January 1, 2015

Intranet Engagement Strategy – Bridging The Intranet Adoption Chasm

Part 1: An Introduction to Intranet Engagement Theory


In 1991, Geoffrey A Moore famously wrote about the so-called Adoption Chasm in Everett M Rogers’ 1962 Technology Adoption Lifecycle. This chasm represents the leap in adoption that new technologies must make in order to progress from a small minority of keen early adopters to a much more mainstream acceptance (the early majority).

Like any other technology, intranets in the modern workplace also face this adoption chasm. In order to approach this problem, it has been suggested (Aaron Kim, 2013) that we map Maslow’s 1943 Hierarchy of Needs onto the technology adoption lifecycle. This leads to some very interesting insights into how basic, instinctive human behaviour can be leveraged in order to maximise the adoption of a new intranet venture.

In this article, we present the SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework – a 360° approach to engaging all personality types within an organisation.


Download Our Free Ebook Now


Why so many intranet ventures fail

You have just launched a brand new site. All the bells and whistles are there. Every feature you could possibly implement and everything your research said anybody could possibly want to do. Plus a few extra cool things you once saw at a conference. 

The first few days look good. Lots of people are logging on. Usage statistics are great. The stakeholders’ hopes are high that before long, this site will be the buzzing information and social hub of the company.

But after a week or two the usage starts to level off, and after a month it’s reduced to a slow trickle. By your first bi-annual review the usage remains low, and you are left wondering where to go from here. 

So what just happened? To begin to unpack the behaviour of our usage curve, we start with Everett M Rogers’ 1962 Technology Adoption Lifecycle. This theory postulates that any new technology will follow a similar adoption pattern from Innovators through to Laggards.

In 1991, Geoffrey A Moore extended Rogers’ theory in the context of high-tech products, and associated five personality groups with the five adoption groups. In order of adoption speed, these personality groups are: Enthusiasts, Visionaries, Pragmatists, Conservatives and finally, Sceptics.

By applying these personality groups to our failed intranet launch, we can start to explore what happened.

During the first week or two after launch, the Enthusiasts, Visionaries, Pragmatists and perhaps even the Conservatives showed a bit of interest. The Enthusiasts and the Visionaries logged on, saw some cool features they liked, set up their profile, added all their colleagues to their contacts list and started working out how this new site would fit into their day-to-day jobs.

The Pragmatists logged on and saw a site packed full of features, assumed their intended use would become apparent over time and then logged off, waiting for when they would be required to log back on.

The Conservatives may have logged on, seen a site full of stuff they see no point in and immediately logged off again, hoping nothing would interfere with their existing, comfortable routines.

A week or two after launch and the only people left using the site are the Enthusiasts and the Visionaries.

Moore identified this pattern of behaviour and called it the Adoption Chasm.

Let’s take for granted that the launch of any new intranet will be accompanied by an initial spike in usage. Let us then focus on the usage pattern after this initial spike. If usage remains nothing more than a slow trickle of Enthusiasts and Visionaries, you have failed to engage the Pragmatists and Conservatives and have fallen foul of the adoption chasm.

So how can we stop this from happening? How can we turn our usage graph into this instead?

To do this we must find ways to engage the Pragmatists, Conservatives and Sceptics.

Understanding Human Behaviour

To bridge the adoption chasm, we must first understand a bit more about why people behave in the ways they do. With this understanding we can begin to formulate a plan to better engage the Pragmatists, Conservatives and Sceptics.

To help us we turn to Abraham Maslow’s 1943 Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow states we are all governed by a hierarchy of needs which must be satisfied in order to achieve personal fulfilment and wellbeing. Our most basic needs are at the bottom and our more aspirational needs sit at the top.

Maslow states that we cannot focus on a particular stratum in the hierarchy unless we have first satisfied all the supporting strata.

In 2013, Aaron Kim, Head of the Digital Social Collaboration Centre of Excellence at Royal Bank of Canada, made a connection between the hierarchy of needs and technology adoption. He noticed that the five personality groups in the technology adoption lifecycle could be loosely identified with the five strata in the hierarchy of needs.

Overlaying the two theories highlights motivations behind adoption behaviour.

The Sceptics and the Conservatives will be motivated to use a site only when their survival or wellbeing are at risk. In other words, the site must offer functionality that is essential for their day-to-day work. Anything less and they are unlikely to log on beyond an initial visit at launch.

The Pragmatists will use a site if it’s useful and adds practical value to their day-to-day work. The site should contain functionality that makes their work lives easier or more enjoyable.

You can appeal to the Visionaries and the Enthusiasts by giving them opportunities within the site for prestige and recognition.

You should then use all the tools at your disposal to seed interest across the organisation. This is done with a mixture of traditional messages and a strategy to create and maintain buzz around the intranet.

Finally, you must ground the entire intranet project on wholehearted support from management. You can do this by presenting how the intranet will benefit the organisation, in other words, demonstrating return on investment (ROI). This will ensure proper resources and funding are made available for both the initial development as well as the ongoing maintenance of the site.

SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework

To summarise:

  1. Provide Reasons to Log On
    For the Sceptics and Conservatives the site needs to be essential for day-to-day business.
  2. Provide Reasons to Return
    For the Pragmatists the site needs to be worth returning to.
  3. Provide Reasons to lead
    For the Enthusiasts and Visionaries the site should provide opportunities for prestige and recognition.

These building blocks are the core 3 principles of intranet engagement. You then need a communications strategy to spread the word to the furthest reaches of the organisation:

  1. Provide WAYS to advocate
    Propagate momentum throughout the organisation by leveraging the Enthusiasts, Visionaries and senior management as well as traditional messaging techniques.

Finally, strong building blocks must be built on solid foundations:

  1. Provide reasons to sponsor
    Secure wholehearted support from management.

The key to bridging the adoption chasm is one of momentum: staff will use the site if they think that everybody else is using the site.

Capturing the natural buzz around a newly-launched site and turning it into ongoing enthusiasm is the key difference between a highly engaged intranet and a digital wasteland.

The SmallWorlders Intranet Engagement Framework represents a thorough, 360° approach to engaging all personality types within an organisation. If properly executed it will keep the momentum and excitement high enough to turn the post-launch usage spike into a healthy, increasing usage pattern for the future.


Download Our Free Ebook Now

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *