For 50 years, Everett Rogers' book Diffusion of Innovations has been the standard for how marketers gauge the general public's adoption of new products and technologies. The book's oft-referenced bell curve pegs the early adopters segment of the lifecycle at 13.5%.

At The Webbys, we wondered if this marker had changed in the last half century. Sure, once upon a time you needed industry credentials to attend a movie screening and a friend at Vogue to get your hands on a Birkin Bag (the infamous waiting list was six years long). But hadn't the meteoric rise of the Internet – and social media in particular – leveled that insider-y playing field?

We thought it had. So this year, for our Webby Talks tour – a five-month, worldwide expedition to present top creative agencies as well as Internet and media companies with a talk on the ever-changing landscape of the Internet – we chose the theme of "The Frenzy for First." Fromfunding Kickstarter projects, to lining up forexclusive baked goods, to real-time marketing, and queuing for apps , the notion of how the Internet has democratized early adoption made for a fascinating case study.

The reactions we received were so positive that we decided to go one step further. At the conclusion of the tour, we enlisted Harris Interactive to conduct a survey of 2,018 adults to see if early adoption, and its profound effects on influence marketing, is just as big as we think it is. The results confirmed what we suspected: Not only do many people want to be first, but given the opportunity a vast majority of them will use the digital equity they produce as firsters – check-ins from the Apple line, Instagrams trying a Cronut – to define and shape their online identities.

56% of respondents (as opposed to the 13.5% sliver indicated on the Rogers' bell curve) said that they have been the first amongst their network to try a new product, technology, or service. That's a seismic cultural shift, though it makes sense in the era of Kickstarter, a company that has generated nearly a billion dollars of revenue for products that don't even exist yet.

Social media is the main catalyst here, with the "firsters," as we have dubbed the early adopter population, not only eager to be the first to try new technologies, but also equally excited to share their experiences online. 45% of social media users say that they've shared photos or thoughts about a new product/service they've tried.

And that sharing is making an impact. With an overwhelming 62% of respondents claiming that they are at least somewhat likely to make a purchase based on a friend's social media post, there's a lot of status – and influence – at stake.

Even more important, this large base of early adopters who go online to share their opinions, purchases, and experiences with intent are hyper-aware of the effects of their influence. 67% say that they believe what they share online shapes others perceptions about them – and they're probably right, because 70% indicated that their perceptions of others are influenced by what they're posting online.

The implications are clear: The Internet has democratized early adoption, and the general public's eagerness to be firsters has changed the way new products and services are adopted to the mainstream. For businesses, this should be a wake-up call. Companies that make their products and services readily available to this early adopter crowd will reap the benefits of the firsters' capacity for organic social marketing.

David-Michel Davies is the Executive Director of The Webby Awards and Co-Founder of Internet Week NY and Netted by the Webbys.

The 18th Annual Webby Awards expands the mission of the Webby by honoring excellence in Websites, Interactive Advertising & Media, Online Film & Video, and Mobile & App. The entry deadline for the 18th Annual Webby Awards is January 31, 2014. You can enter online at webbyawards.com.

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