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Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory
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Research Essay about the Spread of Twitter using Diffusion of Innovation Theory

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  • 1. Tran Cam Anh - s3255253Research EssaySeptember 11th 2010Lecturer: Patrick Sharbaugh
  • 2. Table of ContentsDiffusion of innovation theory and the spread of TwitterOverview ........................................................................................................................................................... 3The spread of Twitter: A successful innovation diffusion ................................................................... 3 Twitter: The smart innovation .....................................................................................................................................4 Media outlets & celebrities: The effective communication channels ............................................................5 From 14 to 140 million users: The drastically-changing time .........................................................................5 World Wide Web: The interactive social system ..................................................................................................6Criticisms .......................................................................................................................................................... 6Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................................ 7References ........................................................................................................................................................ 8 2
  • 3. DIFFUSION OF INNOVATION THEORY AND THE SPREAD OF TWITTERThis paper aims to give an analytic description and evaluation for Everett Roger’s diffusion ofinnovation theory, which explains the process in which new ideas are adopted or rejected in thesociety, by using the case of how Twitter, a new social network released in 2006, has become one ofthe most popular social networks with over 145 million registered users (Grove 2010). I. OverviewDiffusion of innovation theory was initially studied by Gabriel Tarde as he pointed out the S-shapeddiffusion curve in 1903 (Hornor 1998). In 1995, the theory was fully developed by Everett Rogersin his book Diffusion of Innovations.According to Rogers (1995), “diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicatedthrough certain channels over time among the members of a social system.” By examining the keyelements of the theory, especially the characteristics of an innovation and the innovation-decisionprocess, which will be fully explained later in this research essay along with the Twitter example,we can understand how the communication process, i.e. the diffusion, can help spread a new idea,i.e. an innovation, in the society. Thanks to its broad scope and significant utility, diffusion ofinnovation theory has been applied in different fields such as agriculture, science, marketingresearch and public health (Haider & Kreps 2004). The theory also has its shortcomings concerningthe methodological biases in diffusion research (Rogers 1975, p.294). II. The spread of Twitter: A successful innovation diffusionIn his book Diffusion of Innovations, Rogers (1995) defined innovation as “an idea, practice or objectthat is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption.” To analyze innovation diffusiontheory as its best, I choose Twitter as the innovation since this social network has just becomephenomenal in early 2009, although it was launched in 2006 (Educause 2007; Saleem 2010).Twitter is also one of my favorite websites and the following analysis includes some of my personalopinions towards this social networking service.Twitter is a free web-based international network that allows users to post short messages, whichare also known as “tweets”, and to response to others’; it is also considered as a micro-bloggingservice (Gulati & Williams 2010). This service has been well-received for its ability to offer openconversations in an extraordinarily simple platform, a wide range of additional applications toserve both personal and business purposes and most importantly, the breathtaking speed (Johnson2010). Twitter underwent an amazing growth in 2009, the year in which almost 20 million usersvisited its website, making a 900% rise from just 2 million visitors in 2008 (Gulati & Williams2010).In the definition of innovation diffusion theory, according to Rogers (1995), there are four mainelements namely innovation, communication channels, time and social system. 1. Twitter: The smart innovationInnovation, as I have mentioned, is the new idea that a person or a group of people will perceive.Rogers (1995) stated that different innovations will have different rates of adoption, which aredetermined by these following characteristics: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, 3
  • 4. trialability and observability. Taking the Twitter as the innovation and looking at its diffusion, thesecharacteristics have certainly influenced the perception of users and communities towards thissocial network.Relative advantage concerns the superiority that an innovation has in order to take over anotheridea. Twitter, which performs as a micro-blog and real-time social network, has superseded theideas of personal blogs and news agencies to some extents. Users can find Twitter more“advantageous” (Rogers 1995) as a quicker way to express themselves and get the latest news bothfrom the spot and from the news agencies’ Twitter feeds. “Economic terms, social prestige,convenience, and satisfaction” are necessary to be considered when evaluate the degree of relativeadvantage (Rogers 1995). As Twitter offers a free, fast and convenient service and it’s getting moreand more positive perceptions from the society, Twitter has achieved these above factors to obtaina great relative advantage, which leads to a higher rate of adoption.Compatibility indicates how the innovation fits “the existing values, past experiences and needs ofpotential adopters” (Rogers 1995), which are members of the social system. As the online mediatedcommunity has always required the highest speed and informative contents, Twitter serves itsusers quite well in these particular aspects.Complexity, according to Rogers (1995), is “the degree to which an innovation is perceived asdifficult to understand and use.” Rogers also stated that an innovation which doesn’t requirespecific and complicated skills and understandings will have the tendency to get a higher rate ofadoption. With this in mind, personally, I think Twitter would be one of the best examples. Theextremely simple platform using very few but basic texts and many icons to indicate its functionshelps prevent the users from being overwhelmed by technical IT tasks. The only notion thatTwitter will need to fix is the lack of foreign language options besides English.Trialability is the opportunity for adopters to try the innovation on a limited basis. Launched in2006 – two years after Facebook and many years after the popular blogging trend, to some extents,Twitter is an adjustment of these former social networks. Therefore, users feel less uncertaintywhen using this service, which will help increase the rate of adoption.Observability is “the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others” (Rogers1995). Thanks to the effective communication channels including media outlets and celebrityplacements, along the interactive nature of the social system - the World Wide Web itself, thesuccess of Twitter has been widely exposed and the service is directly recommended to theindividuals (potential adopters) in the social system.To sum up, we can see that Twitter founders and developers have succeeded to create a simple yetfunctional innovation that fits the characteristics to get a widespread adoption for the service,which they have also managed to obtain. 2. Media outlets and celebrities: The effective communication channelsRogers (1995) defined a communication channel as “the means by which messages get from oneindividual to another.” He also mentioned the ideas of mass media channels and interpersonalchannels as different means to inform or persuade an individual to adopt a new idea.According to Java (2007), Twitter gained its initial popularity in March 2007 after receiving theWeb Award at SXSW conference (SXSW 2010). But it was not until the late 2008 that Twitter madeits hit after appearing on CNN News as the key communication tool which had instantly reportedabout the Mumbai terrorist attacks (CNN 2008). Afterwards, Twitter has received huge mediacoverage (Eldon 2009) which, obviously, led to the higher rate of adoption for the service. Rogers 4
  • 5. (1995) stated that mass media channels, which are the means of communication in which onesource of information can access to a mass audience, tend to serve the function of informingindividuals about the innovation. CNN, Time, Mashable and other online media outlets havecontributed to the spread of Twitter by providing their audiences with the knowledge of this socialnetwork.However, in his study of innovation diffusion theory, Rogers (1995) also noted that the decision toadopt or reject a new idea mainly depends on the role of interpersonal channels, rather than massmedia. Interpersonal channels are defined as the means that “involve a face-to-face exchangebetween two or more individuals” (Rogers 1995). In fact, as we are examining the World Wide Webas the social system in which individuals communicate via social networks, interpersonal channelscan be extended to people that we know in these networks. As for Twitter, celebrities and popularfigures are the interpersonal factors that have brought a widespread adoption for the service. Mostof potential users have their own favorite figures that they can relate to in terms of possessions,personal backgrounds, shared ideas and values (‘Theory of identification’ 2010). Thus thesefigures’ perception of the innovation, i.e. Twitter if they have used it, will be well-received withinthe community. The fact that famous people like Ashton Kutcher, Oprah Winfrey, Lance Amstrongor even President Barack Obama tweeting regularly on Twitter (Time 2010) has attracted a greatnumber of new register users for this service. 3. From 14 to 140 million users: The drastically-changing timeTime dimension in innovation diffusion theory, according to Rogers (1995), has three aspects thoseare essential to be addressed.The first one is its appearance in the innovation-decision process. Rogers (1995, cited in Hornor1998, p. 5) plotted a five-stage process explaining how an individual adopt a new idea: (1) from first knowledge of innovation, (2) to forming an attitude toward the innovation, (3) to a decision to adopt or reject, (4) to implementation of the new idea, (5) to confirmation of this decision.Indeed, this is a process that any Twitter user has followed to choose using this service or not. Takemyself, a Twitterer, for example. I firstly got the knowledge of Twitter via some bloggers that Ifollowed (Knowledge), and then I looked for more information and had a good feeling about it(Persuasion). So I decided to sign up, tried some functions (Decision) and finally ended up tweetingwith my friends on a daily basis (Implementation). So far, I’m really happy using this convenientsocial network (Confirmation).The second aspect is its involvement in the innovativeness of the adopters. Innovativeness describesthe ratio to which five adopter categories namely innovators, early adopters, early majority, latemajority and laggards are classified based on the relative time they adopt the innovation (SeeFigure 1). The success of an innovation diffusion process mostly depends on the early adopters,who are often opinion leaders those can influence other perceptions towards an idea (Parsonsn.d.). 5
  • 6. Figure 1. Adapted from: Maloney 2010.In the case of Twitter, 2006 was the time period in which the innovators, i.e. its 14 creators andfirst developers (Sagolla 2009) along with a few other people, started to use this social network.The time during 2007-2008 was the period in which early adopters began learning and usingTwitter after the SXSW Awards and the Mumbai incident. 2009 has made a turning point when thenumber of Twitter users increased dramatically; the new registered users during this period can beconsidered the early majority. As 140 million registered users is not the final number of Twitteradopters, we cannot identify the remaining adopter categories for this case.The third involvement of time in diffusion of innovation theory is in rate of adoption, “the speedwith which an innovation is adopted” (Rogers 1995). This rate is usually measured by “the numberof members of the system that adopt the innovation in a given time period”. As indicated above,Twitter has a high rate of adoption due to successfully obtaining the characteristics of a goodinnovation. 4. World Wide Web: The interactive social system“A set of interrelated units that are engaged in joint problem-solving to accomplish a common goal”is called a social system (Rogers 1995). For Twitter, the World Wide Web is the social system andits users are the units that have the needs to use the Internet. In terms of a social structure, the Weboffers an interactive communication structure in which 2-way conversations are conducted and the“regularized patterns” of the system have changed over time. These patterns are known as socialnorms, those have been followed by the members of the social system. Rogers (1995) also indicatedthe role of opinion leaders in the society, who can influence others and help increase the rate ofadoption, and the role of change agents. Change agents, who are not in the social systems, can alsoinfluence adopters’ innovation-decisions “in a desirable direction by a change agency” (Rogers1995). For Twitter, change agents can be the professional critics that might not be a Twitter userbut still write reviews about the network. III. CriticismsThe previous parts of the essay have shown a detailed look at how innovation diffusion theory hasbeen applied to help Twitter receive a great adoption as today. As the theory provides simple yetspecific descriptions on how an innovation and its diffusion can be improved to achieve greateradoption, innovation diffusion theory has shown its parsimony & utility in different fieldsconcerning “promotion and understanding of human behavior change” (Haider & Kreps 2004). 6
  • 7. However, Rogers (1995, cited in Haider and Kreps 2004) also showed that this theory has toovercome some limitations including: (1) a pro-innovation bias (2) the individual blame bias (3) recall problem, and (4) the issue of equality.Let’s take the case of Twitter again to explain these shortcomings. The first one, pro-innovationbias, is the idea that the innovation, i.e. Twitter, should be diffused and adopted by everyone in thesystem (Rogers 1995, cited in Haider and Kreps 2004). The media coverage of Twitter sometimeshappened to make this mistake to “overlook” the innovation and urge people to have a Twitteraccount although it is still behind former networks like Facebook or MySpace (Marketing Charts2010). The second bias, the individual blame, is “the tendency to hold an individual responsible forhis or her own problems, rather than the system of which the individual is a part.” Sometimespeople are blamed for not being in the trend of using new technology like Twitter despite the factthat the service might not serve any of their needs or they don’t have access to adopt theinnovation. The third criticism regards the recall problem when doing diffusion research. As timedimension is one of the main elements of the theory, it is crucial to recall the respondents’ studiesin the past to “reconstruct his or her innovation experiences” (Rogers 1995, cited in Haider andKreps 2004). In fact, it is not easy for me to recall the old data for this Twitter example because theaccess is sometimes limited or even unavailable. The accuracy of the data is also another problemthat researchers have to consider. The final criticism concerns the widening gap “between thehigher and lower status segments of a system” created by the innovation diffusion. This statementmight not apply to Twitter as it is a free international platform where everyone has the sameaccess. IV. ConclusionAs innovations are non-stop ideas and objects that our society has been producing, in consequence,the diffusion of innovation theory becomes one of the most adoptable community theories indifferent areas. Analyzing this interesting theory with the widespread technology phenomenonTwitter, I find it essential for innovators to consider the key characteristics to create a truly goodproduct. Choosing effective communication channels will also help boost the success of theinnovation. In addition, the innovation-diffusion process needs to be well-evaluated beforelaunching the product in order to get higher rate of adoption and avoid unnecessary biases. 7
  • 8. REFERENCESBusari, S 2008, ‘Tweeting the terror: How social media reacted to Mumbai’, CNN, 28 November,viewed 10 September 2010,<http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/27/mumbai.twitter/index.html>.‘Diffusion of Innovation Theory’ 2010, PowerPoint slides for COMM2378 Theories of Communicationand Persuasion, RMIT University, Vietnam, viewed 08 September 2010, Blackboard@RMIT.Educause Learning Initiative 2007, 7 things you should know about… Twitter, EDUCAUSE LearningInitiative, viewed 08 September 2010, <http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7027.pdf>.Eldon, E 2009, ‘Google Trends shows drops in Twitter news coverage, search volume’, VentureBeat, viewed 10 September 2010, <http://venturebeat.com/2009/06/01/google-trends-shows-drop-in-twitter-news-coverage-search-volume/>.Farhi, P 2009, ‘The Twitter explosion’, American Journalism Review, viewed 10 September 2010,<http://ajr.org/article_printable.asp?id=4756>.Gulati, GJ & Williams, CB 2010, ‘Communicating with Constituents in 140 Characters or Less:Twitter and the Diffusion of Technology Innovation in the United States Congress’, working paperseries, Bentley University, Chicago, viewed 10 September 2010, SSRN Database.Hornor, MS 1998, ‘Diffusion of Innovation Theory’, Undergraduate thesis, Univeristy of Texas,Texas, viewed 10 September 2010, <http://www.disciplewalk.com/files/Marianne_S_Hornor.pdf>.Java, A 2007, Why We Twitter? Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities, UMBC,viewed 10 September 2010, <http://ebiquity.umbc.edu/get/a/publication/372.ppt>.Johnson, S 2009, ‘How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live’, Time, 05 June, viewed 09 September2010, <http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1902604,00.html>.Maloney, C 2010, ‘The Secret to Accelerating Diffusion of Innovation: The 16% Rule Explained’,image, Maloney on Marketing, 10 May, viewed 10 September 2010,<http://maloneyonmarketing.com/2010/05/10/the-secret-to-accelerating-diffusion-of-innovation-the-16-rule-explained/>.Marketing Charts 2010, ‘Top 10 Social Networking Websites & Forums - July 2010’, MarketingCharts, viewed 10 September 2010, <http://www.marketingcharts.com/interactive/top-10-social-networking-websites-forums-july-2010-13886/>.Parsons n.d., Diffusion of Innovations Theory, Parsons, viewed 10 September 2010,<http://a.parsons.edu/~limam240/thesis/documents/Diffusion_of_Innovations.pdf>.Rogers, EM 1995, Diffusion of Innovations, 4th edn, Free Press, New York. 8
  • 9. Rogers, EM 1975, ‘New Product Adoption and Diffusion’, Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 2,March issue, pp. 290-301.Sagolla, D 2009, ‘How Twitter was born’, 140 Characters, blog post, 30 January, viewed 10September 2010, <http://www.140characters.com/2009/01/30/how-twitter-was-born/>.Saleem, M 2010, ‘The Current State of Twitter [INFOGRAPHIC]’, Mashable, n.d., viewed 09September 2010, <http://mashable.com/2010/03/18/twitter-infographic/>.SXSW 2010, homepage, SXSW, Texas, viewed 9 September 2010,<http://www.sxsw.com/interactive/web_awards/>.Tauli, T 2009, ‘So how did Twitter become the next big thing?’, BloggingStocks, blog post, 30 April,viewed 10 September 2010, <http://www.bloggingstocks.com/2009/04/30/so-how-did-twitter-become-the-next-big-thing/>.‘The World of Twitter’ 2010, Time, n.d., viewed 09 September 2010,<http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902664_1902668,00.html>.‘Theory of Identification’ 2010, PowerPoint slides for COMM2378 Theories of Communication andPersuasion, RMIT University, Vietnam, viewed 08 September 2010, Blackboard@RMIT. 9

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