Social Media’s Role in Product Design and Development

New Product DevelopmentThere was a time when companies weren’t the least bit interested to hear what consumers had to say about their products. Well, times have changed. Don’t get me wrong, there are still those companies who will remain nameless (although you know who you are) that could care less about what we think―even though they should.

It’s no secret that social media has become a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, with an ever-expanding role beyond its original “social” intentions. People have flocked to social media to interact with one another regardless of geographic boundaries, easily sharing information, discussing common interests, collaborating on ideas, and building a network of relationships. Consumers also use their social networks to seek advice, discuss and/or offer recommendations on products and services.

Who needs focus groups when you have social media channels literally at your fingertips? These channels can provide companies with a real-time, beeline to a marketplace from which to gather valuable feedback—both the good and the bad—about their products.

Corporate social media strategies aimed at truly facilitating engagement and two-way conversations with customers provide the type of insight that can―and does―impact the design, development and even the production of goods and services. The ability to gain product feedback from customers in a relatively inexpensive way is quickly becoming one of social media’s biggest benefits.

Solidify Social Media Strategies as a Team

Many companies are still getting their feet wet when it comes to strategically using social media tools to help drive sales, let alone influence product development. It’s often difficult for brands to see where and how to leverage social media conversations, when they’re taking place across a number of different platforms, sometimes at the speed of light.

Finding and acting on insights garnered from social conversations calls for the right combination of clear objectives, planning, technology and people. And while social media functions often fall under the marketing department, those in charge of product design and development should be involved in this type of initiative from the onset.

Monitoring social networks is a good first step to using social media in product development. Product designers and managers can not only learn what customers like and don’t like about their products (as well as their competition), but can also get ideas on improvements as well as what new features and functions might appeal to consumers in the future.

Companies are also using social media on the front end of the design process, replacing more expensive methods such as traditional focus groups and formal market research. Even crowdsourcing is building momentum as brands begin to feel more comfortable looking outside their four walls for new, innovative product ideas.

By allying product design and development with today’s social media, companies can leverage this strategy to their advantage. Starbucks, for example, uses its “My Starbucks Idea” initiative to collect, aggregate and share customers’ views about improving the company’s products and services. Customers can then go to to see ideas actively being considered as well as those that have been implemented.

Social Media Brings Economic Value to the Equation

According to a recent study conducted by Kalypso, an international consulting firm, nearly half of the companies surveyed (46 percent) have gained more new product ideas from the use of social media in product innovation. On a more important note, about the same percentage (43 percent) have benefitted from better new product ideas.

You don’t have to be a math major to realize the economic value that social media provides in this respect: new products (that customers actually want and will use) entering the marketplace quicker, with fewer quality and service issues. Oh, the harmony of it all!

Is your company using social media to its full advantage?

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