Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

What Social Media Adoption Model Are You Following?

What Social Media Adoption Model Are You Following?

By Dennis D. McDonald

We’re beginning to see more social media and networking case studies and discussions of “best practices.”

Maybe this is evidence of a classic adoption curve. People are more willing to talk about successes. We don’t necessarily know about the projects that are stillborn, still on hold, or the ones that are outright failures. Folks are less willing to talk about those in public, obviously. But early adopters are beginning to talk more publicly.

I’m beginning to see at least four different adoption models that describe how social media and social networking are taken up by organizations:

  • Top down
  • Bottom up
  • Inside out
  • Outside in

Top down

In the “top down” model the organization’s leaders implement and lead the adoption of tools and techniques such as blogs, wikis, social networking systems, shared bookmarks, and podcasting. Staff may be brought along gradually but eventually they “get it.” After a while viral adoption and word of mouth take over. If the leader is smart, he or she will fade into the background as “best practices” evolve.

Bottom up

In the “bottom up” mode the workers start blogging, using wikis, and social networking systems to advance their jobs. They do this initially using free tools and without the blessing of senior management. Eventually a critical mass is reached, enough people “get it,” andtop management and the IT department are brought along. By then everyone has realized that they really do need corporate standards and policies and that’s when full acceptance emerges.

Inside out

This is a variation of “bottom up,” only this time the tools are adopted internally by the organization and their usage spills over into external markets, members, or customers of the organization. What started as an internal set off blogs or wikies becomes a much more pervasive set of tools that blurs the distinction between the internal organization and external staff, members, or customers. Policies and procedures are eventually developed that govern privacy, security, and proprietary information. Corporate web and intranet strategy are revisited in order to integrate with the new tools.

Outside in

In this model the adoption of social media and social networking by the marketplace progresses to a point where the organization can no longer ignore it, especially if usage by competitors starts to become public. Whether the entry point is the staff or management will be driven by the culture of the organization and by how other forms of change or innovation are adopted.


What do you think? Do these models reflect what you are seeing? Do you think describing adoption in these terms is useful? For example, if you want to accelerate adoption of social media and social networking (say, as a competitive tool) does knowing in advance which model makes the most sense for your organization help in figuring out how to move things along faster?

Let me know if you would like to talk about this by emailing me at

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald

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