Social Media and Innovation by Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions
In the previous article I concluded the discussion around Innovation Centres and gave an opinion on the suitability of these structures in the Namibian context. On the topic of trends, social media has become second nature in our daily commotion and it has now started to stick its head out in the corporate environment as well.
Where it was fairly recently still frowned upon when employees spend time on Facebook and Twitter in working hours, it seems that corporates have now started to accept that they can not fight this behavioural trend. So in the light of embracing a “if you can’t beat them, join them” attitude, social media has now become an accepted means of communication in organisations, and in this issue, I want to look at how this medium can be used for innovation.
Listening and Collaboration
In essence there are two ways in which social media can be “applied” for innovation: The one is finding out what your customers are saying about your company, your products and your services, and the other one is using it as a means to source ideas and to collaborate to develop ideas further.
For the former, all you need to do is simply observe what customers are posting, tweeting and sharing about your business. Notice not only the questions and concerns that arise, but also those that come into your business by phone, chat, e-mail or any other way customers contact you.
As you read and listen, consider: What customers like about your products or services. Can you come up with related products or services, expand on the products or services that are especially popular, or add new products or services with similar features and benefits?
Pay attention to what customers dislike about your products or services. How could you improve the features that aren’t meeting customers’ needs? Should these products or services be eliminated and replaced with something entirely different? What are the common questions customers ask about your products or services. If lots of customers repeatedly have problems understanding or operating what you sell, you’ve pinpointed an area where further innovation is needed. You can also use social media to see what customers are saying about your key competitors.
With regards to using social media to source ideas and to collaborate for innovation, the basic premise for this medium is the fact that innovation can come from anywhere, and at its core, innovation is a social activity. It requires collaboration and active participation to create results.
What’s in it for employees?
Participation: Collective innovation stands and falls with its community’s continuous active participation. The more people brainstorm and contribute their insights around a certain challenge, the sooner ideas can be found and prioritized. Idea updates in the conversation stream keep current innovation challenges top-of-mind and engage more people inside the organisation to participate. Stories of executives submitting, voting or commenting on ideas will help signal which ideas are supported by the leadership team.
Visibility: Snapshots of ideas brainstormed and suggested by co-workers can spark more ideas from others. It also allows people with relevant information to chime in quickly and help develop or disqualify ideas. In addition, innovation stories can help to bring more experts to the surface.
Efficiency: With so much going on in organisations, it’s easy to oversee opportunities to contribute value, drive progress or create results more efficiently. With the idea updates right inside one stream, keeping an overview and acting quickly on specific matters is much easier.
It is always important to remember that social media feedback must be managed. It is no good having a facebook or twitter presence and then not monitoring the contributions and conversations. There must be an appointed person(s) whose responsibility it is to digest the enormous stream of opinions and to extract what is relevant for further action by the company.
Using social media in corporate organisations for innovation is not a new concept, but in my view, the jury is still out on the success of this practice in the Namibian business environment.
I conclude with a quote from Mr. Facebook himself, Mark Zuckerberg: “When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place.”