Friday, March 11, 2011

Early Adopters and the Social Web

Early adopters have held an important stake in cultural acceptance of new innovations throughout history. And with the extensive growth of social media over the course of the past few years, these influencers’ “phenomenal comic powers” have become paramount in the success of a brand’s marketing strategy.

What really made me think about this was the hilarious example this past Friday by comedian news anchor Stephen Colbert with his endorsement of the new iPad II on Twitter. His tweet garnered over 100 re-tweets in less than an hour. It doesn’t get more influencer relevant than that.

Since social scientist Everett Rogers’ 1962 study developed the four acceptance categories that early adopters belong to, they have continued to play a key strategic role in product marketing and brand development. The powerful influence of the early adopters often sways the early majority and combined, the two groups can account for half of a new product’s sales. The success or failure of a brand often relies on their influence.

The Anatomy of Early Adopters

So what does an early adopter look like? According to a 2010 report from Advertising Age called Shiny New Things: What Digital Adopters Want, How to Reach Them, and Why Every Marketer Should Pay Attention, a study by Forrester Research coupled early adopters “technographic” profiles with psychological theories and found that three key drivers compel them:
  1. Risk Taking - A desire for novelty that exceeds caution and reflects a “universal openness to new experiences, including new products. They are willing to take a chance on a product with little to no market history.” There is also a desire to be first.
  2. Information Gathering - “There is an informational burden that needs to be overcome for new products, and early adopters are more likely to seek out the information needed to inform their adoption decisions.” But they also “seek to mitigate risk through information.”
  3. Status Seeking - Early adopters take pride in showing off their purchases. Early adopters choose products that represent them to the world—their preferences as well as their social status.”

In another study by Nielsen and Mindset Media, early adopters of new technology scored high on certain personality traits in regard to purchasing habits:

  1. Leadership - 68% are more likely to have purchased three or more computers in the past two years.
  2. Dynamism - 58% are more likely to have purchased three or more flat-screen TVs in the past two years.
  3. Assertiveness - 62% are more likely to purchase a new cell phone when the latest and greatest model hits the streets.
  4. Modesty - 45% are more likely to upgrade when a new model is available.

Finding Success in Early Adopter Outreach

Influencers are unique individuals who require personal strategies of communication. According to iMediaConnections’ C.C. Chapman, there is no science to finding the right influencers because there are far too many factors in play for it to be that easy.

“I've used many services, companies, and other outlets to assist in compiling influencer lists,” Chapman said in a blog post. “But I have yet to find anything that works better then good, old fashion networking and research.”

As an influencer and early adopter, Chapman recently published a list of four ingredients for successful influencer outreach at iMediaConnections.

On the social web, researching and approaching these influencers isn’t easy. Mere friend/follower counts and profile views fall short of accurately measuring and identifying true influencers. Simon Dumenco with Ad Age Digital set out to further debunk that perception by analyzing the supposed top Twitter influencer rankings on several subjects provided by a marketing firm that specializes in this type of research. The results showed ineffective accounts with limited influence.

That is why it is important to perform intricate research into who a brand or product’s target audiences are and cultivate sincere relationships with them. Social media based influencer relations is critically different from traditional PR methods and requires varied tone, purpose, and understanding. When you apply that philosophy you’re sure to see a higher Return on Investment.

An innovative way to help generate early buzz from adopters and continue to nurture personal relationships is to conduct one-on-one briefings with them via Skype. This insightful idea from Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence team gives influencers an exclusive first look at the product even when a brand has a limited number of prototypes available.

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