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Four Components of Diffusion


Disciplines > Communication > Diffusion > Four Components of Diffusion

The innovation | Communication channels | Time | The social system | See also


There are four main components in the process whereby ideas are diffused through a population.

The innovation

The first item is the actual idea itself. The thing to diffuse may be nothing but an idea but also may have some form, such as a new product. The important factor is that people think about it and choose either to adopt it or to reject it. There are known factors that lead to ideas that spread.

Communication channels

For ideas to spread, they must have some way of getting from one person to another.

The simplest channel is face-to-face word-of-mouth. It can also be a very effective method as the communication includes Body Language and vocal intonation as well as words.

The traditional media, including newspapers, radio and television are simple impersonal channels that are available to advertisers. What the journalists and broadcasters transmit is also very important and as we consume media we are consuming ideas. Advertisers also use any space where we may be looking, from the walls in public toilets onwards.

The internet has changed information diffusion hugely, making it a two-way channel where anyone can contribute ideas. This also brings its problems, in particular the sheer 'noise' of so many websites. However, out of chaos comes order and some sites have become far more popular than others.


A notable factor about diffusion is that it happens over time, approximately following a diffusion curve.

Time is important in communication channels. If you live with a person you can communicate with them at any time. You can also pick your moments when they are most receptive. Advertisers do not always have this luxury and have to do with passing trade.

There is a time element to the adoption process. People may know about the idea well before they adopt it and are just waiting for the 'right moment' or to find convincing evidence.

The social system

On top of the other components is the wider social system. People connect together in groups and networks. We learn through friends who learn from more distant friends. Companies and society at large provide support, but often in exchange for conformance and adoption of particular ideas. 

This connectivity of the human species is illustrated by the 'rule of six' whereby you can take any two people on the planet and, apparently, connect them together through acquaintances of acquaintances in around six relationship hops. The implication of this is that powerful ideas can spread to everyone in a remarkably short time, making networks hugely powerful communication and persuasion systems.

See also

Exchange principle, Bonding principle


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