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Software // Social
09:06 AM
Dennis Pearce
Dennis Pearce

5 Social Business Adopter Types: Prepare Early

Employees resisting social business? You can improve adoption by predicting how these types will react to new ideas.

Has this happened to your company? You introduce a social business platform to great fanfare. You advertise and promote internally, maybe even sponsoring games and scavenger hunts with the hopes of getting your employees excited about using it.

At first everything seems to be going great, but eventually usage stalls -- maybe even deteriorates -- and you never reach that critical mass of employee adoption that provides the business benefit you were looking for.

There's a good chance that scholar Everett Rogers and technology consultant Geoffrey Moore could have predicted this situation years ago. In the early 1960s, Rogers developed a theory called the Diffusion of Innovations. If you've ever used the term early adopter, you may have been talking about this theory without even realizing it. The theory focuses on understanding the factors that can accelerate or inhibit the spread and adoption of a new idea within a community or organization.

[ Want more tips? Read Social Business Adoption: Focus On People. ]

I'm certainly not the first one to make the connection between diffusion of innovations and social business adoption, but I hope to present some simple, practical steps you can take to improve employee adoption of social business tools and processes. For more on this concept, read Rogers' book, Diffusion of Innovations (Free Press, 2003).

According to Rogers, not everyone has the same motivation for adopting a new idea. He identifies the following five types of adopters:

  • Innovators adopt something simply because it is new. They love exploring for the sake of exploring and are willing to take risks, even if those risks result in failure.
  • Early adopters are often opinion leaders. They are similar to innovators in how quickly they adopt, but they are more concerned about the coolness factor and maintaining their reputations as being ahead of the curve on new ideas.
  • Early majority and late majority are the critical mass that ensures adoption. The early majority looks for productivity and practical benefits more than coolness or reputation. The late majority is similar but also expects a lot of help and support before they are willing to commit.
  • Laggards, as the term implies, are slow to adopt. They are the most resistant to change and do so only when forced to adopt because everyone else has.

About 30 years after Rogers completed his research, Geoffrey Moore wrote Crossing the Chasm. While the book focuses on how the diffusion-of-innovations theory can be used for marketing high-tech products to customers, many of its ideas can be applied to the internal adoption of social business. In fact, I think Moore's "chasm" is the crux of many social business failures. The chasm he describes is the gap between the early adopters and the early majority.

It's easy to see how to use innovators to attract early adopters, and the same goes for using the early majority to attract the late majority. These adjacent types are relatively similar to each other. Of course, the laggards will come around eventually, if only because of the shift in cultural momentum.

But that pesky gap between the early adopters and the early majority is the real killer. How do you take something that's attracting users because it's new and cool, and reframe it so that it attracts users because it's useful and valuable -- especially if the real value comes from fundamental behavior change, not just tool adoption? What if playing up the fun, cool aspect might actually be detrimental to attracting employees who are pragmatic and practical?

In my next article I'll discuss what steps the theory recommends to facilitate adoption and describe a streamlined model I've used in my own company to help you understand when and where to shift your focus as you progress along the adoption curve.

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Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/20/2013 | 10:16:02 AM
Who has time!
Sometimes I think laggards are laggards because they're busy, and stopping and learning a new process or technology, frankly, takes time. Maybe the answer is some mandatory on-site training where people come into small groups (so they're not pretending to listen on a call but actually in email).

IMO, laggards get a bad rap sometimes. Fear and change resistance may be in play, but maybe they just do not perceive that the new tech is valuable enough to fall behind in order to take time to learn it.
Dennis Pearce
Dennis Pearce,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/20/2013 | 10:04:11 AM
Re: Strategies for laggards?
We try to focus on the early and late majority, what I call the "massive middle" (I'll be focusing on that in part 3 of this series).  They're the ones who are typically open to trying something new but only if it offers some improvement in productivity, not just because it's flashy or cool.  If you can get those people in the boat, you've reached a tipping point where the laggards have to follow because it's the way everyone else is now working.
User Rank: Apprentice
11/19/2013 | 2:08:57 PM
Re: Strategies for laggards?
Communication is critical. Many initiatives fall flat because people don't understand the value of doing them. How does it make their job easier? What is the benefit to the company? What are the milestones? If those aren't articulated then the initiative will fall flat. 

And then there are those who will just never adopt technology for instance. Perhaps they are scared of it or the value isn't great enough or they assume someone else will do it. 

Case in point: my father. He is a highly educated man but he won't use the Internet. it is crazy to say this day in age. They have a Mac and an iPad and he still won't pick up the devices or even search on Google. He asks my mother to do it. The value is there but apparently not enough for him to cross that chasm.
Kristin Burnham
Kristin Burnham,
User Rank: Author
11/19/2013 | 12:08:13 PM
Strategies for laggards?
Innovators and early adopters are the ones you can count on to adopt a new piece of technology. But what about the laggards? CIOs and IT executives I've interviewed in the past all mention using the innovators and early adopters as your "champions" to help encourage and teach others. What other strategies have you used to get laggards onboard?
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