Yesterday, B2B editor and blogger Maureen Alley wrote a provocative post declaring that early adopters are annoying. I’m not sure she means it. Alley herself, after all, stands out among young B2B journalists for being well ahead of her peers in adopting the tools and ethos of social media.
If anything, the B2B industry needs to encourage early adopters, not bemoan them. Trade publishing has declined for plenty of other reasons as well, but resistance to new technologies and modes of communication has been a critical factor. A little early adoption might have gone a long way towards slowing, if not reversing, that depressing trend.
I would suggest, in fact, that every B2B publisher and content marketer needs one or more early adopters in their midst. And those early adopters should not just be tolerated, but actively encouraged and supported. Will they sometimes wax too enthusiastic about new tools that turn out to be dead ends, like Jaiku, FriendFeed, or Google Wave? Sure. But they’ll also bring to light valuable new platforms as well, like Facebook and Twitter, and perhaps even Google Plus.
The benefits of early adopters don’t end with identification or advocacy. Those same people can perform valuable roles as implementers and trainers when their organizations decide to start using a new tool or platform.
Now it’s true that when everyone leaps on board as early adopters of something, the resulting noise overwhelms any useful signals. In that case, of course, it’s not really early adoption at all, but a herd mentality. It can turn even the most promising new thing into an annoying fad, or worse, a disaster.
What Alley objects to, I think, is not early adopters per se, but unthinking and excessive early adoption. But few publishers need to be warned against that. Their challenge, rather, is how to overcome their culture of caution and consider the benefits of new platforms. One way they can do so is to encourage and support their own early adopters.
Yes, such enthusiasts can be annoying. But they might just save your business.