There is a great post from Louis Gray that I’ve been thinking about lately with an interesting view of 5 Major Stages of early adopter behavior.

The Five Stages of Early Adopter Behavior include:

  1. Discovery, QA and Spreading the Word
  2. Promotion and Collaboration
  3. Mainstream Use and Engagement
  4. Sense of Entitlement, Nitpicking and Reduced Use
  5. Migration to Something New, Call to Move Followers

You can read the full descriptions of the 5 Stages here.

I like to read insightful posts like this because I REALLY love to think about how tech-centric insights and trends may apply to behavior generally.  If these are trends that have emerged from a set of people who happen to all adopt social technologiy tools ahead of the mainstream and they share enough things in common to produce a set of general trends and characteristics, it isn’t a stretch to think that those behaviors or insights may be applied elsewhere – whether it’s online or not.

Do you think these Five Stages of Early Adopter Beahvior of social technology can be applied to social change adoption?

Are social entrepreneurs and changemakers possibly following these trends in their birth of innovations and campaigns, promotion to colleagues and networks, public engagement, further promotion and partnerships, and then handing over of the project to start the process again…?

I would love to hear what you think about this and am looking forward to a lively discussion in the comments!

Eartly Adoption: Not Just For Tech?
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  • Amy – Great questions & conversation starter!

    Social change projects may inspire different motivations for early adopters than web services. It would be interesting to compare the two sets of motivations and see how they inspire different adoption behaviors.

    My hunch is, though, that if we mapped out the world of early volunteers, activists, and engaged change makers – we’d see a similar spectrum of discovery, engagement, and moving on. Across for-impact networks & projects, perhaps these stages represent the heartbeat of the social change movement – and is a sign of robust health?! The world has a lot of problems and maybe we need to juggle our best change makers to get solutions off to a great start?

    If this is the case – then, hey, let’s embrace it! How do we welcome early adopters? How can we help shape organizations to allow supporters to discover their campaigns, promote them, get involved,and ultimately move on with positive transitions? And if “self-entitlement” is a stage – how do we plan for this and instead foster deeper engagement & build leadership in the community? Also – How do we help communities connect to and support each other to make early adopter transitions benefit all?

    As a Community Builder, How do you visualize your community within various stages? How have you seen these stages play out? How does this influence your approach to engaging early adopters?

    Your post really got me thinking about the classic engagement ladder and how vital early adopters are within this framework – I’m also looking forward to more discussions!

  • Thanks for the terrific, and thought-provoking response, Joe!

    I would be really interested, as you suggest, in trying to create a graphic engagement ladder for social innovation/change. Early adopters are important, but creating the full engagement ladder lets you see the full spectrum. We have to remember that, on the social media engagement ladder, that those lurking in your forum or reading your blog, but not commenting or creating other online content, are still very important – because they will, eventually, start commenting and creating and sharing! So, following that example, the ladder of engagement for social changemakers has people that are just watching campaigns and opportunities and are just waiting for their moment to start something, too. It is equally important to empower the early adopters of social change as it is to empower the fat part of the bell curve and even those coming on later in the game.

    You ask a lot of great questions and I look forward to examining some of them closer in later posts and hearing what others say, too!

    Thanks again for furthering the discussion!

  • June Holley

    Couple of things the research is saying: At least some innovation adoption seems to be connected to clusters of people not just individuals (see research on smoking cessation for example). That is, small groups of people adopt new behaviors and these cascade to other clusters. Can we make this part of our innovation strategies?

    Also, much innovation never goes very far, sometimes because the network innovating is isolated. Mapping and analyzing our networks helps us see whether our innovations are likely to spread very far. Can we introduce innovations through small collaborative projects where an explicit attempt has been made to include people who wouldn’t normally interact (old & young, people from different backgrounds, etc) so the innovation can spread to other networks?

    And finally, I think more rhizomatic (think ginger) models of innovation are probably more useful than the old 5-stage. Innovations are not like rocks to be passed around intact, but more like buds off which new buds of innovations inspired by previous innovations sprout. How can we help people continually revise innovations, take time to notice the breakthroughs embedded in those innovations?

  • Hi June-

    Thanks for adding these questions to the conversation! I’d be interested to hear if you participated in the #4Change chat that took place last Thursday which discussed the role of challenges/competitions in surfacing innovation and supporting social change.

    In my “day job” I am the Global Community Builder for NetSquared so am obviously the most familiar with the Challenges and the platform NetSquared provides for social innovation. The questions you asked are the same that we use to explain some of our decisions, like the fact that when you enter an idea into a Challenge, it doesn’t “go away” after the Challenge is over, but instead all ideas that have been entered to any Challenge (whether it was sponsored by NetSquared or a partner) remain on the site in the Project Gallery so that people can always find/connect with ideas or projects.

    I love your point about supporting innovative projects to sprout and grow in many different directions. How do you think we could do this? I know NetSquared and many other platforms, blogs, organizations even are trying to tell the stories of changemakers and their ideas but story-telling isn’t enough to really get new directions and projects off the ground.

    Getting people to interact that normally don’t, well, that’s the big silo issue where the entire “nonprofit” or public sector seems to be entrenched. How do we break down the silo walls so that people even recognize why they would want to be talking to each other, let alone collaborating? To use another NetSquared example, that’s the onus of our offline Net Tuesday events that happen every month in cities around the world – get people in a room that are both “techies” and organizations, funders and entrepreneurs.

    I’ve never mentioned NetSquared so much in a comment on the blog before, but think it is just one example we can use in this conversation.

    Thanks again for joining in!

  • Oooh. I really like June’s thoughts on this – have innovations be rhizomatic instead of like a ladder. This can take in other factors like demographics of participants (whatever the level of engagement). I think a core purpose of early adopters is to build projects, but leave them remixable enough for others to come and innovate with, grow and develop if need be. Documentation is key.

    Creative Commons gets at this, Beth Kanter’s post on Creative Commons licensing gets at this too:

    Our generation I think is really just tilling the soil for the next.

  • I screen capture this exact diagram when I read the post about a month ago –

    when I was thinking about what it is like to one foot in early adopters and the other foot on the other end of the curve.

    Early adopters are supposedly a smaller percentage of the total population – and I keep going back to what Clay Shirky said at NTC Keynote – these tools get socially interesting when they get technically boring. When they get technically boring, seems like the early adopters migrate.

    So, seems like the early adopters might be rable rousers – and that spark change.

    I dunno .. good food for thought.

  • Morgan – Thanks for contributing! I really like your point here that the role of early adopters is that of setting the stage, if you will, for the larger community to dive in, remix, further innovate, and so on. I think, though, that documentation is key for all participants and stages so that we can truly keep it rhizomic and let new sprouts and directions shoot off at any time.

    I can see, perhaps instead of the “ladder” of engagement, a cycle of engagement forming from this.

  • Thanks, Beth – I like the idea of early adopters as rabble rousers – acting as the ones not creating trouble but willing to do things differently and mix it all up a bit. I wonder if there is something here as it relates to Shirky’s “technically boring” bit – like, do the social innovators need to plug along and set the stage for a new idea, process, or movement long enough that the ideas aren’t quite as foreign and that’s the time when they can move on to start something new and the next wave of adopters can pick up their work/cause?

    Food for thought is right!

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