When to Adopt a Social Media Trend

By Patrick Courtney

As an agency, people are often asking us if their company should participate in the latest and greatest social media trend to engage their customers.  It is a good question, but it is usually the wrong one.  A better question might be, “Is my brand ready for this trend?”.  Every new initiative in social media needs a strategy – content planning, design, voice, engagement tactics, KPIs, etc.  It’s a dangerous game chasing the latest shiny object, and if you’re not prepared and haven’t thought through why you’re there or what you’re offering your customers, they will likely see through it.

Everett Rogers’ adoption lifecycle from Diffusion of Innovations illustrates how new ideas and technologies spread in different cultures.  This same model could be applied to brands.  After all, brands are people too :)

Plot your brand on this curve as you see it now.  How is your social media program perceived within the organization, how is it being measured, how is it controlled and managed, is it stable with a dedicated team and integrated across the organization?

These are some of the questions to be asking and addressing if your brand is to move nearer to the front end of the curve.

Try this exercise to get a sense of where your organization sits on this graph.  Rank each statement on a scale of 1-5 with 5 indicating the statement is very accurate, 1 indicating the statement is not at all accurate.

  1. Your social media program is as important to your organization as other marketing channels.
  2. What you and your employees understand and believe about your brand is more or less what the customer understands and believes it to be.
  3. You have policies, guidelines, and protocols in place to manage and direct your social media program across the company and the individuals who work for it
  4. You have a social media leader with a team who reports to them
  5. You have a measurement system in place with KPIs that tie back to business goals and objectives, and report performance to executives on a regular basis -OR- You are evaluating measurement practices, but fundamentally understand the value in social media in the absence of a direct ROI and place importance on the business opportunities that are visible in social media and believe you can achieve similar results presented in case studies for like organizations.

Add these up.  If your score is:

  • 24-25 – Innovator
  • 20-23 – Early Adopter
  • 15-19 -  Early Majority
  • 10-14 -  Late Majority
  •     5-9 -  Laggard

This is just a quick exercise.  There’s not much (read: none) science behind it.  Think of it more as a way to reflect on where you might want to focus your attention.

If you’re Late Majority or Laggard, look before you leap.  Focus your efforts on a single objective and strategy, and work on improving your score before jumping on the next bandwagon.

If you’re Early Majority, you likely join trends and services when there is a clearly defined value for your brand.  You’re still seen as progressive in the practice of marketing and connecting with customers, and your customers appreciate that.  You are likely set up on at least one social platform with a critical mass of consumers (Facebook – 850m users commanding 1 in every 5 page views, Twitter – 465m users with 17m tweets a day), and are evaluating other trends and networks to engage with your customers.

If you’re an Early Adopter, great!  You’ve developed the tools and best practices to bring the brand into social media quickly and effectively.  You may not be the first brand to participate, but you’re likely on board as your customers discover it and find your brand’s familiar ‘face’ there to welcome them.  You’re likely not as concerned about ROI, but trust in the value of the connections you’re making and the promise of future returns.  You may be venturing into territories where the audience is small, but the engagement is high (Instagram – 27m users as of March with 60 photos uploaded per second, or Google+ – 90m users as of January.)

Virgin America on Pinterest

If you’re an Innovator, well, you set the trends and often invent opportunities for your customers to engage with you and each other by leveraging social media in original ways, such as the recent SXSW promotion from Virgin America and American Express . You’re integrating social across your business.  ROI isn’t an immediate requirement.  Plus, you get plenty of PR/buzz for your latest initiatives on the new hot thing (think Pinterest - 10.4m users with a daily user increase of 145% since 2012. Plenty of how-tos use the first mover brands as examples).   Many have eyes on what you’re going to do next.

Where your brand should be on this curve depends largely on the behaviors of the customers you serve, and how you plan to serve them.  If your customers are innovators, push your organization to be an innovator, too.  Focus on serving your customers in a way that fits their behavior and your company culture, and then you’ll have an easier time deciding if the next best trend is right for your business.