Why You Should Be a Social Media Late Adopter

Today, I’m excited to bring you a guest post from my friend, Adam Toporek. He’s filling in for me while I’m out of town speaking at a conference this week.

I’ve gotten to know Adam through our PR Justice League Tribe on Triberr. Adam is a smart guy who blogs about customer service over at IntenseFence. You should definitely check it out!

Now, without further adieu, here’s Adam’s awesome post.

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One of the most difficult challenges of being active in the social space is knowing when a new social network is worth participating in.

The tendency of many is to jump on any shiny social object that enters their Twitter stream. After all, early adopters do have advantages:

  • Early adopters are hip.
  • Early adopters are authoritative.
  • Early adopters are connected.

And, oh yeah…

  • Early adopters are exhausted.

The Pareto Principle Does Social Media

Most people are familiar with the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule), which roughly states that 80 percent of your results come from 20 percent of your efforts.

In the social space, it could very well be said that more than 90% of your results come from a mere handful of social networks. Obviously, such a broad generalization is subject to industry and job-specific variation, but anyone who uses social media for business must inevitably confront one important question:

What is the incremental value of a new social network?

For consumers, the natural gravitational pull of the social space is vertical; most consumers are drawn to a few large networks. For businesses, the natural gravitational pull of the social sphere is horizontal, drawing businesses to more and more networks for fear that an opportunity to connect with consumers will be missed.

Even Klout is encouraging this horizontal tendency by adding an ever-increasing roster of ever-decreasing social networks to the Klout algorithm, bringing up important questions, as Jay Baer points out, of the value of participatory breadth. While the mad scientists tinkering in the methodological kitchen at Klout might disagree, I can say without equivocation that participatory breadth is a fool’s errand for small business owners.

For most small business owners, time on social media is a zero sum calculation. Time spent on one social network is often time taken away from another social network.
 Spreading oneself a mile wide and an inch deep is likely to result in an extremely diminished return on a business’ social investment.

In addition to multiplying the number of learning curves one must navigate, growth on networks tends to be exponential, i.e. the 20th set of 100 followers will come much more quickly than the first set of 100 followers. While exaggerated, most of us innately know that having 1,000 followers on one network is much more effective than having 100 followers each on 10 networks.

So, if spreading ourselves too thin across social networks is a poor strategy, how do we know when it is time to jump in to a new social network?

Use A-Listers As Canaries in The Coal Mine

Whether you dislike social media A-Listers (yes, I hate the term too) or listen to every word that falls from their digital lips, A-Listers can still be valuable to you in triaging your social media experience.


Because A-Listers have to be early adopters. A-Listers cannot take the chance that a new social network will catch on and that they will be left behind. Their status as an authority means they have to stay on top of the social space. And that means they have to jump into any network that starts to gain significant traction.

I have a list of about eight or so social media experts whom I watch when a new network appears. Instead of running immediately toward the new shiny object, I keep an eye on the experts – their reactions, their prognostications, their usage – and then look for either cohesion or dissent to develop.

If almost everyone thinks the new network is the hot new thing and the growth rates look solid, it’s probably time to jump in. When half love it and think it’s the future, and the other half think it’s redundant and adds no value, I know it’s too soon to bother.

Your accountant keeps up with changes in the tax law so you don’t have to. Social media experts can perform a similar function if you let them.

I have used this A-List strategy to forego investing time in Empire Avenue, Quora, and others. Have I missed out? Based on what I’ve seen over the past few months, it doesn’t seem so.

The time I would have invested in getting setup, learning about, and trying to connect in those networks would have eaten heavily into the already insufficient amount of time spent on my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. And based on what I have seen come from those networks so far, the trade-off would not have been worth it to me.

In the end, being an early adopter can pay dividends, but for most small business owners working their way through the social space, being a late adopter pays much better.

So, the next time a shiny new social network starts lighting up your Twitter stream, take time to look at the social media lamp in your hand. If you see Gary Vaynerchuck passed out in it, you might want to wait just a little longer.

Is being an early adopter worth it? Have you ever rushed into a social network too soon? What criteria do you use to know when to jump in?

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Adam Toporek

Adam Toporek
is a Central Florida franchise developer and small business owner who blogs about the customer service experience.

Image credit: Rainer Hungershausen

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Laura Click

Laura Click is brand strategist, speaker, podcaster and the founder of Blue Kite. Learn more about Laura and her work at Blue Kite.

27 replies on “Why You Should Be a Social Media Late Adopter”

Answering a question from @lukestokes:disqus
  on Twitter: “Based on @garyvee and @chrisbrogan adopting G+, do you suggest people jump on board now or wait it out a bit?”


Google+ was not really an exception to my framework above, but because of the rapid adoption, the criteria was met within about two weeks. While there was certainly much discussion about the pros and cons of G+, there was hardly much dissent that G+ was important and no major social media person (that I know of) publicly abandoned it.

Should you jump in? Depends on your social media strategy and whether you have the bandwidth for another network. In reality, G+ still could fizzle. Nonetheless, I probably would jump in due to the sheer size and growth of the network.

The difference between G+ and the Empire Avenues of the world is that it was Google’s network, and that carries a lot of cachet and advantages that no other company on earth has in launching a network. Possibly the only company that could pull off a network-that-would-be-hard-to-ignore would be Apple — and even they are not Google in this context.

Thanks Adam! I’m fairly new to investing time in social media and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. I jumped right into G+ because I didn’t know any better, but I’m glad I did because of your post here and articles like this:

It seems like some exciting times for social media and I’m really stoked to have friends like Laura to teach me all about it.

Thank you, both for the kind comments!!! 🙂

Adam – great to have you on the blog today.
 Great, well-thought out comment about Google+ also. It will be interesting to see how that platform develops as more users get in and the ability to create business pages is available.

I’m not an early adopter: I’m the “wait and see, watch and learn” type. I applaud all those who jump in with vigor, but for me, watching from the sidelines, evaluating and making decisions that are timely for me is what it’s all about. Great post Adam. Cheers! Kaarina

Like Adam said; let the people who have put themselves out there and live and die by this kick the tires first. I’m very ok with that…….

Great post and great approach here
 ! I agree; there’s only so much we can do and it’s often better to be behind the bleeding edge of technology than out in front. Test it quietly (which is what I’ve been doing with Google +) and then if you’re sold, share it widely with your audiences for whom it will resonate and apply.
 That’s another point, each social network has a different intended audience and use for my business, which will be different from your business.
 Understanding your audience first and foremost, along with your goals, should also inform whether or not you follow that canary in the coal mine.

And what are your thoughts on Google +? It seems some of the initial euphoria has worn off. I’m in it, but do very, very little with it. Just tell me when I need to jump ship on twitter, ok?

As I mentioned above to Laura, my stream on Google+ is getting very crowded now. People are starting to post 3-5 things a day. I need to figure out a better way to filter, because I am finding it less valuable lately.

I always enjoy Google+ when I head over there. The trouble is, I don’t get over that much. I wonder how much that will change when/if the general population starts to get involved and once they roll out business pages. I really like the interface and think it’s so much cleaner than Facebook, but I don’t know if the average person will be willing to take on one more network. We’ll see…

I am not a fan. There. I said it. It’s out! In all seriousness, I find it helpful for my ranking on blog posts, when I remember to share them there. I find it helpful for meeting new people, and for connecting with my current circle in a different way; however, I have to go there in order for that to happen and I’m just not making it happen!

I find that I get “circled” daily by people that I have absolutely nothing in common with or any connection to and end up not circling back because I’m afraid it will be more pollution in an already crowded arena. I find it can be SUPER ego driven and filled up by a handful of people who post constantly; another reason, I do not go by as much as I once did.

For me, Facebook and Twitter continue to be my comfy spots for engagement and interaction, for very different reasons.
  From what I can tell, you don’t need to jump ship on Twitter, but I think we are sensing a mutiny on our hands with regards to Triberr and the countless other automated tools out there. Folks don’t like seeing you or me tweet the same people over and over again…that can impact your experience on Twitter, but not enough for me to bail.

Was that enough on my thoughts? 🙂

A most excellent point Erica. Past the sort of simple, when is it too soon for a new network, there is the more specific and important question: when, if ever, is that network right for you and your goals? Understanding your audience and goals is key in that next evaluation.

Great thoughts and much appreciated!

Very well done my friend; sorry for the delay in getting here but dealing with the social media mush brain for the last few days trying to catch up.

I had not consciously used your method of seeing what the big players are doing as to whether I would jump in or not, but that is exactly what I do as well.

In my business, whereas I want to reach many my target market is very specific and once we determine if they are an ‘ideal’ prospect that number gets much smaller. If I was a mile wide and an inch deep in my efforts I would not be very successful. I also equate that to social in that I don’t have the time to actively participate in every social platform that rolls out so I have to pick and choose.

I’m ok with being a bandwagon late adopter kind of guy. I’ll let the so called A-listers do all the heavy lifting and I will just tag along.

Don’t know if you will have a chance, but I’m at @MargieClayman today. Looks like we are getting out and about huh?

Thanks Bill! I know Laura writes for a small business crowd, and you and I both come from that same perspective where these tools and networks are not our main gig or even that much a part of it.

It simply pays to wait and see what the experts figure out and then jump in. I’ll make sure to get over to your GP sometime today.

Hey, any popular movement is likely to have late bloomers rushing to the table, hoping to catch a few scraps. This doesn’t make these people out of the loop or not in the know – rather, I agree with your assessment completely, in that late comers have some of their own, unique advantages in this dance we call “social.” Like you, I follow a few well-established A-listers in the hopes of learning from their moves, and emulating when necessary. If they’re doing it right enough to be considered A-listers, than surely we all have something to gain by watching them – heck, watching is a natural extension of the social stratosphere, so this is as good a strategy as any in terms of learning how to navigate social media marketing.

I agree Emma. I think the A-Listers have a lot to teach and lot that can be learned from them just by observing.

You make a great point that “watching is a natural extension of the social stratosphere” — so true.

Thanks for the thoughts.

Glad to see you here Adam! Smart move Laura!

I’m glad I just kept an eye on Quora and didn’t jump right in – same with Empire Avenue. The other day someone asked me “should we be on Second Life? Does anyone do that anymore?” Same thing.

The only thing I make sure I’m not a late adapter on is the buffet line; if they need someone to break the ice….I’m their guy…………just sayin’……………

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