What could be more difficult than overcoming the average business person's disdain for social media and converting them from first-time users to avid tweeters in less than an afternoon? Actually, it wasn't difficult at all. We did it with about 24 marketing managers (out of 29) in about an hour!
The secret? Nothing that Ev Rogers hadn't told us about fifty years ago in his seminal work The Diffusion of Innovation. Last week, my IMD colleague Willem Smit, and I, took approximately 30 relatively young, but definitely not social-media-savvy, marketing managers, who work for a large global fast-moving-consumer-goods company, and turned them into ardent tweeters by merely following Rogers' prescriptions step by step. Ev Rogers was a sociologist who studied the diffusion of innovations in a variety of social settings. From this body of work came a recognition that the rate of an innovation's diffusion throughout a society is a function of five variables, each of which we addressed as annotated:
- Relative Advantage: For Rogers, this was a comparison of the advantage to be gained from adopting the innovation relative to the advantage of the prior state. In our case, the prior state was an indifference, if not actual unawareness or uncharitable stereotpying, of what Twitter was and how it worked. We sought to increase the relative advantage of using Twitter by establishing a contest that promised a "significant" reward for the "team" that was the most accomplished tweeters over the following few days, as measured by total number of tweet emissions, and the number and "quality" of both followers and followees. We also appealed to their curiosity and Idea-Hunting instincts to argue that Twitter was an extremely powerful professional learning tool.
- Complexity: When it comes to speeding-up the rate of an innovation's diffusion, simplicity wins. Twitter is pretty simple to begin with, but we sought to make it even simpler by providing personal coaching as the form of instruction.
- Compatibility: According to Rogers, innovations diffuse faster when they fit "naturally" into the cadence of life within a community. In our case, we were running a course on innovation, branding, and social media, in which the participants were responsible, as co-creators, to supply insights as well as impressions. Twitter works well as a entry-way into knowledge-worlds that would otherwise be invisible to them. Once they were aware of this, they realized that Twitter actually allowed them to become measurably better informed than they had been before using it, and. as a result, it fit right into the overall scheme of the program. Finally, we built time to tweet into the first afternoon for experimentation, so that they did not have to do it "later" on their own time (although, once hooked, they no longer begrudged giving up their own time to Twitter).
- Trialibility: Rogers argued that if you could try an innovation, without risk, you were much more likely to adopt it, than if there was an all-or-nothing entry fee imposed. We reduced the cost of the first tweet by doing it together with coaching, and then made the continued use of Twitter easy by virtue of employing iPads as the learning platform, so that the "cost" of tweeting was almost nil, and we encouraged everyone to emit their first tweet together.
- Observability: If you can get a prospective adopter to try something, but they do it in private, then you have to "sell" each prospective adopter, one by one. If, however, the "trials" are done in such a way that they are visible to all, and if they work, the likelihood is that many or all of the observers will adopt. For our situation, we all tweeted together in one big room, where everyone could see everyone else's enjoyment and success [see photo above]. The effect was contagious! We also requested that all of our tweeters added a uniquely identifiable #hashtag to each tweet that they emitted so that we call monitor our progress. It made assessment easier, but also made eveyone's tweeter activity very observable.
In short, by following Ev Rogers' prescriptions, we literally did turn a group of Twitter Virgins into Avid Tweeters in about an hour, and they continued to tweet throughout our time together, as indicated by their quantitative tweet counts and their qualitative follower/followee relationships.