Early adopters like to try every shiny new toy. This is why and how they became early adopters. They are always looking for the tool that gives them an edge or the application that will be the next big thing. This also means that they are more willing to try a new application. This does not mean that they are more willing to keep using the tool. If anything, early adopters are harder to retain as continued users because they use most of the new tools. As most people tend to argue, early adopters should not be who we target, we should target “normal users”. I am not going to argue this point again, but if we do target normal users, what does it take to have adoption of the application?

As usual, Alexander Van Elsas has a fantastic post about this. He calls it the first use question:

First use is about creating the best possible user experience when you deploy your service for the first time amongst your target users. First use is about answering the question,”Is a user willing to put in the effort to learn about this new technology and incorporate it in his current habits”?

This is a very important point, but I will equate it to a sales analogy. The first question is always, “how do you get your foot in the door?” For early adopters, this is an easy question to answer, show them the tool and show them the benefits of using it. They will typically give a new application a try if the user interface is not a barrier to use. They will try the application in real usage scenarios to see if it fits into what they want to accomplish. If they really like it, they can become your PR department.

The second part of Alexander’s question is invariably more important, will a user “incorporate it in his current habits?” For social media, habits or the daily routine are important factors for adoption. The question that is not fully addressed is, once you have your foot in the door how do you keep getting invited back? If this question were easy to answer, then the software industry would not be littered with the remains of failed companies. Why is it so difficult to be invited back?

Resistance to Change

Generally speaking, people are very resistant to change. As you move farther away from the early adopter, the resistance grows until you hear about people “firmly entrenched” in what they do. This resistance is normal. People are comfortable using the same applications they have been using for the past few years. Adopting a new application is very difficult. There is new navigation to learn and new features to understand. So, why use a new application if the old one “works good”. I had ranted about this recently as well:

Now we are seeing that the move to applications on the internet is becoming more interesting. Instead of static reports or basic data administration applications, we have things like search, social media, various music players and a whole lot more. The real question to ask is, “How does this application change the way I work, and does it make it better?”

As a new application, you have to understand that your potential users will be resistant to change. Your application will need to be easier to use, and easy to learn. To understand what this means, use the tools you are trying to replace. If you think that nothing exists like it, search some more as there are very few applications that are not similar to something that already existed. As you use the tool, pretend to be a “normal user”. Think of reasons why people would not switch to your application. Look at every possible way that people could complain about your application and be resistant to the change that you are offering.

Once you have accepted the resistance, you will realize that there needs to be functionality that does not exist in the old tools. This could be the simple sharing of documents similar to what is available from Google Documents, or even full social network integration. It could be some interesting way to get the content published to various sources. Whatever it is, you have to find that point of functionality that makes people want to give up their old tools. You do not want to be another word processing application that does most of what Microsoft Word does, but you added a simpler way to embed pictures or simpler pivot tables compared to Microsoft Excel.

Blaze a New Trail

You need to differentiate in several areas. Dawud Miracle summarizes it very well:

successful business – whether you’re a coach, consultant, therapist, widget maker, etc – isn’t found in following the leader or conforming to the masses. Successful businesses are built out of stepping out of line and finding your own path. I liken building a successful small business to hiking, which I’ve done plenty of in my short life. Sure, you can follow the trail that’s been cut and see some great scenery. It’s easy, just walk and let the trail be your guide. Or you can decide to bushwhack; getting off trail and taking a risk. It’s when I’ve gone off trail that I’ve discovered the most serene mountain lakes, amazing meadows full of blooming flowers, glaciers hanging off unimaginable cliffs and easy access to ridge lines that lead to breathless views – none of which I would have seen if I’d remained on the trail.

The question then becomes, what are you doing differently? If you are only providing incremental improvements, be resistant to change. Are you not sure what to try? Blaze a new trail and look at the problem in a different perspective. By doing that, you might just stumble across the next big idea.