The most common challenges companies face as they get started with the application of social models and technologies to innovation and product development fall into five main buckets – strategy, people and culture, business processes, technology and sustainability. In this post I will take a deeper look at the typical challenges around people and culture during a social product innovation initiative, and some ideas for overcoming them.

As with any major initiative, there are many cultural challenges that may come up. Using social media in product innovation is not straight forward. There are no time-tested industry practices to turn to as a guide. In Kalypso’s 2010 research on how social media is impacting innovation and product development companies we interviewed for our research reported a lack of understanding within their organizations. Almost half (46%) of surveyed companies with active initiatives or plans admitted that they are not sure which approaches work. Over one-third (36%) said they are challenged by a lack of internal expertise or best practices to follow.

With this general lack of understanding, combined with the “myths” that exist about the use of social networks in the enterprise, it’s often easier for people to simply resist the idea than to learn more about it. Internal education can go a long way to making sure people and teams understand that social media can be used in business for more than just branding and marketing products. It’s time to expand this definition to other areas of the business.

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. It’s the concepts behind social media, rather than the specific tools or technologies, that apply. One of my favorite explanations of social concepts in product development comes from Jim Brown at Tech-Clarity, in his chart below.

Click to enlarge

This list can help even the most vocal critic understand the potential value of enabling these product development concepts with social models and technologies.

Does your company apply social media concepts to product development? How do you overcome the people and culture challenges many companies face?

My next blog post will cover challenges and solutions in the third main bucket: business processes.

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