Multi-Target Look at Social Media and Open Innovation

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aimsGiven social media’s incredible reach and the potential for new and even more amazing platforms to quickly evolve, companies must begin to figure out how to leverage this tremendous power. The starting point, I believe, is to understand that a multi-target approach is needed because most open innovation efforts lie in three different circles. There is often a significant overlap, but we still need to look at each of them separately.

These circles are:

• The innovation community: Here we have thought leaders, academics, consultants, service providers and corporate voices on innovation. This community can bring credibility to the innovation capabilities of a company and this credibility can turn out to be very important in the next circle, the innovation ecosystem.

• The innovation ecosystem: This is the most important circle for companies serious about open innovation as this is where things actually happen. The ecosystem includes the partners (primarily other companies such as suppliers and startups, institutions and universities) that help create the innovation output. It is very much about business-to-business.

Today, very few companies are limited to just one choice when it comes to picking innovation partners and it is important for aspiring innovation leaders to become the “preferred partner of choice” within their industry when it comes to innovation. This takes us back to the credibility that can be earned in the innovation community. Let’s say that a potential partner googles your company and discovers that your company is mentioned in blogs, articles and that you or your colleagues talk at conferences. This will put you in a better position than other potential partners not having this credibility.

• Customers and users: Some companies and industries more than others need to pay serious attention to the third circle, which is their own customers and users as well as those of their partners in the innovation ecosystem.

The importance of each circle varies from company to company and so does the overlap between the circles. Companies need to find out how this works for them and since the circles are different, they also need to apply different social media tools to them.

The key to developing these circles is through interaction and involvement, which is exactly what social media offer you the ability to do. With social media you can reach out to new topic experts, create communities of people interested in solving a problem, and showcase your company’s innovation leadership. These are all worthy objectives, but integrating social media into your innovation efforts also provides hard-core business benefits.

In a survey done by research company Kalypso over 90 manufacturing firms, they found that over one-half of the firms were already using social media in product innovation to some extent. The business benefits these companies said they were gaining as a result of using social media for innovation included more and better new product ideas or requirements, faster time to market, faster product adoption, lower product costs and lower product development costs.

A key element in disruptive innovation is that you need to be open for new kinds of input and this is where social media can play an important role. If done right, social media can help you bring in unexpected contributions from unexpected or previously unknown sources.

Becoming the visionary

Social media offers five key aspects that support open innovation:

1) better interaction with customers, consumers, and other partners

2) idea generation and feedback loops for the ideas that are being developed

3) business intelligence that helps you better understand your ecosystem

4) identification of new people who can assist in your innovation efforts, and

5) branding, promotion, and marketing of innovation outcomes as well as corporate innovation capabilities

Many social media skeptics do not see much value in this today. This is fair enough as it is indeed hard to find good cases and evidence on such efforts, but please remember that we are still in the very early phases on this intersection of social media tools and open innovation. I ask everyone to look two years ahead. This is where things will really start to fall into place as we all get more experience with tools and services that continue to develop at a fast pace and in directions that are hard to foresee.

If you are a corporate innovation leader, I urge you to not only look two years ahead but also to be the visionary in your company as well as in your industry. Expose your employees and your external stakeholders to social media and learn as you go. Yes, there will be initiatives that do not work, but you will adapt and the experiences gained can bring competitive advantages in the short, mid and long-term.

Similarly, if you are working in an entrepreneurial environment, you need to stay abreast of what is happening in the social media/open innovation space because of the opportunities that might arise for you to introduce yourself into the innovation ecosystem of corporations that are looking for the types of solutions you can offer. With more and more corporations adopting social media as a way to reach out to potential partners, the world of opportunities open to entrepreneurial companies will grow and grow.

Where could this all lead? I believe the possibilities are endless. Disruptive innovation, which lets you create a whole new market where none existed before, is the holy grail of innovation. After giving a presentation on the value of social media in innovation efforts, one of the participants shared his views: “I don’t believe social media can help bring out disruptive innovation.”

It was an interesting statement. First of all, I do not believe that you can plan for disruptive innovation. It simply has too many unknowns (technology or market-wise) making it difficult to plan for it. However, I am a strong believer that organizations can create the right conditions and environment for disruptive innovation to happen.

A key element in disruptive innovation is that you need to be open for new kinds of input and this is where social media can play an important role. If done right, social media can help you bring in unexpected contributions from unexpected or previously unknown sources.