What Happens at the End of the Social Media Adoption Curve?

image As bloggers and social media pundits, we’re often scouring the data from reports to get a firm grip on what’s really happening in the worth of social media. We look at reports like Forrester 2010 Technographics research and the recent data from Pew Internet’s Older Adults and Social Media research study that showed that social networking use among internet users ages 50 and older nearly doubled—from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010 to see how the demographics track with the behavior. The most recent work from Pew tracks with the expected trajectory coming off of Pew Internet’s social media adoption study last August showed the greatest growth in overall social media usage occurred among older users as well with one in four (26%) users age 65 and older now use social networking sites. All great points for the social media culture to be sure.

All that having been said, it shows, as Geoff Livingston pointed out in The End of the Social Media Adoption Road and Jeremy Victor backed up with data in Has social media for business hit the mainstream?. We’re approaching the ‘end of the adoption curve’, so to speak in the world of social media.

The Adoption Curve and Social Media

The adoption curve is a concept derived from the Diffusion of Innovations – a theory of how, why, and at what rate new ideas and technology spread through cultures. The concept was popularized by the textbook by Everett Rogers (1962), Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers 1962). He defines diffusion as “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.”

The aforementioned work by Jeremy of B2Bblogger.com shows that social media, in its current state within the business world, fits almost perfectly into the Rogers adoption curve.


According to Jeremy:

1. In our poll, the 22% are the laggards (compared with 16% in Rogers’ curve). This group of people in the adoption curve prefer the tried-and-true methods, are critical of new ideas and are only willing to consider them when they have become mainstream.
2. Our majority of 67% (compared to 64% in Rogers’ curve), have accepted the change social media represents and adopted social media in some form.
3. Finally, the 11%, our early adopters (compared with 13.5% in Rogers’ curve), are leading the way and transforming themselves into social businesses working to find ways to use social technologies in all aspects of their business.

What Now?

Well, that’s what I asked. Geoff and Jeremy do a great job of pointing to some of the logical conclusions that we should draw from recent data (and they’re important conclusions to be sure!), but the model is a challenging one for practicing managers as it’s an ever-moving target. In fact, we need to first recognize that:

“technologies are not static. There is continual innovation in order to attract new adopters all along the S-curve. The S-curve does not just ‘happen’. Instead, the s-curve can be seen as being made up of a series of ‘bell curves’ of different sections of a population adopting different versions of a generic innovation.”

That’s the real rub in all of this. We’re taking a snapshot. As a picture of the current state, this means that we’re nearing full adoption of the concept of social media within business but

Today’s Early Adopter is Tomorrow’s Early Majority

The clues for what ‘what’s next’ are in the data from Jeremy. He talks about organizations that are leading the way and transforming themselves into social businesses working to find ways to use social technologies in all aspects of their business. This, in my mind, is the next frontier. (There’s always a frontier out there somewhere!) The social enterprise, where social media permeates the entire organization is where the early adopters of social media are headed next.

We’re All Early Adopters (at some point)

The beauty of this model is in the nuances. Namely, that we can all early adopters in some way at some point. Some of us lag and some of lead and various points in time. We’re seeing organizations today that have sat on the social media sidelines for several years and have moved from zero to social media enterprise in a few months. They were considered laggards in social media, per se, but are early adopters and even innovators in adopting social media as an augmentation of their business model. If you were to see these businesses in action, this wouldn’t surprise you at all, as they’ve always been innovators (early adopters) of emerging business models.

How Do We Get Our Laggards On Board?

Some of you are still working with a Late Majority or Laggard organization, I get that. Here are a few final ideas for working with them to move them along the social media adoption curve.

How to work with your late majority organization:

  1. Get them to focus on the “social norms” of social media in the enterprise rather than just product benefits of what you can “do” with social media. They NEED to hear that other conservative folks like them
    think it’s normal or indispensable. (Think: Case Studies)
  2. Keep it simple. Illustrate how this can fit into the workflow of the organization and how it’s a ‘shift’ rather than an ‘addition’ or outright overhaul.
  3. Illustrate and emphasize the risks of being left behind in social media. (Think: Competitive Assessment Presentation)
  4. Respond to criticisms from laggards. You will have determined detractors. You need to have your ducks in a row to address their concerns and squelch them as quickly as possible as they have a timely opportunity to poison the well here. (You likely already know who these folks are!)

How to work with your social media laggards:

  1. They need control. Make social media as easy as possible for them.
  2. Put them toward the end of an implementation. Get the other departments or teams who are early adopters or in the majority on board first and leverage the positive peer influence to paint a clear picture for the laggards.
  3. Buddy them up with a late majority person who’s almost as skeptical as they are (and who can relate) but who’s seen the immense benefits of social media and who can connect on a level that you can’t.
  4. Build trust over time. Work to understand their concerns and do a little something every day/week/month to maximize their familiarity with social media behavior. Let them see other laggards successfully adopting it.

Your Turn

What do you think? Where’s your organization at? How are you getting your late majority and laggards on board?

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One Response to What Happens at the End of the Social Media Adoption Curve?

  1. Nic Oliver January 5, 2011 at 3:01 am #

    One way of working with social media laggards is to show them that although the technology is new, the skills of social networking are the same relationship building skills we’ve always known and used:

    have a fulfilling 2011