Diffusion of Innovations: How Ideas Spread Online and What You Can Do To Help


So you have a brilliant new product, idea or message. But getting the word out to encourage widespread awareness and adoption is more easily said than done – unless you understand exactly how ideas spread.

Fortunately communications expert Everett Rogers has done the leg-work for us. His “diffusion of innovations” theory from the 1960s explores how, why and how quickly new ideas and innovations spread (“diffuse”).

The key takeaway: focus on key groups of people to facilitate adoption rather than aiming to reach the entire general public from the get-go. Translated, don’t tell (like sell) everyone, select the right niche.

Let’s take a closer look at what this awesomosis stellapop-click-to-tweet involves.

From Introduction to Adoption

Getting from awareness to adoption is heavily reliant on human capital. The main elements an idea needs in order to take hold is a great idea, communication channels, social connections and time. If you’re wondering how something goes viral on social media – you’ve found it! There are a lot of steps before the magic happens and your content goes viral.

The core component of the process is human capital, seen in the “social connections” facet. Word spreads from an inner circle of adopters outward to the general public.

There are five groupings of consumers:

The Innovators (2.5%)

  • Gatekeepers for the next group of adopters (think VC investors)
  • Motivated by the idea of being a change agent
  • Understand and apply complex tech knowledge with a high degree of uncertainty
  • Venturesome, risk takers
  • Short adoption period

The Ahead of the Game Adopters (13.5%)

  • Provide excellent tester subjects for the innovation
  • Not often cost sensitive
  • Adventurous
  • Want to be first in line
  • Serve as role models in their social system, respected by peers, successful
  • Have a natural desire to be trendsetters

The Premature Majority (34%)

  • Interact frequently with peers, deliberate contact
  • Serve as opinion leaders but later in the process
  • Want proven applications, reliable service, efficiency enhancers
  • Don’t like complexity
  • Buy only with a reference from a trusted colleague in the same industry
  • Avoid risk
  • Budget oriented
  • Need user training

The Better Late Then Never Majority (34%)

  • Respond to peer pressure
  • Respond to economic necessity
  • Skeptical, cautious
  • Often tech-shy
  • Very cost sensitive
  • Require bulletproof solutions
  • Motivated only by the need to keep with competitors and trends in the industry
  • Rely on a single, trusted advisor
  • Easily influenced by laggards

The Laggards (16%)

  • Skeptics
  • Isolated from opinion leaders
  • Point of reference is in the past
  • Suspicious of innovations
  • Maintain the status quo
  • Think tech is hindering operations
  • Will invest in tech if alternatives are worse

How Ideas Incrementally Spread

You can see from the above how innovation incrementally spreads from a small group of potential users to a much larger one, then finally gathering up the laggards.

This spread is depicted in Rogers’ Innovation Adoption Curve or the S Curve Graph.


It has the following key features:

  • Chasm/tipping point is reached when about 16% of a group of potential users has adopted
    • During the transition from early adopters to early majority
    • The adoption rate picks up dramatically until reaching the top of the S curve
      • This peak area = critical mass
  • Trying to convince the mass of a new idea is useless
    • Convince innovators and early adopters first

Adoption Strategies

Of course, the spread of an idea isn’t the same as the adoption idea. So how can you encourage users to go from awareness to adoption? Rogers’ suggested strategies include:

  • Encouraging adoption/promotion from an influential member of a social network (think social media birthday party – opinion leaders, celebrities or social media influencers)
  • Actively “injecting” the idea into a representative circle of innovators to encourage uptake and encourage the spread of the idea.

Communication is Key

Not all products, ideas, and innovations “diffuse” throughout an entire market. But that’s not necessarily the fault of the idea. Competition or poor communication are common reasons for failure – if your audience doesn’t “get” what you’re trying to communicate, the buck will stop there.

Remember, you’re aiming not only to support the adoption of an idea among an individual – but across the community, they’re a part of. Consider the diffusion of your idea in terms of each social “group” and who they are, and you’ll be more likely to get results.

Need some help building an adoption or communication strategy for your innovation? At StellaPop, we thrive on creativity and innovation, let’s grab coffee and chat about your ideas.

See Also:

Does Your Company Innovate or Wait?

The Elevator Pitch: Tips for Crafting a Stellar Pitch in 2 Minutes or Less

CEO Challenges 2018: Adapt, Adopt, Evolve or Else!

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