U-shaped development in social media

I had a conversation on Twitter a few days ago with Roland Harwood in which I think I inadvertently hit on something:

@rolandharwood: Innovation is u-shaped. great fun at the start and great value at the end but you need to cross the valley of frustration and uncertainty

@Suw: @rolandharwood i like that analogy. reminds me of children’s linguistic dev: do well at first because they mimic, then they….

@Suw: @rolandharwood …crash & burn because they are trying to work out underlying rules, often failing, then rules are learnt & it’s all easy.

The U-shaped development pattern is one that’s well known and it applies not just to linguistics. This is how I’ve seen it play out in the social media realm:

  1. At first, people observe and mimic successful social media users. Because they limit their behaviour to just those actions that they see others doing, they initially look like they ‘get it’.
  2. Once the individual (or company) becomes comfortable with their mimicry, they start to branch out on their own. Because the rules of social media are not readily apparent – they can’t be easily intuited by people outside of the social media in-group – these new users push at what they perceive to be the boundaries, but instead of breaking new ground they just get it horribly wrong. They haven’t yet truly understood the underlying structure of social media, i.e. the culture, so they accidentally transgress social media behavioural norms. Businesses tend then to duck out of social media all together, concluding that it’s a fad, a waste of time or unsuitable for their sector, when really it was their implementation that was flawed.
  3. Those that persist and who learn their lessons, alter their behaviour to be more appropriate, and who pay attention to the culture slowly grasp how social media really works. They come to implicitly understand the underlying, unspoken rule-sets and absorb the cultural norms without necessarily being aware of what they are doing. They then, hopefully, inspire others to mimic their success and the cycle starts again.

I’ve certainly observed this journey that business users in particular seem to go on. Does it sound familiar to you?

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Sounds very familiar to me but then I guess I would say that :-) Nice post, and as it happens I have young kids (3 and 1) who are at different stages of linguistic developement and so this works for me on different levels. Re social media, i think there is a big difference between people and organisations beyond just the U-shaped curve being spread over a longer time period, but I know you know that only too well. And for orgs its the mixing of formal and informal info and networks smartly that is crucial. Anyway, delighted to have prompted the post. See you soon, Roland
This reminds me of Geoffrey Moore's book Crossing the Chasm. Another important point about disruptive innovation is it's game changing nature. By that, I mean that players need to change the way they do business in order to continue to thrive. See http://it.toolbox.com/blogs/future-of-work/one-ingredient-to-successful-innovation-is-internal-change-33225 for more on this important if not unsettling aspect of innovation.