Social Media Early Adopters: Pioneers, Settlers, and Colonists

I’ve seen the social media community run from tool to technology quicker than you can say “shiny object”. I’ve seen us run from blogs > Facebook > Twitter > Pownce > Jaiku > Justin TV > Ustream > Digg > Delicious > Upcoming > Flickr > YouTube > SecondLife > Widgets > Utterz > Zooomr > Friendfeed > Plurk > and who knows what’s next.

Go to Techcrunch to see lists and lists of more products, in our industry, the barriers to entry require just a few thousand (ask Guy Kawasaki) to build and launch an application. Sadly, only some of these tools we end up adopting for the long run, in most cases, we end up wasting our time.

The key to adopting the right social media tools is to first figure out which persona you are. Next, you need to identify which persona your friends are, lastly understand how you can best observe, and learn from others.


Obsessed and enamored with the technology, this individual is always adopting the latest social technologies. This individual is fickle with tools, won’t establish loyalty to websites, may move when they see colonists adopt the tool.

Example: Often experimenting with products in their beta stage, this person will quickly move on to the next tool as fast as adopting the second.

These second generation adopters look for key market or network indicators before adopting a new technology. This person is less enamored with the new technology, and more interested in the value that it provides.

Example: They may trial tools after seeing several people in their network mention or trial the tool, and may adopt after a beta or trial period is over.

Colonists are the mainstream adopters, they are often our parents, non-techies, and the everyday people we meet. They adopt these tools due not because of an internal desire to stay cutting edge, but often because several people around them make it an attractive destination and the they see the utility to the communication. They are not late adopters.

Joins Facebook because colleagues, family, and friends are using it.

You can tell who the early adopters are on this video, pioneers sit in line, settlers come talk, but will by that week, colonists wait a few weeks/months/

So in the comments, answer the following:

1) Identify which persona you are
2) Identify two or more of your peers are the other roles.

I’ll start, read my first comment:

(Written on a plane flying out to Cambridge from SF)

39 Replies to “Social Media Early Adopters: Pioneers, Settlers, and Colonists”

  1. It’s all really a matter of perspective isn’t it?

    Many may consider me a pioneer, but in reality, within the social media circle, I consider myself a settler.

    My Pioneer is Scoble. I watch carefully all the shiny tools he picks up, throws half of them away, and then break the other half. What’s important is to watch how he breaks them, as he’s ‘stress testing’ them before companies move in (settlers and colonists). It’s risky to be a Scoble, in fact few can do it, due to the time cost, so I let him trail through the field, and after I see a few others follow, I know the lions and tigers have been cleared away.

    I mentioned I consider myself a settler. I come in right after some key early adopters I watch (aside from Scoble), but I care less about the ‘shiny’ and more about the impact to business.

    For the Colonist, I think Shel Israel represents many corporations, Scoble’s co-author. He doesn’t adopt as quickly as many others, but when he does, he knows the tool is ready, ripe, and he explores it thoroughly from his blog. By this time, a few companies have done some work (as settlers) and he often writes case studies. While not considered as bullish on early adoption, when he comes, there is less risk, more sensibility, and then the brands start to come

    Both are valuable roles.

  2. There is also a life cycle element to this. I would consider myself a facebook pioneer, but have now moved on, my current position on facebook is closer to a colonist because my friends have a different adoption pattern to me so I can’t go completely AWOL without losing some of my network.

    I suspect Twitter may be my next application to move through this cycle.

  3. Over the past year I’ve changed from being a colonist to becoming a settler, if only via FriendFeed’s example.

    Pioneer: I think that Colin Walker is more of a Pioneer than I am. Same is true for, say, Steve Spalding (How To Split An Atom).

    Colonist: it seems to me that very few of the people I tend to associate with in social media are colonists; it tends to be more the people in know off-line.

  4. I think I’m mostly a settler too, pioneer is somewhat too extreme, despite always trying new things, but unlike real pioneers, I do have a hard time moving on for the next new thing. I tend to linger on it a bit.

  5. I often attempt to be a pioneer – like registering for friendfeed as soon as scoble mentions it (a couple of months ago?) and signing up for beta invites here and there, but my behavior really is settler mode. I wonder if this is the right question. I’m intrigued with the idea that with the life cycle concept above from Ged. We settle then after a while we pioneer for a bit.

  6. I think most people who are reading this are pioneers… wether they will admit it or not. I consider myself a pioneer mixed with a settler.

    I’m not one to move on to the next new deal, unless the one I’m using isn’t working anymore. I was blogging before most knew blogging existed. I’m still a big blogger because it works to grow my business. I use social networks to connect people to my content.

    A colonist in social media good example: People who started using facebook/myspace when they were in JR/high school, are now college graduates and well into careers of choice.

    This colonist group has been on facebook/myspace before I ever thought about using social network as a tool to market my business.

    Cindy McAsey
    Barefoot in the Garden

  7. I had this same conversation with a colleague at work yesterday just before you posted this. Good timing Jeremiah. =)

    My colleague is a self-proclaimed settler. Of course, he didn’t use that term: instead, he said that he waits for new tools and services to start providing value before he jumps into them, but still before they become really mainstream.

    He laughed at me as he likened me to a pioneer; after all, I do have a t-shirt that says “I get invited to all the cool betas.” That being said, I feel as though I’m becoming disenchanted by the fast-moving-yet-value-diluting tools these days, so perhaps I’m moving towards becoming a settler.

  8. I consider myself a settler who watches the pioneers and occasionally follows one :). I might tinker for a few hours a month on new stuff, but most of my effort is spent on well-understood areas.

    That said, there is a broad spectrum here. We mustn’t forget that just by being here, we’re far more involved than the “true” colonists.

  9. I’m definitely a settler, though I have crazy moments of being a pioneer. I follow the pioneers in my field like Michael Stephens ( and Jenny Levine ( among many others. I read their blogs, follow their twitters and see what bubbles to the top. When a bunch of the pioneers keep talking about the same tools, then I’m sold and really learn the Ap. Before that, I play a little, but am usually not sure til I see a pattern with the pioneers.

  10. Just to continue your metaphor, you forgot immigrants and aliens. I would imagine most college kids look at their parents being on their Facebook friends list as “an alien”.

  11. I’m a settler with frequent scout missions and liaison responsibilities with colonists. I was talking a couple days ago with a new Local Friend whom I met initially via social media. She said she was really happy that I was specific and consistent about using for announcing local events; a pioneer/settler herself, she observed that her friends found the competition and new options constantly popping up to be frustrating.

    A group of us in Columbia MD/Howard County are intentionally using Socializr so that we can “settle” it and then bring in the colonists. If we, as settlers, keep moving on, how will we ever establish anything? Is Socializr THE best tool? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s the one we’re using. It’s where we’ve built some structure and are focusing our attention.

    In reading your blog post here, I can see now that much of our thinking in picking (and sticking with) one tool was because in order to Live Locally and invite our parents, non-techies and everyday folk, we had to have something populated with their friends, with some history and stability.

    Thanks for your post.

  12. I think this is a good *simple* description, but is lacking in some of the definition. Indeed if you want to leverage technology or social media you need to be able to understand ethnography and personas -(feel free to reference my post on personas: There is certainly SO much more to making a Good or even GREAT campaign to connect with your users.

    I love that we are referencing the innovators like the first people to come in on the Mayflower (great touch). I personally love Joseph Jaffe’s references in his book (consumers, prosumers and innovators)–Once you read his descriptions they make sooo much sense, but he doesn’t believe in using personas (which isn’t quite right either).

    Once you know who your group is the next KEY ingredient to any successful campaign is understanding the persona. What are their likes, nuances, hobbies, style interests and how does the female side relate to the male side of the personas. This is key because if they both like extreme sports, but are different in every other aspect you know your connecting factor. They are adreniline junkys who probably know what REI is, Burton and a few other big names but beyond that one sews and is girly while they guy is the complete opposite sports loving pilot. So you connect them through what they love most. Search for those adrenile factors in keywords. Find images, compare ideas and then if you have information to leverage you do it. From photos on streams, to sweet wreckage videos, to fan pages of the latest gear all linking together and back to your site or blog or maybe neither depending on what the goal is. Really the next step AFTER personas and PRIOR to implementation is knowing the CLIENTS goals. How do they want to connect to their fans, consumers, or other business affiliates in the case of b2b. Knowing all of that will help you leverage the right sites and even determine similar STYLES of sites, but only leverage the ones that really fit your audience.

  13. I’m Pre-Pioneer for web in some ways. (I’ve built some of these tools : )

    Though I’m Settler when it comes to cell phone. (e.g. can’t decide on iPhone vs. waiting for LG Secret or new HTC to get to North America. A pioneer would find a way to get one anyway, wipe the SIM and re-code as necessary.)

    Mom is… at best a Colonist. Some friends not in the industry who aren’t enamored of every point x thing that comes out are spread across Settlers and Colonist. Though two friends are surprisingly Pioneer-like, even though neither their jobs nor general personal lives have a great deal of tech orientation.

    I’m not sure why the Pioneer/Colonist/Settler metaphor is necessary though. We’ve had for years the Diffusion of Innovations path from Everett Rogers; innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards.

    While Forrester’s Social Technographics ladder – I think anyway – is a good new model, I’m not sure Rogers Diffusion Curve is so dated it needs to be replaced just yet.


  14. I would say that we can be different types of personality in different situations.

    I tend to be a pioneer, but certain things I will avoid if I don’t see the long term benefit in it (example, Plurk). I’m also likely to avoid something if it requires a lot of time to maintain, or increases my data overload (example, facebook esp with applications).

    So instead of describing myself as a pioneer, I’d perhaps choose the term “Prospector” – Always on the lookout for something that will provide a real return on investment, but willing to choose from both established and bleeding edge sources.

  15. For me (and, I suspect, for most people) it all depends upon the tool and what I think I might use it for. In some cases I™m a pioneer, in others I™m a colonist “ and that might even be within the same product/tool category. I think your personae represent good incremental markers on a continuum, but we all slide up and down that continuum depending upon available time and resources. For tech/communications tools, I think the biggest determinant of where we land on that continuum is whether or not we think the learning curve of a particular tool will pay off down the road (in our biz or personal lives) or whether it™s just a fun idea we can toy with while procrastinating or casually sussing out its potential.

    Identifying pioneers for each particular tool is a great idea. It™s something I do randomly (by stumbling upon people who have something worthwhile to say) or deliberately (via actual research) depending upon my interest level. But it will take a while to go through the list to identify them!

  16. Using your classification system, I am inclined to consider myself a settler when I compare myself to your peer set.

    When compared to my BabyBoomer peer set I am considered a “Pioneer” and they wonder why I am on Fb, Twitter and now Plurk.

    Bottomline…I am endeavoring to learn and grow!

  17. I’m definitely a settler through and through. Many of my friends consider me a pioneer, but that’s only because they don’t engage in social media past fb. So within our esteemed circle of those who do engage, I’m a settler.

  18. Totally a settler…it took me at least a year to figure out the value of Twitter (SXSW Zuckerberg interview fallout) and Plurk seems to be another dead end side street at the moment.

    Louis Gray and Steve Rubel tend to be the Pioneers I look to at the moment (perhaps because they are among the few I follow on Twitter and Friendfeed). And you tend to Pioneer a lot of services as you investigate for work.

    Colonists…well, those are the all of the married high school classmates with kids “discovering” the cool Facebook and throwing sheep at each other…or when my mom started using instant messaging as a common communication method.

    Oh, by the way, love the classifications, but why not stick with the standards from Clayton Christenson’s “Crossing the Chasm”: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards? Seriously Jeremiah, you just keep coining new terms every day…

  19. I’m a settler. There’s just too many avenues to explore to trailblaze them all. Also, I specialize in quantifiable word of mouth marketing efforts. And most of my clients want a larger audience and more quantifiable metrics than the latest social media technologies might allow.

  20. I’d say I’m a settler trying to become a pioneer for work-related reasons! I have a small group of friends who are pioneers and total tech geeks, so I’m trying to read what they read and listen to what they listen to in order to get up to speed. Just growing up in Silicon Valley has given me a leg up on technology, and the same is true of most of my peers – living in Chile trying to get people to use a new website has shown me “how the other half lives”!

  21. I would have to reside between the Pioneer and Settlers. The key differentiator for me would be whether the product is a “must have” or a “nice to have.” The “must have” applications I will jump on ASAP. I tried to get on gmail asap because it was leaps and bounds improvement on e-mail that I had experienced thus far. But in terms of gdocs and gcal, I have been slower to adopt, more of a Settler.

  22. Great post.
    What’s also interesting is the velocity at which both the tools and the people advance.
    Today new utilities, sites, and services appear almost daily. Each person’s willingness to invest attention in a new tool is based on how relevant to his/her needs s/he perceives the new tool to be (a perception based on when we hear about a new tool, how it was explained, and who introduced it to us).
    In other words, we users sometimes go from Colonist to Pioneer and back again depending on the context and how many other new systems attract our attention that day.

  23. I thought “Early Adopter” is meant to be used in connection with a product. So I take it your question is meant in general with respect to free Internet products.

    I doubt there would be someone who would jump up and try out every single new product they hear of. Particularly if they browse the web, they would have to click on every single ad and buy every single silly thing.

    See you,


  24. I thought “Early Adopter” is meant to be used in connection with a product. So I take it your question is meant in general with respect to free Internet products.

    I doubt there would be someone who would jump up and try out every single new product they hear of. Particularly if they browse the web, they would have to click on every single ad and buy every single silly thing.

    See you,


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