WhatsApp versus BBM: The Diffusion of Innovation

With Facebook’s recent acquisition of WhatsApp for USD 19 billion, it is only fitting to examine the reasons behind the extensive reach & popularity of this messaging application. With just over 450 million users worldwide, WhatsApp clearly surpasses the 85 million user base of BlackBerry Messenger (BBM).

If we go back to 2009, however, things were slightly different; BBM was at its peak, and many of us can recall purchasing BlackBerry devices solely to stay connected on BBM.  The initial version of WhatsApp was released that same year, and the user base shifted drastically over the past 5 years.

What could have caused this rapid consumer shift to WhatsApp?

I believe Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation theory could serve as an explanatory tool. According to this theory, new ideas & innovations spread within a society through five distinct groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards.

Innovators are the first individuals to adopt a new innovation; they are typically from a higher social class with greater financial liquidity, and have significant access to technology and innovation centers. Early adopters are the next group of socially connected, tech-savvy influencers that spread the word to the early majority, after which the innovation scales organically through the late majority and laggards.


There are five factors that determine why, how, and at what rate a new idea or technology will move through this curve: relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability & observability.

A quick comparison of WhatsApp versus BBM on each of these attributes can serve to make the consumer shift a bit clearer.

 Relative Advantage: the degree to which a new idea is perceived as superior to the idea that it replaces

The launch of BBM introduced consumers to a revolutionary new way of communicating with friends & family across the globe, instantly making basic SMS technology seem redundant. BBM was a cost-effective, simple way to stay connected with other BlackBerry users.

The launch of WhatsApp brought a new level of convenience to mobile messaging technology by being compatible across multiple platforms, and having an automatic way to add contacts without a PIN system. Timing also played a key role – with the release of the first iPhone in 2007, and the first Android phone in 2008, the compatibility across all devices proved to be an invaluable relative advantage for WhatsApp over BBM.

While BBM has recently introduced cross-platform applications, it has proven to be a bit too late – one can only imagine what could have happened if this was done a few years ago!

Compatibility: the degree to which a new idea is perceived as consistent with the existing values, experiences, and needs of potential adopters

BBM paved the way in this aspect, creating an ideal target base of smartphone customers familiar with mobile messaging applications. The advent of iPhones & Android devices led to a consumer base looking for similar alternatives, wherein WhatsApp was the clear winner. The only compatibility issue WhatsApp could have is privacy concerns, since contacts are automatically added without prior permission.

Complexity: the degree to which an innovation is perceived as difficult to understand

Both applications are quite simple to access, use, and communicate with; hence both fare equally on this factor.

Trialability: the degree to which an innovation may be experimented with on a limited basis

WhatsApp has a $0.99 yearly charge, however, this seems insignificant in comparison to actually having to purchase a BlackBerry device to access BBM (up until recently, of course). In addition, WhatsApp offers a 1-year free trial, allowing consumers to easily try the product.

Observability: the degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to others.

 Word-of-mouth is an extremely strong component that can drive or deter innovations, whether this takes place through face-to-face interactions, news commentary or social media. The advent of WhatsApp, along with the evolution of the smartphone industry led innovators & early adopters within our social circles to endorse WhatsApp, thereby creating a social pressure to switch to WhatsApp – think of that person in your social group that convinced you to switch!

Overall, WhatsApp proved superior across all 5 factors, leading to its advent over BBM. The next challenge for the application would be to stay relevant against the “next generation” of apps – Viber, Snapchat, WeChat and the like. However, the battle against BBM has been won.

This article has also been published in Arabian Gazette


The 6 types of social media sharers

When it comes to social media, what you share, how frequently you share, and the networks you use to share can indicate more about your personality than you might think.  According to a recent study by Statpro, there are six types of social media sharers: altruists, hipsters, careerists, boomerangs, selectives and connectors.

In a nutshell, altruists are reliable, helpful individuals who share minimally via email, hipsters are creative, young influencers that use the latest social media tools, while careerists are tech-savvy business networkers that primarily use LinkedIn. Boomerangs are frequent sharers that derive self-expression and fulfillment through social media, connectors use social media as an organizing tool to manage their offline lives, and selectives share informational content through various platforms.

Each category has a familiar prototype – ever noticed that person on your feed who seems to have an update (or more) every hour? That’s probably a boomerang! Or the intellectually inclined individual who uses social media to debate major world issues? He/she would be categorized as a selective sharer.

The top reasons for sharing include value & entertainment, promoting causes, building relationships, self-fulfillment and identity expression.


Do you think social media behavior is based on personality traits? What category would you fall under? I’d love to hear 🙂

This article has also been published in Arabian Gazette

The psychology behind the Google Glass backlash

Love it or hate it, everyone seems to have an opinion about Google Glass. With the product recently making headlines through a one-day sale, the introduction of a free trial period, and major changes in product design, this surge in attention is only fitting.  A significant portion of the consumer response has been negative, with privacy issues being the key concern; a recent poll has suggested that 72% of Americans would refuse Google Glass based on privacy reasons alone, with safety and distractibility issues following close behind.

I believe the strong response to the product is linked to a fear of the unknown, and the basic physiological fight-or-flight response that we all possess in the face of a perceived threat. Google Glass can be seen as an unknown ‘threat’ of sorts, as it has no predecessor, and using the product leads to a fundamental change in the way we understand and interact with the world around us.  Adapting to wearing Google Glass is another interesting challenge, as it requires the creation of a new set of behaviors, and does not build on any existing traditions (hello smartwatches!).

The strongest consumer backlash, however, has been directed towards Google Glass wearers within communities, with numerous public altercations, refusals of entry in bars and restaurants, and even muggings being reported. This can again be linked to the fight-or-flight response: imagine the feeling of being watched, unable to know whether you’re being recorded, filmed, or investigated. Sounds dramatic perhaps, but this is the mind’s split-second response to being in front of a Glass wearer. The key difference between Glass and other technological devices is our inability to easily understand whether the device is being used, which automatically creates a distrustful mindset towards the wearer.

Of course, there are numerous other factors behind Google Glass’s lack of success; it’s still in the initial stages of market penetration, with only a small percentage of early adopters having real access to the product. Moreover, the price is high; the marketing strategy is confusing, and the design could be improved. However, solving these issues won’t have a significant impact until the basic product is modified to resolve the psychological barriers that have impeded its success.

Should you get Google Glass?

Here’s a simple Venn diagram to help you with the question!   should-i-get-a-google-glass


 This article has also been published in Al Bawaba Business & Arabian Gazette

Facebook’s new redesign | Why make ads look like posts?

Facebook has recently introduced a host of changes to the home page, specifically to the right-hand side ads – these are now bigger, aligned differently, and allow you to like the page directly.

Here’s a quick comparison of old versus new:

Image        Image

The new right-hand side ads have the same overall shape as regular news feed posts – which increases user engagement by up to 3 times, according to Facebook News.

But why is making an ad look like a post so effective?

Let’s explore the psychological concept of schemas, which are mental frameworks that help us organize and interpret information.  For example, a child might develop a schema for a bird as having a feathered body, wings, short legs and a beak. So whether the child sees a crow, an ostrich or a seagull, the schema helps him/her understand that these are all birds. Schemas are also called building blocks of knowledge.

Similarly, most Facebook users have developed a schema for a regular post or status update from their friends or family on the news feed. My schema would go something like this –  A funny/interesting/sad text description, large image below, a button to like or comment below that.  You’ll notice that the new Facebook ads follow the same schema! This could be why we’re more inclined to look at these ads, as they confuse our existing schemas for Facebook posts versus ads (my old schema for Facebook ads – boring, lots of text, small image)

So, with the new ad design, I might automatically associate some qualities associated with regular posts (interesting, funny, engaging content) with the ad, and read it anyway. However, we constantly adapt our schemas based on new information, so this is bound to change in the future!

What do you think of Facebook’s ad re-design? I’d love to hear 🙂