Social Media – A new “must have” in a product marketers’ toolkit

After browsing through a few articles on “innovation”, I arrive at this conclusion that Innovation is a process, that aims to promote science and technology to stay ahead in the present market dynamics and thus, necessity of innovation is universally accepted. Since the world of business gets increasingly complex day-by-day, leaders believe that to be successful over the long run, enterprises need to nurture a culture of strong innovation – “an expression of a group for their past/present benefits, ideas, and behaviors” within an organization.

With a proliferation of social technologies, people are increasingly providing inputs into the innovation process in a more spontaneous, real-time, and participatory way. Also, successful innovative companies are actively involving their customers to facilitate the ideas and embrace them in implementing open innovation strategies. Recently, I stumbled upon a report, explaining how social media is impacting product innovation, a new business value in the form of Social co-creation and how these social technologies have now emerged as a critical tool for every marketing professional.

According to a global manufacturer and consumer products marketer, “We use social media to gather ideas for product improvements and new product development and also for tracking buzz for our products before launch”. It is clear, that companies are building trust and encouraging customers to come talk about their products.

To illustrate this further – Ford keeps a tab of the likes in its fan pages in Facebook for some of its vehicles. In addition to its Facebook site, Ford has a more formal web site ( that handles suggestions from the non-Ford community, however the official site is covered with necessary patent and legal obligations that somehow restricted customers to provide inputs on smaller issues and concerns, as a channel. In contrary, to overcome this hurdle Ford revealed that its new “Your Idea” site generated more than 1,000 ideas in the first 24 hours of operations. With the help of customers’ inputs from its “Your Idea” site, Ford feeds responses into an internal predictive model for Ford employees to actually evaluate the concepts, votes, and finally determine which concepts or ideas are feasible.

In 2010, GE introduced the Ecomagination challenge (a global contest) that was an open call for power grid innovations – An objective to develop new ideas beyond the corporate walls for some new power grid technologies. The Ecomagination Challenge website had 70,000 participants from more than 150 countries, contributing 3,844 ideas and more than 120,000 votes. During this contest, twelve projects were selected to partner with GE and received development funds totaling $55 million. Together with top venture capital firms, GE committed up to $200 million to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and bring them to market; GE also granted $100,000 each for top five promising products ideas.

Social participation has relatively few barriers and if certain concerns are addressed, it surely provides an avenue to enter into successful dialogue with customers and involve them directly throughout the product development cycle to reduce the risk that the product will not meet your customers’ expectations upon launch.

These are some of the excellent examples of global collaboration through social technologies where end customers can generate innovative ideas outside of the corporate walls and likely to be more engaged with your product or brand. However, some business leaders are reluctant to explore how these changes might benefit their organizations. Few of the common questions: 1) Why do we need social media, we have really smart people already working with us, 2) Our customers are over the age of 40, and they aren’t on facebook and twitter, 3) Show me a company that has increased its revenue by using social media?

In my view, such questions clearly indicate their extreme social fears – Marketers may ease with their current processes for new product development, using traditional ways such as a focused group what and surveys. According to Gartner, Marketers may be missing the opportunity to crowdsource innovation if they feel that the “best and brightest” engineers already work for them. Leveraging social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for social collaboration may be optional at this time, but gradually over the next two to three years, those not adapting these social platforms would be viewed as laggards – similarly to those who do not have an official website as of today. If your enterprise is not leveraging social media to connect/interact directly with customers, it’s not too late. It is necessary to keep in mind, that any business will inevitably become “social” and hence so should you. In today’s digital league, you cannot afford to remain in seclusion from this phenomenon of social media.

While social technologies have mainly been the purview of marketing, it’s time for other associated business functions, i.e. “strategic planners, product managers, brand managers, and product developers” to examine as how “outside-in” perspective is needed to balance the inside-out viewpoint.

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