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Friday, October 8, 2010

Stages of Social Media Adoption

I was having a conversation with Peter Kim the other day and we were talking about how it doesn't seem like people are talking about social media as much as they used to. Is it possible that we've left the echo chamber?

As I was thinking about this, I wondered if there was a model for the phases people go through in their social media conversations. This is what I would propose to show how people progress as they use social media platforms.

1. Awareness

This is when someone has initially heard about a new social platform. They may talk about it with their friends or read what people are saying about it on a different platform. It's unlikely they've tried using the platform yet; they may even go as far as to claim they won't use it.

2. Discovery
After someone has joined a social network, they start to feel out how to use it, connect with other people, get down the 101 basics for the platform. They also start to look for influencers on the service, the people that have already forged a path.

This is also the phase that people are likely to abandon a particular platform if they don't feel they're able to 'figure it out.' 

3. Sharing
This is the phase when people start to publish content about the platform. As they have learned the 101 lessons, or started to get their own insights, they want to share with other people how to get into the platform. This stage does reinforce people's use of the platform but can also create the echo chamber effect where original content gets drowned out.

At this phase, people are still talking with their friends or other people interested in the platform. This tends to drive the topics of conversation towards mutually shared interests -- typically social media -- rather than content about their business. In fact, people that skip this step and just start broadcasting all about themselves are usually ignored.

4. Use Case
For me, this is the threshold that indicates long-term adoption of a platform. When someone understands how they can use the platform effectively for their personal or business purposes. They stop spending so much time talking about the platform, or sharing the 101 tips, and begin to use it for the reasons that make sense for them.

This is also why it is difficult to find (or create) social media content that moves beyond a 101-level. Once you start looking at deeper use cases for a social media platform, it becomes specific to the needs of your business. That is hard to translate into general practices that other people can follow.
At this stage, people have figured out where the money is and they are going for it.

I would say that most people who have incorporated social media into their professional role, and have been doing so for a while, are more likely to be in this phase, and for those of us connected with other social media professionals, this may account for why we aren't seeing as much content being published about the platforms. We have figured them out and are using them for business now.

5. Integration
Once someone is familiar and comfortable with the tools, it starts to get integrated into their other social platforms. I don't just mean cross-posting, but really creating a value network for their own business that allows their customers to find consistent messages, response, and personality across different social media platforms. 

This is happening quicker on a personal level where people manage their own 'brand' across all the platforms, but I believe that we are starting to see - and will continue to see - this happen with brands. Smart brands are looking for how they can take the successes from each social media initiative and use them to improve their presence elsewhere. The lessons don't translate directly from platform to platform, but the power of working cohesively across social media channels is the next frontier in social business.

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