The Growing Role of Social Media in Product Design

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Social media is everywhere, having become a somewhat ubiquitous part of everyday life. Its role, however, has expanded beyond people’s social lives. Today, it plays an increasingly important role in the way people interact with the world, allowing them to more easily share information, collaborate, discuss common interests and build relationships. These relationships can be between people but they can also be between organizations and their customers.

As such, these social media channels provide manufacturers with an important avenue by which to garner valuable feedback—both positive and negative—provided by the marketplace about their products. By aligning their innovation and product development strategies with today’s social media, companies can leverage this fundamental communications shift to their strategic benefit.

Social media monitoring leads to better designs

We live in a world of infinite supply. People are inundated with an overwhelming number of choices in products, and as a result, have become much more selective about their purchases. As a product developer, the consumer is your new boss so listening closely to what he or she is saying about your product online should be one of your top priorities. While you’re at it, listening to what they are saying about competing products can be equally beneficial.

Social media monitoring tools are being used by product managers and designers to not only learn what customers don’t like about their products as well as those of their competitors, but also to get ideas on how to improve upon designs and what new functionality consumers are clamoring for so their company can get a jump start on providing the “next big thing” in the future.

Social media’s role in product innovation

Monitoring social networks is just the first step in using social media in product development. Many companies are also using social media in ideation during the front end of the innovation process, replacing more costly methods such as focus groups and formal market research. Techniques, such as crowdsourcing, have also gained momentum as companies look outside their corporate walls in search for new innovative product ideas.

One successful example of crowdsourcing is Quirky, a website that allows people with innovative ideas to become inventors without the financing, engineering, distribution, and legalities normally required. Simply upload an idea to Quirky for $10 and invite anyone in the Quirky community to comment on it. The best designs are designated “product of the week” and those that secure enough buyers get a shot at actual production.

According to the study Social Media and Product Innovation conducted by Kalypso, nearly half of the companies surveyed (46%) have gained more new product ideas from the use of social media in product innovation. Perhaps even more importantly, about the same percentage (43%) have benefitted from better new product ideas. These benefits included faster time to market, faster product adoption, and lower product development costs.

Social media strategies moving forward

The use of social media tools in product development is fairly new and as such, there is a lack of established best practices to follow, making strategies hard to devise. Companies are more likely to benefit from the use of social media when it is carefully aligned with established product development and innovation strategies.

Despite the lack of best practices and proven track record of success, of the companies surveyed in the Kalypso study that indicated that they are using or planning to use social media for product innovation, development and management, 90% are planning to increase their usage over the next 12 months. No companies planned to decrease it.

As social media becomes more embedded in our everyday lives, companies will increasingly turn to it as a source of inspiration to drive higher levels of product innovation and profitability. As they do, best practices will emerge as to how to harness the power of social media to improve all phases of the product lifecycle.

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