Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking community and the pace and shaping of innovation – 3

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on October 1, 2011

This is my third installment in a series on innovation diffusion and adaptation, and the pace at which this overall process proceeds (see Social Networking and Business, postings 133 and 134 for Part 1 and Part 2.) And a basic impetus and focus in this series is going to be in outlining how our emerging capabilities for ubiquitous computing and communications are changing the dynamics and pace of change.

So far, I have been building a framework with a limited and selective discussion of innovation diffusion and adaptation or rejection per se, citing two very distinct ways of viewing this process (see Part 1.) And I begin here by repeating a point that I made at the end of Part 2 after outlining a case study in which a potentially very beneficial innovation was rejected – boiling drinking water in a set of communities where water-borne diseases are rampant.

• Who adapts early and who adapts an innovation first can set the stage for wider acceptance or rejection of change, and this is independent of the value that this change has brought to them.

And this brings me directly to a discussion of the processes and dynamics of social networking and the exchange of information, opinion and value. And I begin this discussion by going back to the basics and a discussion of how interconnected, cohesive communities work at least as viewed from the perspective of social networking (see Social Network Taxonomy and Social Networking Strategy.)

I characterized community members in my taxonomy according to a set of possible strategies by which they might connect with others and participate in communities. And the first conceptual axis that I discussed was in dividing community members into active, passive, selective and inactive networkers and communicators. If you want to effectively bring an innovative change into a community, you do not want to make the mistake that led to rejection of water purification by boiling, in the example case study of Part 2 of this series. You do not want to focus your activities on enlisting people in support of your innovation who are marginalized and at best very limited and selective networkers, mostly just connected to others on the fringe of the larger flow of networking and communication. And you do not want to focus on inactive networkers and communicators or on passive communicators who may respond when approached but who never reach out on their own accord. You need to find and connect with, and convince active networkers who are actually involved on a wide-ranging basis with others in their community.

I then focused on these active networkers in my social networking taxonomy posting and outlined three crucially important networking strategies that you would want to look for:

• Hub networkers,
• Boundary networkers, and
• Boundaryless networkers.

Hub networkers, as defined in my social networking taxonomy are people who “are well known and connected at the hub of a specific community with its demographics and its ongoing voice and activities.” They are widely known and tend to be very active communicators. Enlisting one or more hub networkers as innovation evangelists will at least widely get the word out and with a positive spin, as to what this innovation is and how it can be of value. But simply noting that glosses over what may be the single most important source of value that a hub networker can bring to promoting innovation diffusion and acceptance. Hub networkers in any given community are quintessential insiders in that community. Looking back to the failed example of water purification, the hub networkers in those Peruvian villages would have known that a germ theory explanation of the value of boiling drinking water would not work there. And they would have been the people who would know how to present this novel idea to others in their communities, and in ways that would have worked.

If a community is homogeneous then simply finding and enlisting a hub networker or two would probably be sufficient, and especially as hub networkers tend to connect with and network with other hub networkers – and share information and opinion with them. But a physical community can in effect be a collection of several or even many distinct networking sub-communities – separate networking communities in their own right. Boundary networkers are people who legitimately and actively belong to more than one of these separate groups and can actively help spread an innovation across the boundaries that separate them from each other. And boundaryless networkers are people who simply connect all over, and across any and every boundary or barrier.

It is still possible that the innovation of boiling drinking water as a health measure would have failed in the Peruvian villages of that case study but if the public health service workers who tried to introduce this innovation had identified and successfully evangelized and enlisted the support of the key networkers in those villages, their chances of success would have been much higher. And the places they should have focused on, at least as a starting point, were the social structures and institutions already in place. And in retrospect, with its 20/20 hindsight vision, their first step should have been simply to listen and try to connect in themselves, as a part of a search to identify who the real hub networkers were. Other types of key networks could have been sought out later to further widen the support and acceptance base for this change.

I am going to turn to the issues of crowd sourcing and the connections between early adaptors and active social networkers in my next posting. And I will simply note here as a final thought that they are not always the same people but that they can be.

You can find this and related postings in Social Networking and Business and also in Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page. See also Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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