How To Revive Social Business Adoption

Tracking your social business numbers helps you know when it's time to shift your strategy. Here's what to do when adoption slows.

Dennis Pearce, Contributor

November 25, 2013

4 Min Read

In two earlier posts -- 5 Social Business Adopter Types: Prepare Early and 7 Ways to Drive Social Business Buy-In -- I discussed how the "Diffusion of Innovation" theory does three things: categorizes the types of adopters in an organization and what motivates them; describes the chasm that lies between early adopters and the rest of the organization; and identifies the levers that can be used to drive adoption.

The last piece of the puzzle is how to turn a theoretical model like this into a practical analysis tool to help guide your adoption strategy. The first step we took at my company was to simplify the model to get a more focused communication plan. Since the goal is to jump the chasm and gain critical mass, in practice there are really only three groups to worry about:

  • The Early Adopters (which combines both early adopters and innovators), who mainly need to understand the available features so they can explore what can be done with them;

  • The Massive Middle (early majority and late majority), who need some confidence that this new concept is not a fly-by-night fad and will actually enhance productivity; and

  • The Laggards, who won't adopt until they are forced to do so.

If you look back at the second post mentioned above, you'll begin to see how those levers for change fit into this framework. Minimizing risk and maximizing trials are great for Early Adopters: You can give them a basic overview of the features and set them loose. Factors such as relative advantage, observability, and complexity become much more important when it's time to cross the chasm and engage the massive middle. But how do you know when the time is right?

If you look closely at the chart above, you will notice an S-shaped curve in addition to the normal bell curve. That S-curve is the sum total of your adopters as your organization progresses along the adoption curve. You can use this curve to help you determine when it's time to switch tactics.

[ Want more on how to refine your company's social strategy? Read 5 Social Business Adopter Types: Prepare Early. ]

Your organization will need to ask itself two questions: How do we define adoption, and what adoption percentage is considered a success? In our case, our goal of creating an organization that works out loud drives the answers to both questions. We want to track participation -- not just logging in and viewing -- and we want to strive for 100% adoption.

There is some debate around the 90-9-1 principle and what should be an appropriate balance between contributors and lurkers. This debate may have some merit in external communities where the potential audience is unbounded. But an internal employee community trying to become a social business requires as many people participating as possible.

The S-curve in the chart above is nice and smooth, topping out at 100%. But in reality, your S-curve will probably begin to flatten much sooner than you would like. This signifies that your current approach has stalled. Here is some actual data from our deployment (units have been removed for confidentiality purposes):


We initially launched with a focus on getting early adopters actively involved. Although there are ups and downs due to things like holidays and special internal events, the overall pattern was an S-curve that initially accelerated and then flattened out as we hit the chasm, just as the theory predicts. This was a signal that it was time to rethink our messaging to become more productivity-focused. Having begun that process, our participation numbers have started trending up again.

While that Massive Middle is your ultimate target, you can leverage the Early Adopters and Laggards to move them. To move the Massive Middle, look at the Early Adopters and listen to the Laggards.

Determine which of your Early Adopters are doing productive work that may appeal to the Massive Middle and highlight that work so it is visible to them. Identify Early Adopters who can serve as advocates within their business areas. Listen to the Laggards to understand and anticipate their arguments for resistance, then craft your message to the Massive Middle in a way that proactively addresses those concerns.

Every organization is unique, but in some sense we're all unique in the same way. Understanding these patterns of organizational behavior might just keep you from wondering why the community that looked so promising early on slowly deteriorated.

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About the Author(s)

Dennis Pearce


Dennis Pearce has over 30 years experience in manufacturing, product development, quality, IT, and knowledge management. He is currently Enterprise Knowledge Architect for Lexmark International, Inc., focusing on internal and external collaboration strategies and systems.

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