Ten Questions to Answer Before Using Social Tools for Product Innovation

by John Carter

Ten Questions to Answer Before Using Social Tools for Product InnovationSocial media is incredibly effective for conveying marketing messages and for receiving rapid customer feedback. The effectiveness of social media for outbound marketing activities, i.e. getting the news out about new products offerings, and interacting with customers, is well known. But social media is also a tool for inbound marketing – for understanding the customer requirements that become inputs for innovative products. Many product developers are implementing social communities of experts, thought leaders, and advanced users to create, share and refine new product ideas.  Social media innovation extends the concept of product definition and ‘Voice of the Customer’ requirements to also include problem solving and iteration, thus true collaboration with external parties.

At TCGen, we’ve been watching and benchmarking this approach to innovation via social communities. Some years ago, our research found that firms had leaped into this space without much preparation. Their early missteps, around managing IP and rewarding efforts, and related metrics, showed us what’s required to leverage social communities for product innovation.

Here are ten questions your organization should consider before implementing social innovation.

1. How mature is your existing social media use?

Some organizations have little use for social media beyond a neglected Twitter account. Others are using social media in a sophisticated way, but only within a single function or business unit. Others are using social communities both inside and outside the company. Your social innovation efforts are built on your existing level of social media technology maturity. Take account of where you are, before embarking on a social innovation experiment. What is the vibrancy of your community? How much daily engagement do you see? Do you have sufficient scale (a minimum of 150 active members for a start)?

2. Is there executive involvement in social media efforts?

How broad is the base of management support for social innovation strategies? The degree of executive involvement in social innovation efforts can range from zero, to support in more than one area or function, to a fully engaged C-Suite. Make sure you have (at least) executive buy-in, and all questions have been answered from Legal, before launching a social community for innovation.

3. Do you have defined objectives for social innovation?

One of the biggest impediments to social innovation is poorly defined objectives. Social innovation, like any other initiative, needs clear goals and objectives, and these goals must tie into product strategy and your product portfolio.

4. What is the degree of social community management expertise in your organization?

Social communities for product innovation require leadership and guidance. How much expertise does your organization possess around this crucial capability? If you do not have such expertise, consider the skill set required. Make sure you have managers with the demonstrated capability to manage a community, to translate ideas into winning new products.

5. How much has your organization invested in social technology?

Some companies have a Facebook and Twitter presence, which means they have invested little or nothing. Some have invested in software-as-a-service tools or other third-party offerings, while other organizations have the inhouse expertise to develop customized tools. The amount of your investment mirrors the degree of commitment in making social innovation a success and the use of automation (such as Buffer) or platform monitoring tools (Hootsuite) is essential.

6. How mature are your innovation processes?

Your social innovation efforts are only as effective as your new product development processes in general. Social media is great for sharing and collaborating, but ideas need to become projects that proceed into the pipeline. There needs to be a way to evaluate ideas and grow them (consider Brightidea or another innovation management solution). Implementing social communities for product innovation is a good chance to diagnose the health of your product innovation process.

7. How responsive is your organization to new ideas?

In many mature industries, using social media for inbound marketing and product innovation is a new idea. And social communities often create disruptive, bold innovations that might be hard for companies to digest and transform into winners. Companies that succeed in social innovation are those that thrive on new ideas and are responsive to change. Stakeholder Attitude-Influence maps, where you identify and rate manager’s acceptance of Ideation, can help pinpoint roadblocks.

8. Do you have high quality ways of capturing ideas?

One of the biggest challenges of social innovation is to capture the ideas shared in these expert communities. Does your team have only ad hoc ways of capturing ideas, for example on an unshared spreadsheet? Or do you have shared systems, integrated across functions and divisions, to capture the seed that will grow into a portfolio of new product ideas? Before you fire up the ideas factory, make sure you have a well-managed digital warehouse in which to store them (look into tools such as InnoCentive, Spigit and IdeaScale).

9. Is achievement in social media marketing recognized by your organization?

If your company begins to succeed in its social innovation efforts, will anyone outside of the social community know it? If the answer is “no,” then you need to consider how you might put in place formal or informal recognitions of social innovation success. Recognitions of success are very powerful motivators, and the type of collaboration and innovation that emerges from social communities ought to be recognized in order to encourage participation. Bloggers, social community pundits, and LinkedIn groups can help here.

10. Is achievement in social media marketing rewarded by your organization?

Companies achieve the outcomes that they reward. Consider how your company can find a way to reward success in social innovation through bonuses or other incentives on the team or individual level.

We’ve created a free tool for assessing your social innovation readiness. This scorecard helps companies answer each of the questions above. Social media is a superb tool for understanding customer needs and for sharing and collaborating to turn this information into innovative products. If you’re new to this approach, begin by rating your readiness to launch into this opportunity – which may lead to the next blockbuster innovation.

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John CarterJohn Carter has been a widely respected adviser to technology firms over his career. John is the author of Innovate Products Faster: Graphical Tools for Accelerating Product Development. As Founder and Principal of TCGen Inc., he has advised some of the most revered technology firms in the world.