Matrix: Social Technology Adoption Curve Benefits –and Downsides

Know The Upsides –And Downsides Of Your Adoption Behavior
Individuals and companies should be deliberate in their adoption strategy, there are benefits and risks to each category. It’s been interesting watching different group adopt social technologies over the past few years, I can see who benefits from being first –and the pains to be a thought leader of both individuals and companies.

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Above, this is the standard Rogers Adoption Curve, it’s important to point out that my matrix below only is in context of social technologies, it will vary from technology to technology.  I found this take on the adoption stages of social technologies helpful in framing how I thought about the following matrix. I built this following matrix in the context of social technologies and adoption by both individuals and mixed in with organizations and industries.

Matrix: Social Technology Adoption Curve Benefits –and Downsides

Categories Description Benefits Downsides
Innovators These brave souls take on new technologies, trial them, then will often evangelize them. I’d put those that adopted Twitter in 2006. or any entrepreneurs that creates new technologies fitting into these categories.  From a corporate perspective, Dell was forced into this arena, and has benefited. Glory for being first, a thought and practice leader.. Will have learned from their mistakes, and have far more experience than any others. Will always be able to tout they were first. Very costly in terms of time, effort to find new technologies that are often flawed. Additionally, since innovation becomes cheaper and more accessible, this becomes more difficult as more entrants to the market launch products. Lastly, while these folks may be first for some technologies, they are often wrong for the many other technologies that did not take off.
Early Adopters This behavior is exhibited by those that try out new technologies in a careful way, often thought leaders. Some analyst firms like Forrester adopted early, and the Tech industry deployed social.  Agencies like Edelman, Razorfish have helped their clients. Learn from the failures of innovators, they reduce risk. Often they have the opportunity to explain how it works to others. Become the case studies that other groups follow Never first, and have to write the playbooks. They may adopt, but at higher costs than the majorities as the technology has not matured. Tech companies adopted social in 2005-2007 as an early industry, but a lack of measurement, and rapid tool change required great effort to stay current.
Early Majority Although thoughtful in their deployment, they adopt faster than the mainstream. in 2009, we saw industries like consumer packaged goods, finance, and healthcare adopt social technologies. I think of when mainstream Oprah joining Twitter as a defining moment as she was ahead of most celebrities and media. Technology starts to mature, reducing risk and costs. Standards emerge, although this group gets to help define mainstream adoption. Some of the cool factor leaves, and brands start to move in on social technologies, scaring off some innovators.
Late Majority This skeptical group only adopts when the mainstream does. Industries that only got on board with social when Obama, mainstream press, or celebrity adoption occurred fit here. Companies adopting in 2009 and beyond. Reduced risk from learning from who’s done it right and wrong, as well as benefits from standard proccesses, and consolidation of vendors. Not seen as thought leaders and don’t benefit from the residual buzz from being ‘cool’, instead come across as a ‘me too’./td>
Laggards Still cautions in deployment, even after the technology has become mainstream. These folks will adopt social technologies in 2010 or later. Cookie cutter deployment from standardization and very little risk.  Deployment may actually be faster and with less effort than those above. In balance with lower risk, lower opportunity for reward. No thought leadership, and little additional reputation or buzz value from the intended investment.

Matrix: Be Deliberate In Your Adoption Strategy
Each category has specific benefits and risks, but rather than just behaving in a way that comes natural, I encourage you in your personal and work adoption to be deliberate in your actions.

  1. Examine your organizations adoption patterns. First, define how quickly your organization responds and adopts to technologies, and factor into your considerations.
  2. Be a Category Ahead Of Your Company. If you’re responsible for new technologies at your company, your personal adoption should be a level or two ahead of the organizations adoption, as you cannot effectively deploy for your company if you don’t personally understand the impacts of the new technologies.
  3. Track The Category Ahead Of You. Find an individual that’s above your adoption category (the early adopter watches the innovator) and be sure to watch their behaviors and learn from them. Adopters are often blazing their own trail, and may not ever follow anyone.

My Strategy: Early Adopter –But Not Innovator
One thing is clear, being first doesn’t mean you’re right, in fact, the Innovators have a difficult time dealing with early and late majority, paving roads of opportunity for analysis, agencies, and consultants. As a result, I make a distinct effort to be an early adopter of new social technologies, but not the innovator, as I find I’d rather be more often right, and expend less energy trying to be first.

Leave a Comment. Share Your Adoption Strategy
Let’s learn from each other, I’d like to know about your adoption behavior and that of your company. Were you deliberate in choosing your adoption strategy? How does it hurt or help your company?

74 Replies to “Matrix: Social Technology Adoption Curve Benefits –and Downsides”

  1. I am an “Early Majority” adopter. This post is very interesting to me. I always know I am a little bit of a “late bloomer” when it comes to adopting new technology, but I am also ahead of the mainstream population, especially on Maui. I knew when Facebook started but didn't dive into it until a couple of years or so later. I knew when Twitter started but also didn't dive into it until a year or so later. Now I am heavily into it and I see a lot of the Late Majority and Laggards on Maui just inquiring about them or trying to learn. Quite late… but not too late I guess (better late than never). Thanks for the post Jeremiah!

  2. I brought in to my very staid, old aerospace company a piece of software I originally considered an expertise finder. This was 7.5 years ago. However, I soon realized it was quite capable of building community and supporting some strong social networking. Unfortunately, it only started to really catch on beginning last year and probably only because of support from a new Chief Executive.

    I suppose in that regard I was an innovator, though my approach was primarily from a KM perspective; not yet – at inception – from a SM perspective. Most of the company, however, is still somewhat resistant to change. Then again, when most of your business comes from government contracts, there isn't necessarily the underlying force that pushes toward changing what's worked for so long.

    I must say it's very painful to be on one end of the spectrum when just about everyone else is way the hell over on the other. Frankly, I don't much care about the recognition. I just want my company to do well. After all, they're funding my retirement!

  3. That's a good question, Buddy. I think the above adoption curve works in a very broad sense, but there are a lot of intricacies when you think about breaking down particular verticals, geographic locations, etc. A person working in the health care industry may be considered a part of an early majority from the perspective of the creators of the social technology, but regarded as an early adopter within his/her industry. I think it's safe to say that a lot of the discussion around adoption seems to be very relative.

  4. I'd consider myself an Early Adopter (generally boarding Innovator). Case in point: Blippy – I don't get it even though I'm part of the “innovator” group currently in Alpha. However, someone will put together a use case for me in which I'll then be able to wrap my head around it.

  5. Oh absolutely, they all have very individually different drivers on what they're interested in. An innovator may be excited by the new, but a early majority by be driven by price and cost efficiency.

  6. Jump to Geoffry Moore's “Crossing the Chasm” to see how this fits with adoption. This is missing the gap that must be crossed between the early adopters and early majority. Moore's writings from the 90s are even more relevant to day with adoption issues and stagnation than they were in the 90s. Nearly every org I talk to has hit this and every vendor is trying to sort out how to get beyond it more easily than they have been.

    The problem everybody is running into is many of today's solutions are optimized for the early adopters and innovators, which makes it far more difficult to get adoption with the early majority and others who follow. The expectations, mental models, and willingness to be openly social is very very different for those in the early majority and beyond. Changing mindsets is slow and difficult, it is easier to modify the tools for a broader spectrum of people using them.

  7. Jeremiah,
    I work with software companies in the business intelligence and data warehousing space along with our mutual friend @Merv. Its interesting and somewhat surprising that many of these technology firms are in the late majority sector of your adoption model. This is especially true with smaller sub 50 million dollar companies that may have dabbled in twitter and other platforms but still lack a strategy and goal based plan for social networking success. While the tools market around Social Media is starting to thrive many of the firms I speak with still don't have basic metrics for their social media initiatives. KPI's are a big part of my industry as a whole but are not being implemented along with social media strategies. I see a convergence coming between the data of social media and the expertise of the business intelligence industry as more companies attempt to meld social media into Enterprise 2.0. As always a great post Jeremiah thanks!

  8. Any friend of @merv is a friend of mine Shawn, thanks for coming by. I agree with your observation, the smaller companies even in tech adopt without a strategy, although the larger tech companies have the right roles and resources in play (Dell, Intel, Microsoft, HP, Sun) have had some success in this arena.

  9. Nice post Jeremiah, you've reminded me to dust off my old copies of crossing the chasm and inside the tornado from Geoff Moore.

    I'm an adopter as well, I don't worry too much about being the very first, but I'm happy to try out a new technology in the early stages.

    I think one lesson I've learned (UK: learnt) is to approach each new social technology with open eyes and no expectations. Yes, be critical of bad design and poor social interaction design (Adrian Chan) but don't expect to understand everything including the utility immediately. That way while the naysayers are still struggling to understand why anyone would bother with a technology, I'm trying to imagine the benefits.

  10. Valuable piece of analysis with an interesting model of patterns of adoption of tech. In many ways it resonates with the discussion of adoption in “Crossing the Chasm”. Not entirely sure the recommendation to be one stage ahead of your company always makes sense. I'd personally recommend a relative approach based on where customers and competitors sit in the beautiful bell-shaped curve: I'll write something about that today.

  11. Interesting post. Love the way the groups have been segmented and illuminated. There are some additional dangers related to adoption strategies, particularly innovator and early adopter. Many in these groups attempt adoption across an enterprise without a well-thought strategy.

    In the rush to be first or near first, I've found that the tools are not always leveraged to their best result and fullest extent. Good to be first, better to develop a better understanding of capabilities relative to your organization's needs though.

    We did a series with Jacob Morgan on Social Media and Enterprise 2.0 adoption. Not to self-promote but, thought some of the discussions there could be a usefull addendum to a great post.

  12. Hi Jeremiah,
    One thing that may be implicit in what you're saying here but should probably be called out is the “network effect” of social media apps vs. traditional software. If innovators happened upon a great traditional software application, chances are they could begin extracting a lot of value out of it right away, regardless of how many others were using it because so much of the value of traditional software is based on function points rather than participation. But social is different. Those who were smart enough to see the business value of Twitter or Facebook early on were hampered by the limited number of users. Indeed, this issue still haunts B2B marketers, many of whom continue to believe that there simply aren't enough of the people they want to reach on social media to be worth investing in it.

  13. I love seeing Rogers' theory referenced in the real world after spending so much time studying him in grad school. Your post is great and really sets the stage for companies that are looking to develop a social strategy. I would add Rogers' theory has five stages to the adoption process which are already part of most organizations decision making process however smaller organizations may not be aware of these stages.

    The thing with any organization is finding “opinion leaders” that will help determine the course of adoption. This isn't necessarily the CEO but the person or people that are initiating change in the organization. This is also key as a new 'technology' roles out in the organization because the opinion leaders will need to be on board in order to help with adoption for other groups. Generally speaking you can't just anoint yourself in this role.

  14. I think of myself as an early adopter, but my interests vary greatly.
    For example I almost immediately tried out Google Chrome, even in the first betas (and later Opera 10 beta), but later on I reverted to the stable channel. I was also among the first to get a Facebook account, at least here in Romania. 🙂 And Google Reader was also hot for me, I was there right from the start.
    On the other hand, I'm not big on mobile services or big changes like OS. I first started out with Win 98 and now I am still on XP, although hoping to move to Win7 soon!

  15. This is interesting to consider from a personal standpoint, but I also think it's essential for an organizatin to consider when developing an online strategy: can you segment your audience in terms of where they fall on this continuum?

    I also think about it in terms of what you're marketing: are you introducing something new or building on something existing: a la Seth Godin's question “Whether or which” (…).

    Some folks are willing to try things out just for the novelty, whereas others really need to understand the tangible value for their efforts. Just a few moments ago I was musing on twitter that I wanted to care about FourSquare and GoWalla, but I don't see the personal value. Whereas in other categories, I may be the first to explore a new technology or service.

  16. It is fantastic when individuals re-write or re-analyze old ideas, principles, graphics etc.

    We did it for the consulting practice of Forming, Storming, Norming etc. You can see it here:

    In other words, our adoption strategy at is to share the best off-line collaboration practices online, and then re-adapt them offline based on the online experience. We stay well ahead of our offline delivery practices this way.

  17. I wonder if this true to Indonesian Internet users. Currently there's only about 13% of Internet users, about 33million people from 250 total.

    So are we still at the early adopters phase?

  18. Does being knowledgeable about something, even if you don't use it, place you in the same camp as the person using it? By questioning which geolocational tool to use, despite not having an account on either, you are no different than the person with that account — for the majority of the world never heard of those tools. Agreed?

  19. I am an early adopter. When you are on the upside of the learning curve, it takes more energy to deploy and forge ahead. There is a learning curve for me and for others I want to connect with. I spend more time teaching others. For me, the benefits include a deeper understanding of the tools features, functionality and benefits. Last year I started using video tool and created a YouTube channel to demonstrate my work and give clients examples of how they can use video in their business. Check out my channel at for ideas on how you can integrate video.

  20. Well done…I apply an “early adopter” approach to my investing for similar reasons. The second mouse gets the cheese!

  21. Crap I say. Early adopters | Innovators should always be provided a better deal then those who follow on later. If you make it right for those who support you on the front end, you help them on the back end. Always, period.

  22. Individuals and companies should be deliberate in their adoption strategy, there are benefits and risks to each category. It™s been interesting watching different group adopt social technologies over the past few years, I can see who benefits from being first “and the pains to be a thought leader of both individuals and companies.

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