Are you an Innovator or a Laggard with Web 2.0? Does it Matter?

The adoption rate of an innovative new product or technology is typically segmented into five groups:

1. Innovators: The first group to adopt a new product. Represents about 3 percent of a market.
2. Early Adopters: The second group to adopt a new product. About 13 percent of a market.
3. Early Majority: The third group to adopt a new product. About 34 percent of a market.
4. Late Majority: The fourth group to adopt a new product. About 34 percent of a market.
5. Laggards: The final group to adopt a new product. About 16 percent of a market.

These adoption rates typically coincide with a product's life cycle, which is the advancement of products or technologies through the stages of Introduction, Growth, Maturity, and Decline.

Obtaining market leadership in the early stages of the product lifecycle (with Innovators and Early Adopters) does not guarantee success as the market matures. The reason is because sustainable, profitable businesses are the ones who capture the Early Majority buyers, not the Innovators or Early Adopters. And this does not happen until the Growth stage of the product lifecycle which can be several years after Introduction of your product/service. And herein lies the risk - the business graveyard is littered with companies who were first to market and commanded a leadership position with the Innovators or Early Adopters only to get beat by a newcomer in the Growth stage of an industry.

An added complexity (or opportunity, depending on your perspective) is that buyers within different industries have different adoption rates. Generally speaking, in the human resource marketplace, recruitment and staffing firms (and their buyers) are the Innovators while employee benefit firms and their buyers are the Laggards. Many of the analysts and journalists within the recruitment and staffing field (like John Sumser) were writing about Web 2.0, RSS and Social Networking long before their peers in employee benefits. A recent edition of Employee Benefit News actually has a front page story titled "Benefits RSS Feed Delivers Real-Time Info". Can you imagine this headline on ERE.Net in September of 2006? This is also reflected in the HR industry's Blogs. At, we maintain a database of HR Blogs and most of them are in the Recruitment and Staffing field with very few in Employee Benefits.

So what does this mean for the average HR supplier? While it is important to stay on top of new technologies (make sure someone on your marketing team is an Early Adopter!), it is more important to understand how these technologies can improve your products/services in such a way as to deliver real value to your customers. RSS and other Web 2.0 technologies are emerging technologies in the Introduction stage of the product lifecycle that have yet to be adopted by the Early Majority.

The question for your company is how can these technologies improve your core business? Established companies with a leadership position in their industry (e.g., Monster or will maintain their leadership only if they effectively integrate these new technologies into their offerings before the Early Majority (masses) start buying. Otherwise, new companies like Jobster who are built around these technologies will win. Market leader Toys-R-Us fended off eToys. However, Lycos who operated one of the web's earliest crawler-based search engines in 1994, did not fend off Google that launched in 1998.