A brief history of diffusion of innovation in social media

This is an article by Thomas Harrison-Lord.
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Tom Lord

Smartphones. Got to love them, right? The chances are if you have one of the latest, new-wave, smartphones from Apple, HTC, Blackberry or any number of mobile companies jumping on the bandwagon, then you have a couple of rather useful applications. Namely, Facebook and Twitter. It seems that the very first app you download is destined to be some sort of social media interaction tool designed to contacting the people closest to you in a more networked way. Within in a couple of taps of the screen you can see pictures from last night’s work night out, you’re baby cousin’s new-born face or find out what your boss is having for lunch. Social media is an ever-encompassing development, one that we use more often than ever before and on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory headed towards the outer-hemisphere and beyond. As a result of being able to access our social activities online whether at home or on the move, through a multitude of different devices, companies are currently exploiting our use of such communities to target us with direct advertising and also as a way of actually selling you a new product.

Of course, it wasn’t always like this. Before we had smartphones, 3G or even Facebook itself, there was burgeoning social network sites like MySpace and Bebo (Bought by AOL in 2005 for $840m, now valued at $10m). You used a device called a web-browser to access them from a home computer (such a cumbersome device….) and you had to design your own profile, even using a bit of HTML code to get the perfect sparkly pink background. Those of you who ventured online in the early days were initially the innovators, followed by the early adaptors.

Pioneers, all in their little way and helping to push the appeal of networking over the internet to a wider audience.

In these early days, there was relatively little advertising on the sites and companies were experimenting with ways in which to use your information. Suddenly, companies had access to thousands of people and their details at a click of a button. However, it wasn’t until a few years later that that the larger organisations were willing to invest.

In the 3634 years since MySpace went live (okay… slight exaggeration, but you get the gist), the world wide web and social networking has changed rapidly. One main change is the original sites were now left redundant as the early adaptors went to the next “new thing”, Facebook. Once again, the same sort of people who set up a MySpace account started a new Facebook profile. But this time it attracted a much bigger audience, which is ever increasing today. Then again, a few years later, due to use by certain famous opinion leaders and early adaptors like Stephen Fry, Twitter emerged. Those that used Facebook in its early years were simply the early majority. They still accessed it through a computer but as time progressed so did mobile technology until we came to the smartphone and mobile internet. This enabled companies the create applications for your mobile device and thus Facebook and Twitter was accessibly from where ever you were through our phone. For mobile phone companies, if your device didn’t boast connectivity to social network sites, then forget it.

Now, instead of being early adaptors, the vast majority of the population was joining Facebook and Twitter. This is around the time that companies were ever present and pushing more main-stream, popular products and brands through social networking. Companies like Fiat (with their YouTube & Facebook campaigns for their new 500 car) were able to capitalise in an ever increasing audience by engaging potential consumers with a series of videos and networking games.

In the early days, the only thing that was promoted on Facebook were seedy dating agencies, but as the majority embraced the site with open arms, communications teams of large multi-national companies were waking up to the idea that they could encapsulate many people online by promoting themselves through social networking.

It was seen as more personal than a TV advert because it could engage people and it could be easily targeted at the right audience.

Currently, as even more people get involved (the later majority of the population, like your Great Auntie Edna), seemingly every electronic device now has to have some sort of Facebook compatibility. New digital cameras boast about their “easy upload to Facebook and Flickr” software. Games consoles from Microsoft and Sony have Facebook & Twitter features. Even listening to music on iTunes has Ping social networking features. Communications experts all over the world are using social networking sites as the new buzzword. This way, you can appeal to a large population who use such sites and also you encouraging consumers to interact with them more and through different means. Then, they can become a “fan” of your company on Facebook and become ever loyal.

The product market, however, is starting to become saturated with products that interact with your online lifestyle. Being able to see what your friends and family are doing online is part of everyday life now. Your mum, dad, even grandparents all use some form of social networking. Every mass-market piece of technology must boast Facebook or Twitter connectivity. The majority of companies now stick these features in to their products or services because the user base is so large, it has become the norm. Instead of being seen as a new must-do thing, playing an online game made by Vodafone might be seen by many as they cynical marketing tool it really is. As all major companies now use online networking services as a means to promote themselves, we are becoming more sanitised to the idea and surely the effectiveness is wearing off?

Surely now is the time to look for the next big thing? Instead of continuing to be a bit late to the party when the late majority arrived on social sites, companies and marketing departments should already be looking at other ways of reinventing the wheel and pursue other avenues.

This may be by using newer sites such as Foursquare or Google Buzz, or maybe another platform entirely. Either way, the current trend of arriving late and trying to capitalise might be seen as crude and misjudged attempt.

Tom Lord is a recent marketing graduate from the University of Lincoln. An innovator in social media, Tom has been a staff writer at gaming blog The Sixth Axis and is an active Twitter user.


  1. Excellent article.

    It is essential for marketing and PR departments to always be looking for the next big thing otherwise, like you say, they run the risk of being left behind/looking like a laggard. I also agree with your point about certain companies just ‘making a facebook page’ or ‘setting up a Twitter account’ just because it being the norm and everyone else has. Some companies seem to be forget that communications need to be integrated and should stick to their guns – if they don’t think that their target audience is on twitter then don’t waste energy.

    Companies should look at others that are doing it right and take note. I was targetted by a motorcycle service centre after joining their group on Facebook – they saw the pictures of my motorbike and messaged me assuring me they would offer quality and cheap service! How personal can you get! 🙂

  2. I have been thinking recently about the social media link-up many devices are offering. Windows Phone 7 has a feature which allows you to pull all of your contacts from Facebook to fill your address book. A couple of my friends have done this already and it is actually very effective.

    Annoying for me as I long for a world where we can step away from this mass social networks. Converging social networks makes it much harder for those of us who would rather not have an online profile! Having said that I am a keen Twitter user, I just hate Facebook.

    Good blog post. Keep it up.

  3. Michael! I think you can also link your contacts with Facebook on Android HTC’s and the like, it even has their latest profile pic and status update alongside their name/number.

  4. Brilliant article Tom! I agree with Michael about social networking sites though! I think social networking sites can have potentially detrimental effects on the way we communicate with one another and access information. We forget that with the innovation of such things like social media, there can be consequences too.

  5. Very enjoyable article.

    Social media seems to have become synonymous with PR. From reading blogs and following PR companies etc.. a common issue I come across is people focussing entirely on what the social media site or programme is rather than how it can be used for PR purposes. Of course it is important to remain contemporary but PR sometimes needs to focus on the ‘social’ as opposed to the media element.

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