I’ve mentioned some of the work by Everett Rogers on technology adoption. The bell curve seen refers to the adoption of innovations by a community. But what about individuals? Is there a process whereby they adopt new technology?
Turns out there is. You can read the work by George Beal and Joe Bohlen in 1957. There is a five step path that each individual appears to go through, although some people are slower to transition between steps.
- Awareness. The individual is simply aware the innovation exists.
- Interest. The individual wants more information. They begin to wonder if the innovation can help them.
- Evaluation. The individual mentally examines the innovation using the information gathered, trying to determine whether it will really impact their work.
- Trial. The individual actually tests the innovation to see if reality matches expectations.
- Adoption. The individual likes the innovation and adopts it wholeheartedly.
Beal and Bohlen also described what sources of information were used at each stage. Through the first two, mass media and government agencies were most important.
This was really an attempt to get an ‘unbiased’ viewpoint since friends and salesmen (saesmen always came in last) were the next two sources. But for the last 3 stages, neighbors and friends were the largest source of information, moreso than any other group.
So, early in the diffusion process, unbiased experts are sought. But when the evaluation process is started, the experiences of close ties within a local social network become the most important. For most people, the opinions and personal experiences of their friends are most important for adoption of a new innovation than any external source.
Now the innovators in a community race through these steps. They often are connected to outside groups and use social interactions unavailable to others in the community to more rapidly move through the last 3 steps.
The early adopters take information from the innovators and use their own connections to move through the stages, not as fast as the innovators, but with reasonable speed.
But it is the majority of the community that relies on the early adopters and innovators within the community to inform themselves. Research has shown that they require much more information from trusted sources within the community than innovators and early adopters. Without this information from peers, they will not progress rapidly through the last 3 stages.
The laggards are the slowest to move through the 5 stages. They do not trust most outside sources, so the awareness and interest stages are slowed. Plus they will only listen to certain trusted sources within the community. Until those trusted sources make their own way through the 5 stages, the laggards will not progress.
So, to alter the rate of diffusion of innovation in a community, increased lines of communication must be available, increasing the information that can be provided to individuals.This helps with the first 2 steps. but mostly only for the 16% of the community at the left side of the curve.
However, of greatest importance are the connections between members within the community, particularly the thought-leaders found in the early adopters. About 70% of a community will not adopt new innovations unless they hear clear reasons why, from trusted individuals within the community.
No amount of salesmanship or external proof will easily move them. But, tgiven he right opinion from a community thought-leader and they will rapidly make the transition.
This is an area that Web 2.0 technologies can be of real value. Not only do they make it easier for members of a community to disburse information, they also help the community more accurately identify who is in each group, permitting more focused, explicit approaches to be used to move individuals through the 5 steps.
The thought-leaders can more rapidly progress through the stages and can extend their opinions much more rapidly to the majority because they are not required to be in the same place at the same time as the others in the group. Thus there will be more opportunities for their viewpoints to be assimilated by the majority.
Increasing the rate of diffusion of innovation in a community really means increasing the speed with which each individual progresses through the 5 step.