The Daily Sabbatical/Ivey Business School | Dec 26, 2012 | 7558 views

Go Tell It On The Mountains: How Word Of Mouth Can Lead To Buy-In Of A Technology

Social interaction is critical in the diffusion of all innovations


roperly conveyed and clearly communicated, word of mouth can become a terrific tool to enhance the adoption of a particular change such as the introduction of a new technology. Focusing on the two most critical stages of the adoption can enhance the possibility of success even more. Readers will learn how to achieve these goals in this article.

Consider this scenario: Carol, Ben and Adrian are business analysts in a large retail organization. One day, Adrian stopped by Ben’s office to chat about getting a new laptop. Ben’s officemate Carol, overhearing their conversation, joined the chat. Wanting information on a specific model, she clicked OneNote, software that manages various documents for easy search and quick retrieval. Adrian had heard about OneNote, but this was the first time he saw what it could do. After he saw Carol use OneNote to quickly retrieve a note she kept about the latest laptops, he walked away, thinking, “That is handy.” He still wasn’t sure which laptop to buy, but he learned something about OneNote, and even wanted to use it to manage his meeting notes.

This scenario illustrates the important role of Word-Of-Mouth (WOM) – or social interaction – in the diffusion of an innovation, where an informal social interaction becomes an opportunity for an individual to learn about a new technology by talking with or observing others. The process is casual, natural, and potentially influential in shaping or changing the individual’s beliefs about the new technology. This article will describe how social interaction influences the adoption of a new technology and other innovations.

Social interaction and innovation
Social interaction is critical in the diffusion of all innovations. For example, consider the case of a typical solar panel adopter demonstrating the new equipment to six peers (Rogers, 2003). In the research, Rogers identified the five stages of innovation diffusion that an individual experiences over time: knowledge, persuasion, decision, implementation, and confirmation. Rogers found that it is during two of these stages, knowledge and persuasion, that the individual processes information about the innovation from various social sources (e.g., social circles, mass media) before forming a concrete idea about the innovation.

Rogers’ model is useful for describing how an innovation is diffused in a social system. When it comes to technology, however, managers must consider other factors before deploying Rogers’ insights to tip the success of implementation in organizations. First, we must recognize that the adoption and the implementation of a new information technology (IT) is a specific instance of organizational change. It inevitably generates uncertainty on issues that are highly relevant to employees, such as changes in the workload or even employment stability (Kiefer, 2005). This uncertainty gives rise to various negative emotions in employees, such as anxiety, annoyance, and anger, none of which contribute to technology acceptance or workplace morale. It remains unclear as to how managers can take advantage of scenarios similar to the interaction between Adrian, Ben, and Carol, and plant the seeds for the acceptance of a technology through social interaction. We suggest several ways that managers can do so in the paragraphs below.

In our most recent study, we examined the influence of both formal and informal communication on employees’ acceptance of a new technology. First, we conducted an in-depth case study in a community health organization to identify the components that were most relevant to social interaction during the knowledge and persuasion stages of technology adoption. The five key components are:

Social information. The information that an employee processes may be summarized as the product of two types of communication. These are formal communication initiated by management through face-to-face meetings or communication technologies (e.g., electronic bulletin), and informal communication, the daily social interaction in the form of word-of-mouth.

User belief. We selected the four most critical beliefs that an employee holds regarding the adoption of a new technology: Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, Perceived Resources (i.e., the perceived availability of resources that support employees to use the technology successfully), and Subjective Norm (i.e., perceived expectations from others on the individual to use the technology).

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