early adopter influence, social influence

A recent study fascinates me. In the name of the experiment, a music playlist was generated with all types of music. Study participants were then invited to view the list on the computer and to click a button of any tune they’d be interested in downloading for free. Four different computer stations were set up with a varied group of participants sent to each. As each viewer clicked the songs he or she would like to download after hearing samples, the tally of the number of people who had also “liked” that song appeared to the left of the title. So if 2 people had selected it for download, the number 2 would appear next to the song. If 20 people downloaded it, the number 20 would appear.

Common sense would tell you that with an equally varied group of participants who had been vetted and equally divided between the four groups according to musical tastes, the preferred song lists ranked by likes would be very similar across the four identical lists. In other words, the best songs would rise to the top equally on all four computers.

Surprisingly this did not happen. In fact something quite extraordinary happened. What might be the top 20 songs on computer #1 weren’t even in the top 100 of computer #2.  The lists between computers showed no correlating ranking relationship.

What happened?

As researchers dug into the experiment, they noticed something. Songs on any station that gained likes early and quickly kept gaining more likes by subsequent experiment participants. Those with no or few likes continued to garner few or no likes as the experiment went on. If, for example, three ska music lovers happened to be in the first five experimenters on a given computer, the ska sounding songs gained early likes and continued to garner the most likes, while other genres languished. Meanwhile, another station might have had people who like raspy vocals with unpolished mixes as the majority of early participants. Therefore a whole different list of songs would emerge as popular.

Why? Because we don’t make decisions in isolation. As humans, we tend to give a great deal of weight to social influence. In effect, we don’t trust our own decisions as much as we think we do. The participants were more apt to select a song to download themselves if they saw a high number of other participants had also chosen to download the song.

In this case as in much of life, social influence tends to get shaped heavily by the early adopters. The more early adopters an idea, product or service gains, the more people pile on in joining as they are influenced heavily by the early adopters.

Some sociologists have proposed that much of our selections and decisions are mostly a construct of social influence, even when the selectors insist they march to the beat of their own drum.

What Does This Early Adopter Impact Mean For Influencers?

From this study and others, we see that it is vital to get the earliest voters on any concept, idea, or product/service to tip in your favor.

In marketing formally or informally, a slow start can mean never seeing momentum pick up. If traction isn’t gained early, it will often never be.

A good friend owns a marketing agency. He says he constantly sees small start-ups not have the resources to properly market to build the initial surge. These owners haven’t raised sufficient capital for the marketing launch and don’t have a realistic picture about how difficult and crucial the early stages of a business are for long-term success. They believe, “If I build it, they will come.” He points to a number of great concepts that had to close their doors because they never gained early adopters.

It is important that 3 out of 5 of those first presented with your concept come away saying they like that idea, product, service or concept. This is how momentum is built.

How Do We Achieve Early Adopter Influence in Order to Get Others to Join By Social Influence?

1. Do the meeting before the meeting.

Those key to the adoption of an idea that have the earliest vote as a stakeholder need to be targeted, invested in, and influenced as to how they’ll benefit from being an early adopter. As an example, if you have an idea that you know will take work to win your team over, don’t make your first presentation of it in front of the team where 3 of 5 folks might have objections. Instead, guarantee yourself 3 of 5 will be for your idea by convincing them one-on-one ahead of time. Then encourage them to be vocal about their support very early in the process. In this way, social influence is built.

If you are marketing a product (otherwise stated, seeking to INFLUENCE others to use your product), find those who have a degree of influence themselves and get your product in front of them (even for free or at a high discount). Don’t get sucked into the “it must be a celebrity” mentality. There are other types of influencers.

2. Treat the Early Adopters as VIPs.

Your early adopters are your most important customers or team members. Take the extra time to answer questions from them either in person or through social media channels. If the idea or product you are seeking to get implemented is novel, you’ll need to educate them, which is a lot of work. Listen to their feedback. Soon they’ll be influencing others on your behalf.

Consider providing them perks or extra benefits for coming onboard with an idea or product early in the process. This can serve to build incredible loyalty and makes them stakeholders in your success. Think if someone was sitting by each person taking the test in the music experiment saying, “I like this song because _____. What do you like best about it?” The likes would surely build up more quickly.

3. Know the Early Adopter Personality

The early adopter tends to find joy in simply being an early adopting pioneer. They get a buzz off of finding solutions that work sooner than others. The majority of the early adopters will forgive you if your product or idea you are implementing isn’t perfect yet. Later adopters will demand more development, detail and perfection. Therefore, it’s important to start by finding people who will love your early stage product or idea as well; people that can help you improve the product over time. Early adopters don’t mind if your product or idea doesn’t have all the bells and whistles yet, as long as the early stage is better than their current solution.


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina