The Growth of Social Media…My Response

The Infographic pictured below is one of the many great reasons I love Twitter. So much information and knowledge being shared from a multitude of networks is simply awesome. It should come as no surprise that I am a bit of a social media nerd. I am currently focusing my dissertation on the use of social media among human service nonprofits, and as I have just finished my chapter on theory, I found this infographic especially interesting. Continue reading below:

The Growth of Social Media: An Infographic
Source: The Growth of Social Media: An Infographic

One of the theoretical perspectives that informs my dissertation is that of Rogers Diffusion of Innovations Theory. A brief primer on the theory is that it’s mainly concerned with how innovations spread through society. An innovation can be almost anything from an idea, practice, or object that is seen as new by an individual adopter. That is to say the innovation itself does not need to be new, rather it is simply new to that individual. The key elements in Diffusion Theory include innovation, communication channels, time, and a social system. Communication channels are how the innovation spreads. Time is both the rate of speed that an innovation is adopted and how much time has elapsed through the diffusion process. A social system is a set of interrelated units that are joined together in order to accomplish a common goal.

Okay, so looking at this infographic through the lens of Diffusion Theory, one can see how the various social media platforms have become so popular so quickly. The various graphs showing the rate of adoption, growth, or evolution mirrors the diffusion process. Rogers provides a graphic, in his book which I can’t necessarily reproduce here or find on the net, that illustrates an S-type curve of early adopters all the way through to late adopters. If I could overlay this curve on the infographic above it would basically tell us that most of the individuals who began using social media such as twitter or Facebook from 2004-2006 would be the early adopters. Seems to make easy enough sense right? Well what this theory tells us about those early-adopters is that some of them are critical in the diffusion process because they are what Rogers calls Opinion leaders and Change-agents. Opinion leaders and change agents influence their own networks by providing information to others. The main difference between the two is mainly in the language they speak. I don’t mean like English and Spanish, but rather that Change agents use more technical or professional language because of their training and they may usually hold university degrees, whereas Opinion leaders influence others attitudes and behavior more informally and are more accessible to others. I think the access part is a crucial element in why social media has diffused across so many networks. Anyways, these innovators help spread information through out their networks and spur on the diffusion process.

Rogers also highlights 5 dimensions that impact the diffusion process and whether or not an innovation is successful. Briefly they include:

  1. The degree to which an innovation provides a Relative Advantage.
  2. The degree to which an innovation is Compatible with the values and norms of the social system.
  3. The degree of Complexity of an innovation (whether its difficult to use).
  4. The degree of Trialability or whether the innovation can be experimented with or not.
  5. The degree of Observability or how easy it is for others to see the results of the innovation, which impacts whether they adopt it or not.
In my view, the infographic shows how twitter and Facebook have been successful innovations partly because they match these 5 dimensions fairly well. They provide an advantage over previous platforms, or at least the people using them think they do. They fit the established norms of society, or at least Facebook claims it does as the move The Social Network so eloquently illustrated Mark Zuckerberg stating he wanted to take the entire social experience of college and put it online. Much of social media is pretty easy to use, I mean think about Twitter, it’s not very hard to write 140 characters about meaningless information as people do it every day. Of course I know that Twitter is much more than that, but I just had to say 😀 Almost all social media are free to use, and I use that in a loose sense because much of the nonprofit sector is learning that the tools cost nothing but employing someone to manage them can be rather costly. However, social media is pretty much founded upon the trial use and anyone who has been on Twitter long enough can tell you a story of 1 or 2 followers who started out strong only to just fall away. Finally, there are hundreds and probably thousands of social media experts who will tout their results and expertise to try and get a consulting job with an organization. The point being that seeing how social media has impacted organizations and individuals is simple. Especially when great groups provide engaging graphics, such as the one above, to show results. It sometimes makes one think that if it works for them it can work for me.
Okay so that’s enough theorizing for one blog post, but if you want more information on Diffusion of Innovations theory click on over to Amazon and purchase <a href="Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition""“>Rogers book. I could go on to further explain how social network theory has also impacted the diffusion process but maybe another time. The fact is that as a researcher I am enthralled with this social media phenomenon and excited to be one of many to shed light and make sense of it all. Sounds somewhat boring, but I think the more we know about it the better we can use it for positive social change. This is also why I love these infographics because they help make sense but also are free to share. I’m so grateful to these folks as they have also given me permission to use this in my dissertation. Now I just have to figure out how to get it on one page 😀

About jimmysw
Associate Professor of Social Work with a focus on the Future of Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

2 Responses to The Growth of Social Media…My Response

  1. Pingback: textile industry news

  2. Well, I agree with what you wrote, but not with all of it. Regardless, it is all excellent material. Thanks!

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