How to Apply Social Network Theories with Adoption Curves

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – Simon Sinek
The above TED video goes over why some win and some don’t with a nod to Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations starting at 11:08 (the entire video is fantastic though).
How Do I Apply This Stuff?
The reason we spend so much time on Rogers’ research is that it offers tremendously powerful clues on introducing a big innovation and the life that it will lead in the marketplace. For over 40 years, Rogers researched and tested his theories around the world and found the following frameworks to hold true in large part across cultures and time. You should take tremendous comfort in his work by knowing you have solid scientific data to help guide your research and strategy phases.

Many digital marketers may not be aware of some of these historical foundations as the surrounding business press tends to hype the newest social trend or tech company with skyrocketing growth (but not necessarily profit).

We’d all like to have the growth rate of companies like GroupOn or Facebook and to that point many novice marketers think by simply being online their entitled to experience a similar ride. Often times they spend years being disappointed as their startup or service does not gain traction with innovators or early adopters. Finally, they crash and burn on the front end of Metcalfe’s Law in an exhausted, smoking heap and bitterly curse the web for its false promises.

Yet, we can avoid all this teeth gnashing by having a healthy respect and critical eye for things like what affects adoption, market size based on these adoption groups, and the psychographics of each group. Knowing the opportunity and hard work ahead, you can start to make some smart assumptions as you lay out your goals for building out your online brand.

Chapter Summary
In this chapter we went over two fundamental laws of the online world. We saw that networks increase exponentially in value over time as the number of connections are made due to Metcalfe’s Law. As consumers, we already know this law intuitively when we debate whether we should join Google Plus or stick with Facebook. If many of our friends and family are already on a network, chances are we will join as well because the connection represents a value to us. If there are no potential connections, there is no value and we’ll most likely pass until the network grows in size and offers more value.

Next, we covered how Moore’s Law will continue to guarantee that the rate of change we see in technology and society will not lessen but rather increase into the foreseeable future as the limits of material science are pushed at the atomic level. Moore tells us that technology gets exponentially better in performance and cheaper every two years. As consumers we reap the benefits with cheaper iPods that have greater storage capacity or Facebook accounts that can store ever expanding massive amounts of photos, videos and status updates for free. As a digital marketer knowing this law, you’ll want to think big and look forward with plenty of “what if” ideas. As with every exponential law, you cannot look backwards for clues to the future as many try to do with linear change.

Extrapolating out, we see that Metcalfe’s Law shows us the the real challenge is getting early people to use a network, as Moore assures us the technology will be there to support our growth. We saw how these two laws play together in an example like Craig’s List. More people join and post content for free which in turn snowballs over time as the value for checking Craig’s List classifieds grows. Infrastructure explodes exponentially to support such growth and in the end we’re left with a free classified ads website that is partly responsible for the demise of the daily newspaper business across America. This is Metcalf’s and Moore’s Laws in action and further example of their ability to catch industries entirely off guard. The classic book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, does a wonderful job showing how big incumbents miss disruptive innovations much to their peril.

Knowing the challenges of the early part of the curve in getting users, we have to take seriously the undertaking of building experiences that offer tremendous value and in turn make it easy for others to join and spread the word.

Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations gives us over 40 years of research on how people view disruptive change. We can build on his work as a guide and look to companies like Apple that deftly manage the adoption decision making process for inspiration. We also see how Twitter can enjoy amazing brand awareness but still struggle to get users to adopt their platform. As smart digital marketers, we have a laser focus on adoption (and engagement) as important metrics because they help drive the economic engine of a business.

We now have a solid foundation for thinking about digital marketing initiatives. Growth is hard and we are constantly having to compete for a customer’s attention. All of which underscores the importance of designing great digital experiences that represent real value to our users.

We’ll use these tenets to begin intelligently researching and thinking through strategies for our online marketing initiatives.