There is a supreme attraction to using social media to drive innovation within organizations. Even a cursory glance highlights the benefits of bringing together a diverse group of people and brains, creating and supporting online communities, and allowing for the discovery of news and insights through the network.
These are vital benefits, and form a substantial differentiation from the ways in which people have innovated in the past. How different a world we live in when 1,000 people can fit into a (virtual) ideation room, instead of the 10 people with Post-its and flip-charts.
The Pioneers: They get the best land, and hopefully they avoid getting buried in it.
At the same time, the pioneers of innovation are not calling the race over just yet. Many of these systems highlight the social nature of interactions, portraying the human connections as being as important as the purpose to which it might be applied. Undoubtedly there are huge benefits in improving connections and providing a means of collaborating. And there are relatively few downsides, barring upset middle managers fearful of loss of authority, or rational fears of being swamped by the torrent of immediate “stuff.”
The real challenge for businesses, particularly those who claim to be innovators, is harnessing this social power for useful business activities. This is a non-trivial exercise as it means that executives need to start both understanding and driving the use of the tool for significant business projects. Organizations need to put dedicated, trained resources to support the use of social media as a business platform. And organizations need to adopt business methods and processes to integrate these programs into the fabric of the business.
Social media offers huge benefits to support Collective Intelligence within an organization, both in terms of the technology toolset and the people mindset it stimulates. The downside is that many current-generation social media platforms and consulting approaches focus too overtly on people engagement rather than their application to business problems.
Several well-known social media systems in large corporations have been driven largely by the goal of engaging employees more closely in the business. Indeed, the feature set of the technology platform is more prone to highlighting reward points or league tables of contributors than highlighting any delivered benefits. While this might make the program look appealing and succeed in enticing people into the system, these methods tend to attract the opinion-heavy/knowledge-light who enjoy reading, commenting and voting on what other people have done, rather than contributing themselves.
All too often, these early-generation systems become more about improving human relations and less about delivering business value. Of course, the ideal system delivers both better communication and real business value. And the best approaches have done just that.
Innovators at Chubb and Goodyear have done just that, using programs from Imaginatik to engage employees and to work with executives and outside suppliers to design challenging business initiatives that tie up the end-to-end process of ideation through to execution.
So, for companies going down the innovation path, social media platforms are definitely the way to go. Remember that Innovation is more than just Ovation, and sometimes you have to just knuckle down and get the work done, deliver results, then lather, rinse, repeat.
For more insight into deriving business value from social media, visit Chubb’s online Idea Central event through May 14.
Mark Turrell is the CEO and co-founder of Imaginatik plc. Imaginatik provides services and technology for Collaborative Innovation and Collective Intelligence. Imaginatik is a pioneer of innovation and idea management methods and features, with over 50 multinational clients.