Using An Old Idea to Drive Something New

Taking a second look at Roger’s classic Diffusion of Innovations to drive social media adoption.


I stumbled upon this chart while doing some reading about innovation adoption within populations. It’s a decades-old analysis that came to public awareness in Everett Rogers’ book, Diffusion Of Innovations (1962).  Any marketing student is well aware of the famous partitioned curve showing when different kinds of people are attracted to new things.  The book examines the motivations of these different populations and the effect opinion has on the next group. The theory assumes a good innovation will eventually become accepted by the more resistant segments if they see the others having value. Each segment has different motivations; each has barriers to adoption.

 Marketers use this to assess how big each of the segments is and how much influence they bear. If they are effective marketers, they’ll know how much energy it will take to capture enough of the first segments to earn a juicy profit. They know it is very costly to assail the Lates and Laggards. Hopefully they never need to bother with them.

 How much more effective would internal deployments be if we thought of our audiences as ‘markets’ and the desired behavior change as a ‘sale?’ After all, not everyone is willing to adapt. Though employees do not purchase anything with actual dollars, a feeble rate of change adoption could be costly to the enterprise. Internal deployment assumes (incorrectly) that people MUST choose to become aware of an important change and the MUST adapt to it immediately. Sad to say, but there are Lates and Laggards in the enterprise. They require more ‘touches’ to increase awareness and compliance.

 Rapid adoption of of social media inside the enterprise cannot rely on awareness-based communications. Rogers points out how the Earlies react positively to the Innovators’ opinion. Thought leaders influence adoption. Sure, we can assume —  over time — people will eventually adopt the new social tools and processes, but what is the cost of a slow-motion process? If internal social media helps people connect, and if it’s the path to creativity and ingenuity, then we must assume a slow ramp-up means lagging profits and competitive response. We can’t afford a ‘let-them-figure-it-out’ approach.

We should ask ourselves “why not use a strategy to focus on the right people to speed things along?” How about accelerating adoption with a market-based strategy? Think about ‘ignition‘ instead of ‘communication.’ Awareness and compliance aren’t the end-game for internal social media.
Seek out your Innovators and Early adopters in your company. Call them ‘Evangelists or  ‘Catalysts.’ Focus on internal ‘market penetration.’ They will build the new social network inside your company. They will be your social media rock stars!

 If you have a group that you would like to begin using the new social processes and tools, acknowledge there is adoption curve. Ask yourself : “who are our Innovators and Earlies?” “Are there many Laggards? What are their issues?”  And most important “Am I willing to spend the time developing a strategy to make it happen?”


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