Good User Experience Is Not Enough: How LinkedIn Harnesses Motivational UX™ to Supercharge Engagement

Many Digital Strategy companies today only focus on optimizing user experience for their customers. Unfortunately they stop there. By applying principles of Motivational UX™  , which include the best components of great UX with additional best practices from game design and behavioral psychology, they are able to put customers first and focus more specifically on their behaviors, needs, and expectations. This exposes motivations and triggers, which leads to the ability to create longer-term engagements and brand loyalty. In a time where brand loyalty and brand engagement continue to erode, it’s clear these activities have a big impact on the bottom line.

Motivational UX™  is not a new thing – it has been used in education and business for decades to help people be motivated to learn by harnessing emotional arousal and replicable processes.1

It’s a big field with a lot of supporting research, which we’ve spent the past few years condensing and refining, to create a systematic approach for increasing engagement. We refer to these as our 9 Principles of Motivational UX™ , which are outlined in the diagram below:

09.28_Motivational UX_9 Principles_wht bkgrd

To help put these each in context, we thought it would be interesting to show how the 9 principles work within a single digital experience, and one that everyone is likely to be able to relate to, LinkedIn.

At one point or another most of us have created a LinkedIn profile. It is a way for us to advertise ourselves, connect with others, and build our industry credibility. The “engine” of LinkedIn is fueled by the people that use it – the more we participate, the more value we each get out of it. Cultivating that type of engagement did not happen by accident. Through a methodical approach to creating active engagement, LinkedIn has done a fantastic job of giving us the information we need in a way that is not only engaging, but highly addictive and beneficial.

Let’s look at how they do this, through the lens of our 9 Principles.


Belonging: “I want to be a part of something bigger.”

A sense of belonging is something, as humans, we all crave. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs2, it is two tiers away from breathing, and one tier away from safety. This core need to belong drives us to connect with others and seek out value in our experiences. Whether through creating a sense of connectedness, or providing the ability to compare oneself to others, this is an important aspect to bring to life in digital experiences.

Think back to why you originally joined LinkedIn. Did you want to connect, or stay connected, with someone? Did you want to see how well you measured up to the professional people in your life? Did you feel it would enhance your professional life? This drive made you join LinkedIn, and has likely made you stick with it. Features like a newsletter feed and profile stats continue your sense of belonging and keep you coming back for more.


Exploration: “I want to be amazed.”

Exploration is a primal response to encountering new experiences. When we embark on the discovery of a novel experience or fresh content, our brains release higher levels of dopamine, as compared to situations that are similar or familiar.3 This leads to positive chemical associations within the body that become attached to new, tangible experiences, which urges us towards continual discovery. As people become more and more familiar with an experience, the levels of dopamine released within the body lessen, which has a direct correlation to our feelings of motivation. Therefore, the constant feed of new information or engagement is a critical component to positive associations with an experience.

Think about how you personally use LinkedIn. It is highly likely that you never follow the same three steps when you visit. You don’t always click on your profile, check messages, connect with someone, and leave. You probably explore the newsfeed, read an article from one of your connections, congratulate someone on a new job, or find someone new to connect with after accepting an invite. We wander through our digital experiences with a sense of wonder and discovery, and we can utilize this to the product’s benefit. Helping guide people to new features and information can result in triggering higher levels of dopamine within the brain, and hence, new behaviors and a positive association with an experience.


Self-express: “I want a product personalized for me.”

We all want to show our unique selves through self-expression and we all want a product that we can put our personalized stamp on. We naturally do this everyday with the clothes we wear, the products we purchase, and the opinions we share.

How many times have you rewritten or tweaked the language on your LinkedIn profile summary? Probably more than you can count. Why do we find this simple text box so important? Because this space, along with our profile image, is one of the primary places in which we can express our unique selves beyond the check-list of a professional resume. Expressing ourselves drives us back to the product because we’ve made an investment in it, and it keeps us engaged by providing a flexible space to showcase our digital individuality.


Adaptive: “I want a product that works for me.”

The days of a “one size fits all” approach should (technically speaking) be long gone. As our technological capabilities continue to expand, the expectations of customers follow suit. We now have the computer processing power in which technology can aggregate data and adapt it towards a more unique experience – all based on individual or group behavior, context, and personal preferences.

With LinkedIn, as you update and add to your profile gradually, there is a nifty feature that guides you through additional items to update. Other products that do this well are Pandora’s “thumbs up” button, or Amazon’s “Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed”. These types of features enhance motivation by letting you interact with the product to create your own unique experience.


Challenge and Reward: “I want to master a skill.”

People are motivated by goals and understanding what it will take to achieve them. We are also motivated by rewards – or through averting the loss of something we value. This principle is based on the understanding that if we set long and short-term goals for people, with a clear understanding of what success looks like (along with the value of achieving it), we have the ability to create higher degrees of engagement.

The challenge within LinkedIn is to master the perfect profile and achieve the coveted 100% complete. This information regarding our long-term goal of profile completion is showcased to us in the form of a progress bar – with our next short-term goal listed to give us guidance and motivation around what we need to do next. The reward is increased profile strength, which is highly valuable to people focused on building their careers.


Decision-making: “I want to be empowered in my choice.”

We make snapshot decisions all-day, everyday. Decisions empower us and make us feel we are in control. These decisions are based on the information we have about the situation, which is our rational selves, but there is a stronger side to decision-making – our emotional/irrational selves. We need to know what type of investment we are committing to before we purchase or sign-up for a new experience. Once we are at that point of decision, we need it to be simple and easy to act upon.

LinkedIn gives bite-sized pieces of information around simple decisions like following a group, reading an article, connecting with professionals, and getting tips on making your profile better. Guiding people through decisions and making the ‘point-of-purchase’ extends our personal investment with the product.


Engagement Loop: “I want to do that again.”

Engagement loops provide us with a repeatable series of triggers that make us feel good. By repeating a familiar experience, these “loops” become habitual and create longer engagements. This process of habit formation via a series of connected activities creates a neurochemical reward4. These engagement loops can’t be used everywhere, and should be used sparingly, but they provide us with foundational elements that help form habit in people.

With LinkedIn, this principle looks more like a compulsion loop – the action of updating your profile, the anticipation of building your number of connections, and the reward of a ‘like’ on an article you posted. Through the design of a good engagement loop we can drive people back to the product to do or add one more thing, creating a long-term and invested relationship with the product and brand.


Aesthetics: “I want a unique experience.”

As the saying goes, “you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a nice thought, but when it comes to digital products, let’s face it – we all do. Aesthetics play a strong role in our expectations5 of what a product will provide. It can enhance a bad experience, or it can de-value a great one. Paying special attention to how a digital experience appeals to our senses is key in both initial buy-in and lasting engagement.

Think about LinkedIn’s look for a moment. You can probably only really recall the blue color and not much else. This is because the aesthetics serve more as a background instead of a strong brand voice. This is both unique and purposeful, because it lets people be the brand – which is core to LinkedIn’s brand experience.


Content and Story: “I want an emotional connection.”

Story and storytelling are hot buzzwords in today’s boardrooms for good reason. When we hear stories, our brains light up in the same way they would if we had done the action ourselves6. When content or information is delivered in the form of a story, we have deeper empathy for, and memory of, the information that is shared with us.

With LinkedIn, people are the story. LinkedIn provides features for us to tell our story through newsfeeds, articles, and our profile page. By providing this feature, LinkedIn keeps us coming back to read those stories, and encourages us to contribute to the story being told through likes and comments. This helps keep the cycle of emotional connection going.


As you can see, these 9 Principles of Motivational UX™  go well beyond standard UX and trigger multiple basic human needs and behaviors. So, now that you have some familiarity with them, take a whirl through the digital experiences you are in charge of and do a quick self-assessment. Which principles have you focused on and done a great job activating? Which principles could use some improvement? We’d be happy to discuss how these 9 Principles of Motivational UX™  will meet your product goals and give you an unparalleled advantage in the digital marketplace.




  1. “What is Motivational Design?”, Keller, J.M.!motivational-design/c2275
  2. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs”, Wikipedia.
  3. Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel,
  4. “The Compulsion Loop Explained” Kim, Joseph.
  5. “Emotion & Design: Attractive Things Work Better” Norman, D.A.
  6. “Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing”, Gillett, Rachel
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