For savvy companies, social media has become more than a place to listen to customers complain or rave about their products. It’s become a new form of R&D.Now Facebook, Twitter, and more specialised online tools are helping businesses find customers to give them feedback on products—or even participate in their design before they’re built.
Best-selling author and global consultant Francis Gouillart has dubbed this phenomenon the “co-creation effect.”
“Social media has liberated social forces,” he told Business Insider. “We thought traditionally of ourselves as a helpless individual, now everyone can be in a group. I can get a couple of people passionate about a topic and we have a means of being heard.”
“What used to be a fairly isolated political process has become a form of business,” says Gouillart.
Communities can spontaneously form on the Internet in a way that they just can’t do in real life. People can sign Internet petitions and then organise themselves into physical protests from there. They can jointly contribute to crowd-funded projects on Kickstarter and other sites.
“The whole democratization of business is a result of that,” said Gouillart.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out. Take, for example, Facebook’s abandonment of a system where it asked users to vote on planned privacy-policy changes. The social network said it didn’t get enough helpful feedback out of the process.
If Facebook struggles to harness the co-creation effect, do ordinary businesses have any hope? Yes, if they look at social media as more than a marketing tool.
Procter & Gamble has become the master of this. Campaigns on its Facebook page have helped it increase sales of Pepto-Bismol, Secret deodorant and Iams pet food.
And marketing is fine as far as it goes. But true co-creation is the next step.
Quirky, a manufacturing-services startup, is probably the best example. People submit ideas for $10 and other site visitors choose the best. If an idea is chosen, Quirky will make the product and pay a lifetime royalty for it.
But Quirky isn’t the only form of co-creation. Sites like Instructables let people share their designs.
And sites like IdeaScale let companies gather interested individuals and brainstorm new ideas.
The platform you use isn’t as important as a willingness to engage in conversations—and to think of your customers as collaborators.