3 Psychographic Profiles of Social Media Adopters

How and why does a social media platform gain followers? What are the stages? How do the expectations of what the platform provides differ among the various groups that join in along different ticks in the timeline?

The answers differ from platform to platform, but there is similarities to be drawn to the bell curve of any technology product adoption: the innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and the laggards. For simplification’s sake, I have observed, and been, among 3 more general groups. The expectations of what value the social media platform provides, and will provide in the future, drastically differ among and within the groups.

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Here I sketch the attributes and opinions I have held myself or heard from other people as a member of each group.

Innovators/Early Adopters

The innovators, and later the early adopters, “discover” the social media platform. They are the pioneers who join when it’s user-base is small and specialized and the product meets a sensitive need (i.e. Uber, email) or enhances their life in an intensely personal way (i.e. Instagram). These are the lifeblood of a social media platform, allowing it to reach critical mass before exponentially growing its user base among the masses. These adopters are also fundamental in shaping the product: they have a loud voice in the nascent stages of product development (i.e. Twitter), as well as have a sense of “ownership” and investment from being among the first users. Early adopters can be the product’s biggest cheerleaders, harshest critics, and most vocal recommenders. The reception of features by the small consumer base can make or break the product.

Their Expectations: 

These users are often invested and, as an active witness of the platform’s growth, expect to keep influence over the direction of the product. This can sometimes result in disgruntled segments in the case of strategy changes or business model pivots further along the product’s lifetime. Some are enthused when a platform reaches mass market and others disenchanted.

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The Bandwagon

These users are not the first to discover the platform, and may not even have an active or pressing need for the service the social media platform provides, but join on as the user-base bloats because their friends are participating. (On the other hand, they can have similarities to earlier groups but just have made later discovery.)

Their Expectations:

These bandwagon users have different expectations, often not even fully formed, than early adopters. However, due to the recommendations and popularity among their friends, they expect it to enrich their lives and allow them to connect to the people around them in new ways. When a platform’s user base reaches this phase, segmentation and feature diversification becomes critical to keep and reel in hooked fish.

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Laggards

The laggards– and I have to admit I’ve been one more than a few times– lag behind the crowd, dragging their feet and take the leap to adoption last. The effort to join another social media platform seems too massive, learning its features, amassing enough followers (especially on asymmetric platforms such as Instagram and Twitter), and dedicating time that is already in short supply due to being hostage to the portfolio of other media, doesn’t seem worth it.

This is easily seen in other scenarios, such as iPhone users updating operating systems months (…or years) later or companies running on practically prehistoric technology.

Their Expectations:

Often the mindset is resistant to change, believing that if they wait long enough to adopt it, it will prove to be a fad. The cost-benefit analysis results in the conclusion that the value of the technology is not greater than switching or adoption cost (especially including their time). Two other expectations (or perhaps justifications) are that the technology will be too difficult to learn (i.e. my mom) or they heard about it too late and it’s not worth playing catch-up.

Another group within the laggards are the “non-conformists” who refuse to participate because of its widespread acceptance and use. Across industries and product categories, this is especially true with social media because of the negative implications of being digitally instead of physically present all the time.

9 comments

  1. For better or worse, I am typically in the third category – a laggard – when it comes to social media platforms. I never jumped on the MySpace bandwagon back in the day but I joined Facebook pretty early on, well before the mini feed made its appearance. I’ve used Pinterest only briefly; never had Twitter before this class; and have never sent a SnapChat. To me and, I suspect, to many other laggards, these services offer virtually no benefits at the great cost of not only time but also privacy. More and more we see social media content coming back to haunt us in a wide variety of ways and let’s face it – we’ve all been unpleasantly surprised to learn that Facebook’s terms and conditions have changed and your posts might no longer be as private as you thought!

    1. I have a similar mindset and have been a laggard more than once– I was a really late comer to Twitter and Instagram, yet a very early adopter of SnapChat and on the Bandwagon for Facebook. Maybe the only differentiation in my late adoption is that I eventually actually joined the platform, whereas it appears you consciously opt not to! And a definite deterrent I should add to the laggards’ justification is privacy and security, can’t believe I forgot to include it!

  2. I love how you broke this down into three groups. I could clearly identify someone that I know that fits into one of these categories. I think it is interesting with the ‘laggards’ group you brought up the idea that many people think social media is a fad. The ‘Laggards’ are probably the superior group in cases like Myspace, Google+, and recently Vine. However, with apps like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter like you mentioned, the Innovators are saying “I used that app before it was popular”. Altogether it was a very creative idea to put people into different social groups based on their usage of these platforms, nice work!

    1. Thanks Meagan! That’s an interesting point- maybe I’ll compile & analyze the group response-cases across different platforms in a later post!

  3. Your breakdown of social media adopters reminds me of Gartner’s Hype Cycle, which highlights the key phases of a technology lifecycle. It’s interesting to think how your three types of adopters are in line with key phases in Gartner’s breakdown: “Technology Triggers” (due to Innovators/Early Adopters getting the ball rolling), “Peak of Inflated Expectations” (when the Bandwagon joins) and finally “Plateau of Productivity” (when the Laggards finally realize this technology is here to stay). Gartner’s cycle does have a “Slope of Disillusionment”, which occurs after the “Peak of Inflated Expectations.” Perhaps your analysis needs one more category, the ‘Movers’ – individuals who are quick to try the latest technology, but are quick to move on if expectations aren’t satisfied.

    1. Thanks for the additional info Lauren! I can most definitely see the parallels with Gartner’s Hype Cycle. That’s super interesting, I’ll look more into that! The groupings are simplified, especially within the bandwagon group since there are many subgroups, but maybe there are some general, large groupings that I’ve missed

  4. Haha very interesting and kind of funny read.. I find it rather ironic that I fall into each of these groups depending on the social media platform. For one, I was definitely a laggard with Instagram. I’ve only recently developed my own Instagram account because although now I love it, there was once a time where I was dead set against it. I didn’t really have a reason for it actually–I guess I just didn’t want to be a “bandwagoner”. With Myspace and Facebook, I was definitely a Bandwagoner. As soon as all of my friends had created their own profiles, I felt compelled to make my own–even though I wasn’t technically allowed to because my parents were NOT about it at the time. With new social media platforms that have been popping up lately, I had tried to always be ahead of the curve. I typically download the app because I want to be on top of my game and get familiar with its features, however, most of them have not seem to taken off. I like the way you segmented these categories.

  5. This is an interesting way to look at how you come about joining a social media service. Back in the late 2000’s, nerd Ryan was definitely an early adopter. Gizmodo used to be my Safari homepage (I hate Giz now… and Safari for that matter) and any news about a new network gaining traction or looking for beta testers got me in line to join. I was on Twitter in late 2008 for about a month but it was no fun for me since I had no one to interact with. I folded that account and rejoined for good in mid-2009. With Facebook, I was definitely early too. I recall exhausting the search tools to connect with anyone I even remotely knew at about 20 friends. From there, it would only be a matter of waiting for others to join so that I could add them. In other words, I’d be surprised if more than 40 of the ~900 “friends” I have on Facebook today joined the site before me. These days, the social media/startup landscape is so saturated that even attempting to join every new site would run through your phone’s storage. It does however make seeing new companies rise to success in this day and age exciting to watch and learn from.

  6. Awesome blog post, Alex! The way you broke up SM users into categories was a unique way for people to identify themselves with their current usage. I found myself relating to each of the groups in some ways, but before taking this class last semester my SM habits were very limited.

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