Diffusion of Innovation

Inspecting Hybrid Seed Corn What do corn and communication have in common? Together, they helped piece together one of the most popular general systems theories in the field of communication, namely the Diffusion of Innovation. Back in 1943, Bruce Ryan and Neal Gross studied the diffusion of hybrid seed corn innovation amongst farmers in Iowa (Lowery & DeFleur, 1995). Their investigation included four main elements of diffusion, including:

  1. a specific innovation
  2. processes of interpersonal & mass communication that created awareness of the item
  3. a specific kind of social system
  4. Different individual types that make decisions at various stages of diffusion

Their findings suggested the important role of interpersonal networks in the diffusion process in a system. Within the farming community, they found that the exchange of farmers??? personal experiences with hybrid seed was at the heart of diffusion. This was illustrated by observing that when enough farmers adopted hybrid seed corn, the rate of adoption took off. In 1962, Everett Rogers contributed on their findings by studying this diffusion phenomenon in articles across the disciplines and producing the five stages of the adoption process, namely awareness, interest, evaluation, trial and finally, adoption. Rogers also refined their distinctions between the early accepters, early adopters, the majority and later accepters by producing the popular Diffusion of Innovation Curve and a corresponding defined set of individual adopter types, including innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards, each with their own location on the adoption curve.

Adopter Types

S Curve

Everett Rogers explained Diffusion of Innovations as a theory that analyzes, as well as helps explain, the adaptation of a new innovation. It helps to explain the process of social change. An innovation is an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or other unit of adoption. The perceived newness of the idea for the individual determines his/her reaction to it (Rogers, 1995). As a result, diffusion is the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. Thus, the four main elements of the theory are the innovation, communication channels, time, and the social system.

The realization of the Diffusion of Innovations theory might seem simple at first, but various other earlier works were critical in helping communication researchers arrive at it. The Two-Step Flow of Communication was a hypothesis that was under considerable examination. Elihu Katz (1957) hypothesized that ???ideas flow from radio and print to opinion leaders and from these to the less active sections of the population???. Through a series of studies which were increasingly more refined over time, researchers found that the two-step flow model only accounted for one aspect of interpersonal relations, as a channel of communication. Interpersonal relations influences decision-making in more ways including as channels of information (two-step flow emphasized on this only), as sources of social pressure, as well as sources of social support. The Two-Step Flow of Communication was an early hypothesis (similar to the magic/silver bullet theory of communication) which is dated, but served as a stepping stone in developing the more defined Diffusion of Innovation Theory.

Couple the Diffusion of Innovation theory with the network metrics from the Network Level Analysis (Monge, 1987) and the various groups and affiliations as illustrated in Georg Simel???s ???The Web of Group-Affiliation??? (1955), we now have a comprehensive set of tools for understanding and managing communication within networks. We can see how useful these theories are especially in the age of the Internet, where a trend has been to understand social networks in an online environment. One advantage of the measuring social networks on the Internet is that the data we need is quite accessible as tracking web links, server logs, tracking email relationships, and so on.

Simmel, G. (1955). The web of group-affiliations. Conflict and the web of group-affiliations (pp. 128-195. New York, the Free Press.

Lowery, S.A. & DeFleur, M.L. (1995). The Iowa study of hybrid seed corn. Milestones in mass communication research: Media effects (pp. 115-134). White Plains, N.Y.: Longman.

Katz, E. (1957). The two-step flow of communication: An up-to-date report on an hypothesis. Public Opinion Quarterly 21, 61-78.

Monge, P. R. (1987). The network level of analysis. In C. R. Berger & S. H. Chaffee (Eds.). Handbook of communication science (pp. 239-270). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

26 thoughts on “Diffusion of Innovation

  1. Do you know anyone who has developed a questionnaire to identify which type of innovation category respondents belong to?

    If you don’t know could you direct me to someone who might know?


  2. thank u Kevin for providing this medium.

    depressing ‘news’ to learn the father diffusion theory passed away. RIP Everret. Did ur job well.

    I am sruggling to write a phd synopsis on adoption of a part substitute of wheat in bread making by informal sector tiny/micro business in a developing country. Direct /Relevant empirical literature eluding me so far. Any u know of? Will appreciate any help / communication.

  3. Anyone doing research in diffusion studies should look beyond their current discipline for information. Diffusion of Innovations has been studies across all fields and some of the measurement surveys and data are available in abundance there. If you’re not sure where to start, search through Google Scholar for “diffusion of innovation” and read the different journals in which this theory is applied.

  4. Hey, i’m currently writing an essay on how theoretical models are applied when adopting new technologies such as the iPod and i’m totally stumped. I am required to write a “discussion section where you compare what actually happened to the iPod with what would have been expected from the Moore crossing the chasm model and the Idaho corn model in turn”. I’ve been researching for days and i’m just getting more and more confused…could you please shed any light on the matter??

    Much appreciated!

  5. I just like to say thanks Kevin as your article is so educative and help us students to understand the diffusion process.

  6. can you help me understand this from the theory point of view:

    how each of the variables below (and other variables in the theory?) can be used to influence the promotion of healthy behaviors.

    a. “Tipping point”

    b. Mechanism of Diffusion

    c. “S” curve

    i. Innovators, early adopters, early majority, etc.

  7. hi kevin,

    Thanks for the posted theory, im learning it.
    Btw, right now im doing my thesis about Product Development for Street Lighting in Indonesia.

    Could you help me to find any website that can lead to source of theory to support my thesis, with the following points that i wanna address

    – The correlation between Product Management and Sales Marketing Management.
    -The correlation between product Management and Marketing communication.
    – The correlation between product and production management

    Its a bit hard to find the good book in English in Indonesia about the above matters.

    Please2x give me the info where i can get the online source for the theory to support the three points i wanna to address in my thesis.

    Thanks a lot.

  8. I am a Masters student at the London School of Economics, and am currently working on an LSE research project regarding the Apple iPod. The research work is qualitative study to analyze the diffusion of this innovation into society. Having, read some of the topics on your blog, I believe your views on technology are interesting, and incorporating them into the research would add value to it.

    I would be grateful if you agree to me sending you an email with some official questions (where I would need permission to quote you) and also an online survey regarding the iPod. Let me know, if this would be possible. Please note that the survey is not time-consuming and seeks a purely personal opinion.

    Kind regards,

    Rohit George

    M.Sc. Analysis, Design and Management of Information Systems
    The London School of Economics and Political Science

  9. Hi…. I am Zulfikar studying Policy Science in Japan. I am going to conduct a servey about the innovativeness of local government base on Rogers Theory. It will be very useful for me if you would like to send me some survey question about it. Thank you.

  10. Hi Kevin,
    Impressive. Thanks for choosing such a widely used but relatively nneglected topic for discussion. However I feel you have neglected the investigations on diffusion from the economic perspective. Zvi Griliches’ and Edwin Mansfield are two names of importance. The write up would have been better had you discussed the 1957 and subsequent debate over sociological and economic explanations of diffusion phenomena. Also adoption as a sub process of diffusion was worth mentioning. Congratulations

  11. I am writing a dissertaion on satisfaction and course design in online courses. I am trying to figure out a theoretical perspective. Can you help find literature that deals with the diffusion of innovation theory and satisfaction in online courses.

  12. Hi Kevin,

    I’m a student at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Free University Amsterdam) and I’m writing a thesis on Diffusion of Innovation and for my research I need a questionnaire. I have read a lot of articles of Everett M. Rogers but I didn’t find any questionaires. Can you help me?

    With kind regards


  13. Hey, Kevin

    My name is Silas MVULIRWENANADE and I am a student at Wageningen University. I want to ask you whether it is possible to help me with a diffusion of innovation related questionnaire. In effect, I am writing a thesis on this topic.


  14. Hey, Kevin

    My name is Silas MVULIRWENANADE and I am a student at Wageningen University. I want to ask you whether it is possible to help me with a diffusion of innovation related questionnaire. In effect, I am writing a thesis on this topic.


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