As companies start looking at ways to incorporate social media models and technologies into the innovation and product development process, there seem to be two very defined – and very vocal – arguments for and against. One side seems to have the opinion that social media will save the world. If everyone can just happily and openly share and co-create, life will be better and easier. The other side believes that social media is a waste of time and has no place in business, much less embedded in the sacred innovation and product development processes that many companies hope will help them stay afloat and even grow during the recession and recovery.

Of course, nothing is this black and white. The real challenges for Social Product Innovation, and the real solutions, lie somewhere in between. The most common challenges fall into five main buckets – strategy, people and culture, business processes, technology and sustainability.

Strategy: Using social models and technologies for product development and innovation is not straight forward: there are no time-tested industry practices to turn to as a guide. Many companies are experimenting, but very few have a defined strategy and plan in place. Companies that develop an overall social product innovation strategy that aligns with the company’s business and innovation goals will be a step ahead. This alignment can also help justify the business value of the initiative.

People & Culture: With all the “myths” about the use of social networks in the enterprise and the general lack of understanding, it’s often easier for people to simply resist the idea than to learn more about it. Once a strategy is in place, internal education can go a long way. Clearly defining and communicating the ways that social concepts and technologies can be used to enhance product development and innovation processes can help open minds.

Business Processes: Ownership of a new initiative is always a sticking point. Implementing social product innovation does not necessarily create more processes and work for innovation and development teams. In reality, the processes people are using will largely stay the same: social product innovation can augment processes already in place and actually make them faster and easier.

Technology: Many companies make the mistake of jumping immediately to software selection without defining a strategy, addressing culture and selecting a business process to start with. Social product innovation technologies should be used to support the processes you’ve defined as the most important to your company. Technology must be viewed as an enabler of strategy and process. Getting bogged down too early in software selection is likely to delay the initiative.

Sustaining Practices: Sustainability challenges often center around keeping the organization and collaboration partners engaged and supportive throughout the journey. In a tactical sense, as some of the supporting technologies mature, they are offering more options for incentivizing participation. On a more strategic level, maintain the support of the executive team by connecting social product innovation results to business results.

It’s easy for companies to get stuck worrying about more tactical challenges, like security concerns, intellectual property (IP) protection and software features. It’s important to refocus early efforts on addressing the more strategic buckets above and identify the ways that social product innovation can impact on the way companies innovate and bring products and services to market. Market leaders are already beginning to learn, experiment, and develop organizational knowledge and experience. These are the companies that will lead the way.

What is your biggest challenge to implementing social product innovation? Are your challenges black and white, tactical, or do they fall into one of the strategic buckets? The next few blog posts will dig deeper into the challenges in each of these strategic buckets and offer practical suggestions and real world examples of how to overcome them.

About the author:

Amy Kenly has over 14 years professional experience in innovation, product development and PLM. Kenly, a regular speaker and blogger on social product innovation, has been selected by PDMA to author a chapter on “Social Media and New Product Development” for the upcoming third edition of the PDMA Handbook on New Product Development. Kenly leads Kalypso’s Social Product Innovation practice, which has recently published the white paper “Social Media and Product Development: Early Adopters Reaping Benefits amidst Challenge and Uncertainty.” To access the white paper and research findings, visit