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

by Dana VanDenHeuvel  |  
October 13, 2010

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 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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Dana VanDen Heuvel is an award-winning marketing blogger, author of the American Marketing Association’s Marketech Guide to Marketing Technology and Guide to Social Network Marketing and the creator of the AMA’s TechnoMarketing training series.Dana is a widely recognized expert on thought leadership marketing, social media, blogging, podcasting, RSS, Internet communities and interactive marketing trends and best practices and speaks at over 50 events each year on these and other marketing topics at industry and private client events.

Dana founded BlogSavant, one of the nation’s first weblog and social media marketing consultancies, which he is still active in. He currently runs The MarketingSavant™ Group, a thought leadership and social media marketing consulting and training firm that enables business-to-business marketers to leverage thought leadership marketing to reach and keep customers.

When he's not blogging or speaking, you can find Dana on his bicycle on the roads around Green Bay, WI or out at the park with his dog, Lucy.

You can read more from Dana at

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  • by D. Steven White Wed Oct 13, 2010 via blog

    IMHO, social media has reached the early majority stage of the diffusion curve. A graphical representation of this may be found at

  • by Dana VanDen Heuvel Thu Oct 14, 2010 via blog

    Great analysis, Steven! I especially like the bit on the 'share of voice' of the various social sites.

  • by Nathan Ketsdever Fri Oct 15, 2010 via blog

    Excellent write up on adoption curves. I think this points to trends that could very well be true.

    I think social media has a unique adoption curve due to the enhanced network effect that previous curves as a general rule won't.

    Geoff used two sets of numbers, and at least one wasn't entirely conclusive on this issue--in fact internationally showed the other countries were growing. The domestic numbers were not within a typical statistic error for the study (2% which is hardly a trend). If you want to make the conclusions only US may be on stronger grounding.

    I'm also curious how adoption curves in the past have dealt with:
    1) Generational changes. For instance, the telephone over time probably grew in users and still is if you add mobile.

    2) Changes in the degree of "network effect" which I think you see in both Facebook and Linked In (perhaps Foursquare and Twitter growth as well).

    I'll adopt a wait and see position. The next 2 years will definitely be interesting....

  • by Christopher S. Rollyson Sat Oct 16, 2010 via blog

    Dana, thanks for riffing on adoption. Here's a related aspect that could add another dimension. From an economics perspective, adoption in itself is interesting academically, but even more interesting is the economic utility created from adoption. For example, Twitter has 145 million users, but it's well known that most of them don't actually use Twitter: they signed up for accounts, tweeted twice and called it a day. Based on the above analysis, the 145mm would be declared adopters. What's more interesting to my clients is how to create utility, and the great news for all of us is that there's TONs of headroom; the fact is, very few people know how to use social networks to create value for themselves, even though they are technically "users" who have adopted. Based on this, I don't think we are anywhere near the "end of the curve." We're still at the beginning. We don't even have ironclad ROI models. In case it's useful, here's my take on it.

  • by Dana VanDen Heuvel Tue Oct 19, 2010 via blog

    Nathan, Great insight! I tend to agree, somewhat, with the 'network effect' though that's really what diffusion measures (in some ways) is the network effects of diffusion...only now things happen with greater velocity. You're right that these aren't 'statistically valid' numbers, that said, I think as a set of directional numbers (begging for further, validated research) this points to some interesting conclusions. The points you bring up are be dealt with in some of the research now. In fact, we know now that the iPad adoption rate is eclipsing that of DVDs and other recent tech marvels. Wait and see is a good approach! It will be a wild ride to be sure.

  • by Dana VanDen Heuvel Tue Oct 19, 2010 via blog

    Hi Christopher, I read your work often and recall that post you mention. Funny how telling this point was from your post: Web 2.0 will drive a fundamental reorganization of society, geography, business and government. Leaders who understand this disruption and act on it will have tremendous opportunity. Many others will learn too late and lose competitive position. We could go on all day about adoption (and I agree with your perspective on 'utility' - though in the abstract sense, when we were measuring DVD player sales, we simply looked at purchase...which is the equivalent of 'signing up' for Twitter) and I think that, as Ev Rogers posited, adoption curves are not just two endpoints and something in between but rather are in continuous cycle (your web 2.0 enterprise quote above is evidence of organizations who didn't adopt web 2.0 for the tools or marketing may adopt it on the merits of the business model it brings to the table).

  • by Reggie Dover Sun Sep 2, 2012 via blog

    I think of this as an ocean of waves rather than a single curve. For the most part, everyone and their mother is now in this ocean, with Facebook being the current wave we are all sharing. In the years of Friendster and Myspace, adoption was certainly an issue, but now it is more a case of which wave will hit us next?

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