The Social Influence of Early Adopters

The Social Influence of Early Adopters

The electric vehicle market is growing rapidly, with the introduction of new models, advances in battery technology, and increasingly convenient public charging infrastructure.

This momentum is also playing out online. In a poll last summer of EV enthusiasts (both current and prospective drivers), 80 percent reported regularly participating in online PEV-focused groups and forums and 60 percent said they talk to each other online at least once a week.

From these online discussions, certain people have emerged as influencers among their early- adopter peers. They have some characteristics in common:

  • Are active participants in the conversation
  • Add value with POV, advice and perspective
  • Possess credibility based on their experience as drivers or believers in the future of electric driving, not necessarily tied to their job or education

These influencers are in the forums answering questions, on Twitter pointing out resources and sharing interesting news, and being sought out by other drivers for connections. And as interest in EVs grows, these early-adopter influencers are increasingly sought out by the “EV curious” as they research whether an EV is right for them.

This pattern is consistent with Edelman Trust Barometer findings, which over the past 13 years have documented the growth of “a person like me” as a trusted resource. In fact, a person like me is considered more credible than a CEO, a government official or an NGO representative. These early- adopter EV influencers fit the profile of “a person like me” – they are everyday drivers, not celebrities or company spokespeople.

So what does all this mean for businesses working to advance EV adoption? It means that to have the greatest impact, their communications should leverage the full diamond of influence. Top-down communications are no longer enough; businesses should also facilitate bottom-up engagement – in other words, participate in the social conversation and build authentic relationships with these influential EV drivers based on their shared values and interests.

Some EV enthusiasts can be skeptical of corporate voices, based on past false starts in the EV market, but that doesn’t mean businesses can’t or shouldn’t put themselves out there. All relationships take time and energy to build, so here’s some advice to companies getting started:

  • Listen and engage in a dialogue, but don’t hog the conversation.
  • Add value by answering questions or sharing resources. Be careful, though, to avoid marketing-speak.
    • Have a point of view and acknowledge other points of view, even if you don’t agree.
    • Be interesting. Even a corporation can and should have a human voice.

This foundation of mutual trust will lead to opportunities for collaborating to advance the adoption of EVs.

Toni Cole is a vice president for Edelman based in Portland, Ore. She works primarily with energy and technology clients.

Photo courtesy of Mark Larsen