Is Social Media Part of Your Product Innovation Strategy?

Man pointing to a world map.
Social media can connect you to innovators of all stripes.

The internet and social media, in particular, has connected us all in ways we didn’t expect. That creates a truly powerful resource of creativity on which to draw for your innovation strategy. Of course, it can also lead to fiascos if you’re not careful. Here’s how, and when, to use social media as part of your innovation strategy.

Social Media As Friend And Enemy

You don’t have to go very far to find social media approaches going off the rails. A campaign to send Taylor Swift to a school was swiftly hijacked to send her to a school for the deaf. Another campaign that would send Pitbull to one Wal-Mart in America gained online steam as #ExilePitbull and sent him to the remotest Wal-Mart they had in a small Alaskan town.

Both, ultimately, worked out for the best. Swift and Pitbull took the jokes in good humor and followed through on their promises. Pitbull even invited the orchestrator of #ExilePitbull along on his Alaskan adventure. However, these examples illustrate that once you put a social media campaign out there, you can lose control of it. So how do you most effectively use social media?

Passive Use

One strategy is to use it passively; instead of soliciting ideas directly, listen for customer feedback and requests and then use social media to engage with those customers. Gillette, for example, kept receiving notes from customers working as caregivers; it was difficult to use razors to shave someone else. Gillette designed and produced the Treo razor based on this feedback.

Targeted Research

Social media is ideal for targeted research, both passive and active. No matter what the group is, from demographic groups to fans of an obscure author, you can find a thriving community online for it and ask that community for ideas. There are some caveats; you should contact the administrator of a group and ask permission, and you should respect the overall rules of the group as posted. If you do these things, these communities can be a powerful source of innovation.

Computer keyboard key labeled with chat bubbles.
Customer thoughts are always just a click away with social media.

Specific Requests

Another method is to be specific in your requests. For example, Lay’s regularly runs the “Do Us A Flavor” competition, wherein the company taps the internet for new potato chip flavor ideas. The company is fully aware that the vast majority of suggestions will be less than serious; one notable flavor was “Toothpaste and Orange Juice.” The company uses those suggestions to help promote the contest and connect with users.

However, customers only suggest flavors; Lay’s chooses the selections and polls customers on what interests them the most. This engages customers and taps into their opinions while keeping the potential PR messes away.

Roll With The Punches

Finally, you can simply accept that a campaign may go to unusual places and roll with what the internet throws at you. This can work provided you set very specific limits on what people can do. For example, polls should have a profanity filter on their write-in option. If it fits your company’s image or you’ve got the bandwidth to handle the next #ExilePitbull, then, by all means, let social media run loose.

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