Dive in, or wait? How brands should assess early social adoption

If you have a hand in your company’s social presence, you’re under a distinctly modern form of pressure. As they should, internal audiences expect you to lead your company in unlocking value from the world of social. You’re also entrusted, in part, with the public’s perception of your brand in an era where every social signal your company sends can be subject to external scrutiny by anyone, anywhere.

So, you can be excused for feeling a bit of hesitancy mixed in with excitement when new ways emerge for your brand to delve deeper yet into social. You’re asked to be an expert in something that seems like it hasn’t been around long enough for experts to exist yet; best practices and case studies haven’t been neatly laid out for you to follow. But—and this is why you feel that excitement, too—you’ve got an opportunity to write those best practices and build that case study. How should you proceed?

There are tremendous benefits to “showing up” early in social, of being among the pioneering brands joining a new network, or using a new tool or technique. But there are also risks to early adoption that can be avoided by waiting.

The rewards

Brands that show up early are in the spotlight. Anyone looking to blog about brands and Google+ in the first few months of its existence is going to mention Dell’s innovative use of live hangouts with Michael Dell, or Burberry’s status as the first luxury brand on the network.  Early adopters are often recognized by the networks themselves, as when Twitter blogged about 37signals back in 2008 and Google listed some of the first Google+ brand pages.

You’ve also got an opportunity to earn a large following from other early adopters before follower fatigue sets in. It’s simple math: the fewer options they have, the more likely they are to follow you. From that point on, your job is to keep them engaged while others compete for their attention.

Another major advantage is learning the ropes before your competitors do. Social competitors aren’t limited to other brands challenging your market share, but anyone you compete with for attention. As Brian Solis says, “In the digital space, attention is a currency.” Early adoption provides the opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t, and to continuously optimize so that whenever competitors enter the arena, it’ll be that much more difficult for them to win the crowd’s attention away from you.

The risks

Under the same spotlight I mentioned earlier, brands can either shine or sweat. And unfortunately for innovators, failure is sometimes more visible than success. If you’re one of the only brands using a network or tool, major snafus will be noticed.

Sometimes, course-correction is difficult for early adopters. If a brand’s initial strategy fails, or needs significant adjustment, they risk having to fight to reclaim lost attention, effectively asking fans and followers to give them another chance.

Early adoption can also lead to the creation of social ghost towns. It’s often the case that more resources are put into launching a brand’s social presence than are put into sustaining it by earning an audience. The result is a social web littered with abandoned (and frequently off-brand) communities and profiles.

What should your brand do?

One-size-fits-all approaches suck, and you won’t find them here. Like any other social decision, early adoption needs to map to larger business objectives. Early adoption is like shoe shopping—just because it’s shiny doesn’t mean it fits. But when it is shiny and fits, well, you’ve found an opportunity to make your brand look great.

If you wait, don’t do so idly. Learn from both the successes and failures of others, and craft a strategy for hitting the ground running when and if you do decide to adopt.

If you dive in, phased rollouts limit your risk and help you master the basics before trying anything too wild. For example, in Phase 1 of a Google+ adoption, a brand might focus on populating and optimizing the description text and images in their profile. Then, in Phase 2, they might experiment with different update styles to see what gets traction, or put more effort into expanding their Circles. Be quick to apply insights from any and all failures to your next steps.

Early adoption takes goals and guts. If you’ve got both, go for it.

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