Social Media is slowly maturing and companies are now beginning to explore the potential of using social media for their business. While its use has been proven in customer service, providing post sales support and managing reputation - most customers are still not clear on how to use it for their innovation needs.
Here’s some food for thought. We believe there are primarily 2 methods of using social media channels to fuel innovation.
1. Social media as a Listening in medium to identify trends - This is easy to get started, listening to customers is an old method but traditionally this has always been attempted with a small selected "focus" group of users. With tools like Twitter and Facebook, it is now possible to listen to many users. But of course, by listening to a larger group, it becomes a challenge to identify and work on true trends and separate it from general chatter which is usually present when you have large groups of people talking. Good news is there are also tools available to filter out this noise and make some analytical sense from out of it, though at a early stage of their evolution, we believe the trend is promising.
2. Social Media as an engagement channel - This is a much more strategic way of looking to involve your customers systematically in your innovation exercise and get some targeted responses from your customers. While the benefits of this can be far-reaching, it does call for patience, constant customer engagement, incentives to motivate customers to innovate for you. On your side it needs openness to receive feedback and be responsive.
The method you choose to use is also dependent on the goals of your innovation initiative.
For example – if your business is wide spread and your products or services are household name from a long time (e.g. windows operating system) then 1. Social media as a Listening in medium to identify trends would help. Also when you want to monitor what your competition or the customers of your competitions are saying then again the method of listening is quite helpful.
On the contrary, if you are running a innovation project where you need a specific innovation or a specific solution to a specific problem then 2. Social Media as an engagement channel is more suitable. This method is also helpful in showcasing that you care about your customers and are keen to engage yourself rather than just listening in anonymously.
In summary - the old days of closed R&D and "focus groups" are getting over. Today more and more companies are opening their doors to interested users, suppliers and working out mutually beneficial relationships. The benefits of such approach is not only in better customer co-created products but also the enhanced brand reputation.