Social Experience is About to Cross the Chasm


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In 1991 Geoffrey Moore published the book, Crossing the Chasm. The title is drawn from his addition to the Diffusion of Innovations theory popularized by Everett Rogers in his 1962 book and expressed by Roger’s Bell Curve. Confused yet? Here’s where visual aids help.

Rogers’ Bell Curve


Rogers’ Bell Curve illustrates how innovation spreads through markets. Those of us in innovation driven industries, like software, can appreciate how important it is to understand the difference between an Early Adopter and the Majority when we think about how to sell and market to people.

Since the Diffusion of Innovations theory is often expressed in the context of technology, it’s also referred to as the Technology Adoption Lifecycle. Whatever you call it, the bell curve makes sense. Moore’s addition is a gap, or chasm, dividing the early adoption stage. There is, however, an important distinction determining whether a chasm exists in the lifecycle. The distinction depends upon whether the innovation is continuous or discontinuous .

Source: Craig Chelius

Continuous innovation is an incremental advancement on a previous innovation. There’s no chasm here because there is no barrier to adoption. In the case of continuous innovation, adoption is a given, it just might take some time.

Discontinuous innovation is disruptive, that is to say, it forces a change in people’s behavior. This is the kind of innovation that might not catch on. In other words, it might not cross the chasm, it might instead, perpetually linger at the low end of the early adopters or fall into the chasm.

A discontinuous innovation might also cross the chasm and change the world as we know it. Examples abound; refrigeration, air travel, personal computers, cell phones and the internet, to name a few.

A recent example of a discontinuous technological innovation that has crossed the chasm is the social web. Not only are blogs, wikis, social networking websites, and forums being used by the early majority, the rate of adoption was unusually fast. It seems like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter appeared just about everywhere overnight.

The social web didn’t have a problem crossing the chasm because it had velocity. Like Evel Knievel jumping a mere half-dozen cars on his motorcycle, the social web had both speed and lots of horsepower. The speed of diffusion came from the medium, the internet. The horsepower came from lots of happy users. Great idea, easily spread, largely adopted, chasm crossed.

What has taken longer is understanding how to apply the social web to business. For the past couple of years, many of us have been asking, how do you make money on a technology that you give away and that contains user generated content?

This question has kept business largely at the chasm’s edge, wondering if the future holds the sunny peak of majority adoption or the abyss. Should we slowly, methodically, build a bridge? Should we take a running leap and hope for the best? Or should we wait for someone to show up with a motorcycle? Not a Segway, a motorcycle.

The conundrum has been that the social web wasn’t built by business for use by consumers like innovations of old. It was built by consumers for consumers. Business wasn’t invited to the party and nobody likes a party crasher.

So that’s the chasm and the social part of Social Experience, now on to the experience.

My company is a customer experience software and services provider. We help make brands easy to do business with so they attract and retain lots of happy customers. If you provide great service to lots of people year after year, you’ll earn a reputation for it. Nordstrom’s is the classic example. Over time, stories about great customer service at the department store spread, and their reputation was built.

But that was the old days, when word of mouth, literally, came from people’s mouths. Now, word of mouth comes from the social web, and businesses reputations are built and destroyed overnight. The negative examples getting the most attention lately because it’s interesting to see the mighty fall. But the social web can spread the reputation of positive experiences with a brand as well.

Reputation spreading is one of the components of what I call Social Experience. The other component is the social web actually enabling the creation of the customer experience.

Here’s an example of a social experience I just had. I was shopping for a new tent on There was a particular brand and model I was interested in. Fortunately for me, REI has a tool on their site that allows for user reviews. Every customer review for this tent was negative. They all said it was hard to put up and poorly designed. This tool, a collaboration facilitated by REI with content created by its customers, saved me time, money and aggravation.

But in the short term, having these user reviews on their site is not in REI’s best interest. If they have a shelf in a distribution center piled high with these tents, their website is not helping to unload them. REI is demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice short term profit for long-term customer loyalty. And for me, it’s working. They continue to earn my business.

On-line user reviews are nothing new. They’ve certainly been around longer than Twitter. But they demonstrate how the wisdom of the crowd can help both consumers and businesses. And how, if a brand demonstrates a commitment to its customer’s long term satisfaction, that business will find itself invited to the consumer party.

Business is learning that you can’t capitalize on the social web by charging for the medium or the content as the media industry did in the 20th Century. But you can use the social web to add value to the transactions you have with your customers, increasing their lifetime value, while building a stellar brand reputation.

We’re putting on our red, white and blue jumpsuit, gassing up the bike and getting ready to make the jump. Majority adoption of Social Experience is just a chasm crossing away.

Jeff Scurlock
Jeff Scurlock is a marketing professional with experience in demand generation, business development, branding, customer experience and social media. He's worked with companies as diverse as Proctor and Gamble, Ride Snowboards and He's currently a project manager at RightNow Technologies.


  1. Genius article. I especially like that analogy of those standing on the edge of the chasm waiting to make the leap. The genius ideas of social media has been widly accepted by youth, students, professionals and even the unemployed. As a new user of social media, I have already seen the snowball effects of a bad customer experience tarnishing the reputation of business out to many, many followers. Great outside the box and forward thoughts!

  2. I thought the article was great – and it is true, business and corporations are trying to figure how to use this vocal social media.
    I was curious, what do you think are some of the technologies that did NOT jump the chasm – and What made the jump not happen (thinking 8-track players)? realize this is not the topic of the paper – but was curious if you think there are other tehcnologies “on the brink” and what is holding them back.

  3. Thanks for your response and your question Kay. It’s entertaining to remember some of the technologies that fell into the chasm. Just after DVDs came out, the first attempt at a hi-def DVD technology, before HD or Blue Ray, was this disk that was the size of an LP Record. It looked like a DVD but it was three times bigger. That didn’t last long. Another was the Concorde supersonic jets. In the 1970s, we thought that by now, we’d all be flying commercially at supersonic speeds.

    An innovation that I think is on the verge is the idea of the television and the PC merging into one seamlessly interconnected device. Apple is trying with Apple TV, but it’s certainly no runaway hit. It might be sites like that get us there.

  4. I am still unclear what you mean by social experience? I am seeing a number of software companies refer to this, but I still have not seen a definition I would agree with. If you had to explain what social experiences was to someone in a bar, what would you say? Why is social experience different to social media?

    Colin Shaw
    International Author. Lastest book “The DNA of Customer Experience”

    Follow me on Twitter:

  5. Thanks for your question Colin. Here’s my “if we were in a bar” version:

    Take the concept of Customer Experience, which is about business putting the customer’s perspective first, and combine it with the social web, which is about peer collaboration, and you have the ability for a brand to leverage its customers to help other customers.

    This isn’t about a brand using a customer story in the form of an endorsement for marketing purposes. It’s about enabling customers to help each other in a way that makes the brand easier or more enjoyable to do business with.

    Does that help distill the idea?


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