir explains that external triggers are outside forces that tell you what to do in specific situations. Some examples would include things like:

  • a CTA on a landing page telling you to “Click here”
  • a close friend telling you about this app you should try

These are the messages that, as a product team, you’re sending directly or indirectly to motivate action in your product.

And what is an internal trigger?

‍Internal triggers are situations where the information of what to do is directly associated to a memory or one’s personal routine. This is when someone loads up their workout playlist in Spotify before going on a run or when someone feels the need to share that vacation selfie on Instagram. This is the ideal situation as a product team, because you’ve created a loyal user that requires little to no touch to create engagement.

Internal triggers are commonly tied to emotions—especially negative emotions like boredom or frustration. According to Nir, it’s the job of product teams to identify these pain points and to frame their product around solving them.

So how can internal triggers create superior external triggers?

By tying your external triggers to internal triggers, it creates a more powerful link between your product and your user—encouraging product engagement at the perfect time. That’s when the magic happens and you’re able to embed your product into your user’s personal habits.

Nir notes how one of the common mistakes that he notices companies make is ignoring the internal trigger when sending out external triggers. Understanding context is key to crafting superior messaging. What is your customer feeling at the exact moment when you are sending them a trigger? By taking into consideration when your customer needs your product, you can customize the messaging to tap into a deeper connection.

How do you know what the customer is feeling? That’s the challenge for product designers: catering to your user’s specific pain point exactly when they feel internal triggers. You can discover this moment through various research tools and running tests around different factors like geolocation and calendar information.

For example, with the help of Appcues, Canva implemented user messaging that displayed in-app right when they were creating new projects. This timing resonates with users, because it directly combats a user’s feeling of being overwhelmed or lost in the sea of options available. By running experiments, identifying the right pain points, and sending messaging directly targeting these pain points, Canva was able to increase activation by 10%.

With this in mind, don’t send messaging just whenever you like. If you can send the external trigger at the exact moment someone feels the internal trigger, you will get the most powerful outcome.

Reggie is a content marketing professional based in Boston. He previously led the content efforts at BevSpot and has also written in a freelance capacity for a variety of online platforms. In his spare time, he likes to play tabletop/video games with close friends and hang out at a local rock show.

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