3 Ways to Use Social Media for Product Research and Development

social media how toAre you looking for creative ideas for your next product or service?

Have you considered the wellspring of social media conversations as a source of product or service innovation?

Keep reading to discover how you can tap social media to enhance the development of your next great product.

Social Media for Product Research?

Yes, that’s correct… you can use social media-based conversations, feedback, comments, complaints and more as a source of research and development! This can be especially handy for smaller businesses that do not have big budgets for R&D.

Social media is not as planned or controlled as a focus group when it comes to research and development; however, with concentrated time and dedication you can use these channels to your company’s advantage. And, ultimately, you can benefit the very people you’re polling about improved and new products and services.

Innovation does not have to be limited to just within your company walls, so consider getting started with the following three steps.

#1: Establish your roadmap

Ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Are you looking for feedback on how to improve a customer-service process within your company? Does an existing product have flaws or need a new look? Are you looking to develop an entirely new product or service? Do your customers have a need for a product or service that you have not thought of?

Establishing your goals before you begin the research will allow you to develop a roadmap for success. If you know what you’re hoping to accomplish before you start, you’ll set yourself up for keeping on track, correcting if you steer off track and of course restructuring or closing down the research if you’re coming up with nothing in the area you’re seeking.

Part of the roadmap of goals will need to include the arenas in the social sphere in which you will be conducting the research. Not every social channel may be the right avenue.

  • YouTube may come in handy if you want people to watch a series of new product demonstrations.

Cisco is one of many companies using social media forms, including YouTube to spread the word about new products and services to not just customers, but their large workforce as well.

  • Twitter may be useful if you need to reach larger numbers of your audience and receive quick feedback.

In 2008, Zappos asked their Twitter followers to help them rewrite the confirmation email customers receive upon placing an order with the company. They wanted to add more “pizzazz” to the piece, so they held a contest to encourage their followers to participate in the rewriting process. The company’s CEO prioritizes deep connections with the customers as a way to provide the products and services those individuals want and need.

  • Creating a Facebook app would permit you means for social co-creation with your fans.

VitaminWater sourced their latest drink flavor from participants on the company’s fan page. They offered fans the opportunity to combine their favorite flavors into a winning idea that would benefit the company with low-cost crowdsourcing and product development, and the fans with not only the chance at the $5,000 prize for the winning flavor, but creative input into a brand they value.

Jonathon Meiri, creator of Superfly.com, shares how his business discovered they could harness the power of social media for product innovation.

“Around the time that we launched (mid-May), we set up Facebook fan pages for Superfly as well as for various elite flier groups. We wanted to facilitate interactions among users of a particular frequent-flier program and get a sense for where their pain points would be. In our case, it’s like being invited to one of the elite airline lounges and sitting in on a conversation between two elite travelers, understanding their pain, and then building the products to solve it.”

superfly

Superfly takes pride in actively driving their new product and service development from customer feedback on social sites such as Facebook.

And Shashank Nigam, of Simpliflying.com, points out that many nontraditional businesses are employing social media and harnessing the power of their audience’s innovative insights. “Airlines, airports and hotels are increasingly seeing social media as an inexpensive and easy way to seek and incorporate customer feedback,” he said.

For example, Estonian Air recently launched “My Estonian Air” project, where it invited members of the public to improve any aspect of the program.

estonian air

Estonian Air is asking their audience to help them build the airline from the ground up to better match the customers' service and product wishes!

And another thoughtful example is Intercontinental Hotels Group. The company has a private community of its top guests who are often asked for suggestions as a substitute for focus groups. Such efforts are not only less expensive and more efficient than traditional focus groups; they also help build a relationship with the customers through engagement.

priority club rewards

Priority Club Rewards undertook extensive global research to better understand the attitudes and habits of hotel guests.

These are only a few of the considerations to weigh when establishing your research plan. Goals, tactics and implementation will vary based on the company and project needs.

#2: Pose relevant questions and collect the data

Your roadmap will dictate your expectations and needs for your research and help to give shape to the questions to ask your audience. While the questions asked will need to support your overarching goals for the research, they should also serve to elicit an answer too.

Remember the medium you are working within. Asking formal or stale questions in an informal environment (Twitter, Facebook, a blog, etc.) may result in little or no feedback. A question that may work on your blog might not work for a Twitter audience.

A great example of a company crowdsourcing input for new service development was conducted by AirTran Airways in spring 2009. At the time, the airline was looking for feedback from their audience on what new service should be offered on every AirTran flight. So they posed the query via a clever website which asked one productive and meaningful question of the audience members: “What do you think should be on every AirTran flight?”

The response and feedback from fans was gangbusters and quite creative! After several weeks, the message was clear from all of the ballots submitted online. The audience wanted Wi-Fi on every flight. AirTran asked the right question, collected the data and delivered upon that request. Wi-Fi is now an option on every AirTran flight!

airtran

The answer to AirTran's crowdsourced question was clear: the audience wanted Wi-Fi on every flight!

You may not need to create the conversation. When you begin asking your questions, you may find ongoing conversations that hold the answers you seek. Don’t be afraid to join the conversation!

Organizing and recording the responses received to your relevant questions are a must. Through organization and analysis of the data, insights and trends will begin to arise and can give shape to your future product and service innovation and development.

#3: Put the data collected to work

If you have indicated to your audience that you are working on an initiative and plan to carry it out, deliver on that promise. If the audience has given their time to share their needs and wants, reward that effort (within reason).

Jonathon Meiri of Superfly.com explains how his team put collected data to use:

“Our ‘elite circles’ feature is a direct result of our Facebook fan pages. We realize that elite users love interacting with other elite travelers. Just like a social graph, we let users interact with other users in their ‘circle.’ We found that whenever you put them together, they start comparing notes—first about the specific programs, and then they start exchanging valuable information about their travel plans, destination, hotel, etc. Superfly already has that data, so we simply make it easily accessible within an exclusive environment.”

Take the data collected to your development teams. If a service can be improved upon, improve it. If you have the resources to create a new product, create it.

Alan Brocious, a consultant for United Concordia, shares how the company achieved great success by listening to the needs of their audience through social media to develop products to meet those needs.

“United Concordia needed to find a more efficient way to communicate with the internationally based military spouse community. Many military families move from base to base across the world and have to find proper dental care at each duty post that accepts the government insurance plan managed by United Concordia. This can be a very frustrating process because of getting all the proper military paperwork in order.

“By using Facebook to send targeted benefit information and answers to commonly asked questions, along with base visits, a community was created. United Concordia researched needs using Facebook and is able to help thousands of military families for a much lower cost and develop relationships with the Facebook fan page members.

“We don’t measure the number of likes and fans, but the number of ‘thank-yous‘ that are received from posts and answers to questions. This gives United Concordia insight into the success of the social networking effort because the spouses began recommending the site to other military spouses.”

united concordia

United Concordia researched needs using Facebook.

The most important thing to remember when considering all of these factors is that you’ll need to invest time and energy—this process will not happen on its own. When leveraging the opinions and thoughts of the masses, you will have to interact with them on a real-time basis. Is it worth the time invested? It certainly could be, even if just for the lessons learned!

You may be surprised to learn that your customers do not just want to buy/receive products and services from your company, they want to actually participate in the process, too!

Research and development is a necessary process and essential to company growth. If you are not at least researching new opportunities, critically evaluate why you are not. Social media is a cost-effective and efficient means to get started!

What do you think? What do you use to listen to your customers? Leave your comments in the box below.

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About the Author, Stephanie Gehman

Stephanie Gehman is the marketing manager for Harrisburg International Airport in Pennsylvania. She writes, blogs, speaks and teaches on the full gambit of traditional and emerging marketing touch points. Other posts by »




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  • http://twitter.com/EricaConroy Erica Conroy

    Great ideas Stephanie - 

    The SaaS company that I work for has been considering integrating a lot of these services into our software. Through being able to track (by the exact individual) and control the coupons that you put out as well as the feedback. The who and why are the most important parts of consumer behavior for brands, businesses and agencies. 

    Erica 
    CoupSmart.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/angela.hausman Angela Hausman

    I see social networks as an incredibly valuable tool for understanding consumers.  Great ideas for how to incorporate them into your social media marketing program, Stephanie.  

    But you can sometimes get better information from listening to consumers.  When you ask them questions, they sometimes manufacture answers on the spot and these answers have little validity.  It’s a perennial problem with market research.

    If you set up your listening post properly, you can listen to how they construct their world and the problems they face.  Once you’ve identified problems, you can start building solutions. And consumers buy solutions, not products.  Here’s a post I wrote on how to listen to create innovation: http://hausmanmarketresearch.org/how-to-use-social-media-in-your-innovation-strategy

  • http://twitter.com/tracy_keith Tracy Keith

    I agree that it’s critical to listen and engage with your customers through social media, and there are appropriate situations where questions can be used. That helps build engagement and it’s effective when it’s related to improving the online experience.

    However, it’s important to remember that this may not be an accurate representation of your entire customer base. It’s a great source for ideas and feedback, but it can be dangerous if you rely upon this as your only sounding board to guide your marketing and R&D decision-making. In fact, we have found this with some of our clients when conducting research studies—what they assumed they’d find based on their perceptions turned out not to be the case. Investing in a more structured research study can pay off by ensuring your decisions are based on statistically sound methodologies.

  • http://www.rodkirby.com/ Rod Kirby

    These are some great case study’s Stephanie! I use my blog to listen to my customers. I typically host a survey at the end of the year to gauge what services & products would help them achieve their goals in the next year. I’ve found this to be an excellent way to do product research. The best part of all, a lot of my questions are open-ended so they feedback is invaluable!

  • http://www.rodkirby.com/ Rod Kirby

    That’s true, Tracy, but that’s what scares most companies – letting go control over “the message or brand” in a sense. But, what companies have to realize is that letting go a little bit is the key to gaining a whole lot [in terms of customer engagement and loyalty]. Crowd sourcing utilizes this method of giving control over a task, brand, or message to “the people” and it works pretty well. The key is to leverage your results and really dig out the gold from the stuff you don’t want.

  • http://treasurycafe.blogspot.com/ david k waltz

    I will expand on Tracy’s comments regarding the sampling issue, mainly because, as we are people who are into social media enough to comment on blogs and such, we are much more likely to “drink the kool-aid” than the average person.

    In one of my blogs I noted that even though it is amazing facebook has 750 million or so subscribers, given that there are 7 billion in the world makes this still a small, elite cadre of slightly over 10%.

    To take an example from the post, if Air-Trans customer base mimicked the real-world percentages, they would have found that 10% of their customers wanted wi-fi, but possibly the other 90% did not (if they are not on-line users why would they want wi-fi, after all?), and may well have been better off by offering cookies or something on those flights.

    This could have been disasterous under some circumstances (see Netflix, who based their recent decisions in part on what the on-line data was telling them). 

    This is not to take away anything that was said in the article or the comments – it is merely to caution about being very careful when extrapolating from the active, on-line universe to the general public. 

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Absolutely, Erica.  Thanks for the feedback and the recent follow on Twitter!  

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Angela, are you familiar with the “listening posts” set up by Gatorade and Dell?  They have incredible tools and staff in place for monitoring the social sphere and listening to how consumers want the products/services offered improved.

    Thank you for sharing your blog, too!

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Tracy, the idea was not to indicate that social media is the end-all, cure-all for R&D, but that it can be a great tool in your product/service innovation and improvement arsenal.  Thank you for your feedback!

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thanks for providing examples how how you’re putting social R&D into practice, Rod!  What types of products/services are you developing with the feedback you’ve received to-date?

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Great feedback, David.  These social tools can be used in conjunction with traditional, offline forms of R&D.  

  • http://www.rodkirby.com/ Rod Kirby

    I’m launching some cool services for Small Business Saturday [which is Nov 26th] such as a blog review & enhancement service, a comprehensive package for social media marketing start-up (includes blog development, coaching, custom articles, custom facebook fan page, and more for under $500), and I’m launching some live seminars next year as well. 

    The one thing my survey readers have said the most is they want personal products/services instead of just “another social media tool” that they have to do themselves. So, this could be a key differentiator for marketers in 2012.

  • http://twitter.com/EricaConroy Erica Conroy

    Hi Stephanie! 

    Thanks for the message and tweeting! I am very interested in all of the things you seem to be involved with. It seems we have some connection points that may need to be discussed in the future! 

  • Mark Salke

    Good points, David. It seems obvious but it is crucial to know your market and your audience and to pose your questions carefully, lest you receive exactly the ‘answers’ you were looking for!

  • Mark Salke

    Stephanie,

    I am seeing some very interesting possibilities for making use of these. Thanks for the insights.

  • Idahorucinclub

    That is the kind of information needed now because of how social network has been gain ground. I have used social network to get some insight from my costumers and the information i got from them helped me a lot. Thanks for the post.

  • http://justindupre.com/ Justin Dupre

    Great post. Thanks for sharing this.

  • vera chen

    Stephanie,

    Thanks for the insights. I’m going to try some of the ways to do a research on our new product idea.

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thank you, Vera.  Which applications do you think you’ll try?

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thank you, Justin.  What in particular did you enjoy about the post?

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thank you for your feedback!

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thanks, Mark!  Will you be researching a new product or service?

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Thanks, Rod.  And, good luck with your new tools for Small Business Saturday!

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook, you’ll find the link to my profile on my Twitter account, Erica.  Thanks!

  • Cornell94

    As a (IR) for a company called “North American Power” I’m looking for the right re-cruiting system. as I invite individuals to take a serious look at my  website with a a open-mind; I’m not sure if their minds are open, or if they’re even going to my site or not. http://www.napower.biz/117083 if there is anyone out there have a great suggestion, will you please pass it on to me.

  • http://www.rodkirby.com/ Rod Kirby

    Thanks, Stephanie!

  • http://twitter.com/airport_girl Stephanie Gehman

    You’re welcome, Rod.  Be sure to let me know how it goes at @airport_girl! 

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  • http://twitter.com/EricaConroy Erica Conroy

    Just messaged you! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/HowardBIA Howard Morton

    Social media is a great way to come to grips on customer sentoment in an “unfiltered” way. The challenge however is to distill the insights.

  • http://www.socialmarketingdynamics.com/ Sydney @ Social Dynamics

    Active social participation would only further fuel a bond between customers and brands. And when they see that they helped create a product, they’d probably participate more and be more engaged in your future conversations.

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    While many organizations are familiar with using social media for outbound marketing and communications, the research indicates that leveraging social media for product innovation is a new concept for most. 

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    Social media will be more powerful to reach more readers in the wide. Nowadays, twitter may be more useful to reach a large number of audience on here. Thanks a lot for given up here :)

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  • http://www.i95dev.com/ecommerce-magento Henry Louis

    Yes. Now-a-days social media plays very important role in getting good results in our business as mentioned above. The above mentioned tips are more helpful to improve our business. Good informative post.

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    social media is the happening thing today! while giant companies establish a huge number of followers soon, small companies take time to get followers (twitter) or fans (fb)… how exactly should those companies go about, especiallu if they are new, to spread the word? 

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  • interested

    How about when a customer makes a social media post that points out a missing piece of information; lets say a website has a lot of good information but is short on directions to said location. So a customer logs on to the social media site that belongs to aforementioned website and posts a comment about the multiple suggestions this particular customer has made about listing GPS directions. Then the person in control of the social media then deletes that post. How would that be defined in the using of social media to advance a business?

  • interested

    How about when a customer makes a social media post that points out a missing piece of information; lets say a website has a lot of good information but is short on directions to said location. So a customer logs on to the social media site that belongs to aforementioned website and posts a comment about the multiple suggestions this particular customer has made about listing GPS directions. Then the person in control of the social media then deletes that post. How would that be defined in the using of social media to advance a business?

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  • Kaustubh Dhargalkar

    hi Stephanie,
    good info, i really empathized with ur point # 2- ” pose relevant questions & collect the data”

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    I visit this blog
    so many time,because every time something new,and I read all articale your
    blog, very interesting.Nice effort, very informative, this will help me to
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