I joined IdeaScale in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic had thrown the whole world into lockdown mode. Schools and daycares were closed down, office workers became strictly homebound, airports were empty, and hospitals were overcrowded while simultaneously becoming incubators for the virus. In a matter of weeks, all sense of normalcy was gone for every single person. Despite the massive disruption to business and everyday life, people had to figure out how to continue to do their jobs, care for their kids, and pay their bills. For many businesses, in order to figure out how to continue on, they needed to innovate. They asked themselves, what is the best way to innovate quickly? The answer: they have to ask the crowd.
As an innovation management company, IdeaScale saw numerous clients launch innovation campaigns related to COVID-19. Being brand new to IdeaScale and to innovation management, my main job in the first month with IdeaScale was to learn about innovation strategy and how companies can successfully innovate through crowdsourcing. By watching these COVID-19 campaigns in real-time and reviewing dozens of customer case studies, I identified some best practices that the most successful innovation campaigns include.
10 Great Practices for a Successful Innovation Community
- Define the team, assign responsibilities – This is probably well known to most experienced innovators, but the innovation process is pretty complex! There are a lot of moving parts to a successful campaign from launch to final reporting. Defining the team of people that will participate throughout the process and assigning responsibilities will ensure a smooth campaign and maximum efficiency so you can implement as many great ideas as your community members submit. If you’re not sure what a team should look like, check out this handy infographic.
- Catchy community name – I did not realize the importance of a catchy community name until I saw how many companies use them. The community name brands the innovation effort, which makes it more engaging overall.
- Leadership engagement and enthusiasm – Many campaigns were launched with an announcement from leadership or another public act that demonstrated leadership support and enthusiasm for the innovation community. For employee communities, this is especially important because it lets employees know that their idea submissions are welcomed and valued all the way up the leadership chain.
- Create a culture of innovation – Similar to visible leadership engagement, creating a company culture of innovation also helps to increase engagement. Public recognition of employees whose ideas have been implemented, a designated “innovation committee” and persistent promotion of your innovation community can all contribute to creating this culture. When employees know that new ideas are welcomed and championed by their superiors, there isn’t fear around backlash from sharing ideas that can improve the company.
- High-quality launch videos – Creating a high-quality launch video as part of the campaign rollout can generate a lot of excitement for an innovation community by appealing to your community members’ emotions. That excitement will lead to engagement. Here’s my personal favorite example.
- Create a focused problem statement – Of course, if you are launching a campaign you have a problem that you are looking to solve. While the problem might be clear in your head, the way you phrase your problem statement can have a huge impact on the ideas that come in. You don’t want to launch a campaign only to realize people have misunderstood your problem statement and all of the ideas coming in aren’t relevant or feasible solutions. Spend some time really workshopping the problem statement at the beginning of the process to set yourself up for success.
- Keep it simple – A lot of companies will start with a complex workflow for segmenting and evaluating ideas, often with the goal of creating a more efficient innovation strategy. Many found that in later iterations of their innovation communities, a more straightforward approach improved engagement and idea quality. Keep in mind, there is a trade-off between balancing your campaign goals and simplicity. You don’t want to compromise on your goals for the sake of simplicity. So the key is to do the simplest version of the workflow that will achieve your campaign goals.
- Use custom fields on the idea submission form – This best practice is specific to IdeaScale’s software and can help you get all the right and relevant information about an idea upon initial submission. This saves you from having to track down the idea submitter later to get additional information to help you evaluate the feasibility of an idea. Custom fields can also guide members towards submitting the right kinds of ideas for your campaign.
- Reward participation AND winning ideas – A lot of companies use incentives to increase engagement. Often, this may look like rewards for implemented ideas or most ideas submitted. Only rewarding implemented ideas can reduce engagement because this type of reward will take longer to be realized by the idea submitter and the submitter will likely only submit ideas they feel are REALLY likely to win. Rewarding something like most ideas submitted can result in a lot of poorly thought out ideas just for the sake of volume. Adding in a randomized incentive that is more raffle-like tells your community members that by submitting even one idea that is maybe just ok, they can still be rewarded and the overall engagement will increase.
- Define an engagement strategy for after ideas are submitted – When creating and launching an innovation community, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the launch that you forget to plan how you’ll engage with the ideas once they start coming in. And engaging with the ideas is different than evaluating them for implementation feasibility. IdeaScale’s moderation tools are there so that when a community member submits an idea, they can get a response, some feedback, some more immediate action that lets them know there is someone on the other side actually reading their ideas. If ideas are submitted and not subsequently engaged, idea submitters will feel like their suggestions aren’t actually being read or received and engagement will decline. Companies that outlined their engagement strategy ahead of time had the most immediate engagement as ideas started coming in and avoided that early drop-off of engagement after the initial launch.