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Where social media and innovation intersect

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This guest post is by Jeffrey Phillips, vice president of sales and marketing for OVO.

While it was once regarded primarily as a private activity, innovation has increasingly become a process that encourages participation by an organization’s employees, prospects, customers and partners. This system of external or open innovation creates a community that looks very much like a social network. In fact, open innovation communities are simply a specific example of social networking.

Increasingly, the software tools that support innovation even resemble social media tools. These applications incorporate discussion forums, blogs, comments, rating or ranking capability, and the ability to alert others to ideas or changes in the idea. These features are similar to features found in social networking sites. Spigit, one of the software applications that supports innovation communities, suggests that ideas are “social objects” that form the basis of a community.
There are a number of implications associated with this shift. Among them:

  • Many brains, and many perspectives, are better than few brains from one perspective. Firms such as Proctor & Gamble have completely reversed the way their scientists generate and receive ideas.
  • Identifying the individuals with the best insights and perspectives is crucial. While many people contribute, identifying the “best” and most consistent contributors is important.
  • Understanding the intent and purpose of the community is important. The interests of Dell (behind IdeaStorm) differ from the interests of LinkedIn or Facebook. Dell is interested in ideas that benefit Dell’s products and services, while Facebook and LinkedIn provide a utility for their customers.
  • The design and intent of the community matters. A community that allows anyone to suggest any idea will achieve different results from a community that invites specific people or companies and asks the participants to submit ideas aligned with key strategic needs. The open suggestion model will attract a large number of participants, but the ideas submitted will represent a wide range of interests, issues and opportunities. The invitational model that requests responses to key topics will generate far fewer ideas, but their importance and relevance will be much higher on average than the open community.

Where is this trend leading us? Increasingly we can see research and development outsourced to smaller, distributed individuals or firms. Significantly complex problems can be broken into more manageable pieces and distributed to a number of innovators working in a range of fields. Firms that understand how to interpret the activity of the communities will gain new insights into customer needs and trends, and will identify lead users. Participants in the innovation communities will have a greater voice in the design and development of new products and services but won’t benefit monetarily.

Social media has created a completely new capability — open, external innovation based on communities. These capabilities have disrupted traditional innovation processes and approaches and created entirely new innovation techniques. Idea generation will never be the same.

Image credit, Raycat, via iStock