Internal and external communities can bring real value to your organization by providing ideas and feedback for the innovation pipeline. Amy Kenly takes a look at several leading practices companies should consider when managing or participating in these communities.

Social Product Innovation is the application of social models and technologies to the innovation and product development processes. It brings value to three main areas.

First, in the front end of innovation, where companies have had success using social models and technologies to generate more new and better product ideas. This includes collecting customer ideas and requirements, community commenting and voting, and reporting and measuring capabilities to help identify and select the best ideas to promote to the innovation pipeline.

Second, in the internal product development process itself, where companies are using social models and technologies to create “communities of practice” around various product teams, supporting the way these teams work today and making it easier and faster to collaborate, solve problems and share knowledge.

Third, in the analysis and support of in-market products, where companies listen, collect and measure feedback from customer communities and the Web at large, so they can analyze sentiment, identify opportunities for new products or features, and incorporate this feedback into their innovation pipeline.

So what’s the common word that ties these three areas together? Communities. Whether communities are internal or external, built by companies themselves or customer-driven, there are several leading practices companies to consider when managing or participating in these communities.

  1. Think Big, Start Small, Build Incrementally Approach – Strategic planning and direction are key. Think big by considering the audience or market they are targeting, and have a plan in place to address privacy issues, monitor costs in time and resources, and measure progress. For example, for an ideation community, you may measure the number of new ideas collected or the number of new ideas that enter the product pipeline. Starting small, with a target community with a limited focus, helps to find what works and provides a framework that can be scaled and replicated. To build incrementally, it’s important to learn from successes and failures, and to communicate constantly with both internal stakeholders and community members.
  2. Be Authentic – Don’t take down negative posts. As long as they aren’t inflammatory or threatening, it’s more “real” to respond in a way that involves the community. We’ve even seen examples where other community members respond and defend a company or brand in the face of criticism. Responding quickly and professionally can make even the negative comments into models of success, and the community will appreciate it!
  3. Create and Maintain Engagement Levels – Keep your biggest fans coming back regularly and give them a reason to recommend your community to peers and friends. To do this, you need to first create consistently compelling content. To ensure that engagement levels stay high, be sure to acknowledge contributions from your most frequent contributors – think about giving them a badge or designation within the group. And finally, be sure to show member impact. If you ask the community to contribute ideas, be sure to let them know how you used their responses. It’s a great way to say “thanks” to the group and keep them coming back.

Have you created a successful community, either inside or outside of your company? What characteristics did your community have that helped it succeed? What were your biggest lessons learned?

By Amy Kenly

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