Paul Dunnay, Global Managing Director of Services Marketing for Avaya, discusses the important distinction between two types of social product innovation: Product Led Innovations and Problem Led Innovations. While many businesses have adopted the former approach, utilizing social media to engage consumers about potential improvements or enhancements to existing products, the latter approach, Dunnay argues, will allow businesses to truly leverage the advantages of social media; that is, to get “outside of their 4 virtual walls and listen to customers in other virtual places for new product ideas. Things they haven’t thought of yet. Then they engage with the users and vow to help bring that product to market. Perhaps even recruit them to become part of a virtual product development team.”
I agree with Dunnay, and his point underscores a couple of important fundamentals about the adoption of social media by businesses. First, be prepared to cede control of the coversational flow. Social media provides unique access and opportunities for engagement with customers, but the extent of that access and terms of engagement should be dictated by user/consumers, not businesses. When allowed to speak freely and openly, customers are capable of leading businesses beyond the confines of their established ways of thinking, and product innovation is but one of the many benefits to be gained. By listening to engaged and passionate consumers, businesses can discover unmet needs, unrealized opportunities, and even previously unknown solutions to persistent problems. And this is the second important fundamental, following from the first: learn to listen with self-critical ears. Productive conversation requires respect, humility, and honest self-assessment. The customer is always right is an age-old axiom that is easier preached than practiced. While every suggestion may not open a path worth following, all are worthy of genuine attention and reflection. Sometimes a cry in the wilderness is actually a harbinger of the strongly held but largely unspoken beliefs of the masses. Social media provides businesses with an opportunity to magnify these isolated voices in order to better gauge the pulse of customers. Allowing users to direct the conversational flow and following it wherever it may lead are two important lessons all businesses should learn and incorporate into their social media strategies.