Innovate Products Faster: Social Technology: The New Secret Weapon for Accelerating Innovation & Speed in Product Development

Never has it been more important to innovate on an accelerated timeline. Yet many companies are stuck in the myth that you cannot achieve both innovation and speed in new product development.  This is not true! Our research has found that you can get both by tapping the collective minds of your employees and your customers to ideate faster by using social technologies.  Many companies use social solutions in marketing and customer support, but they can also apply them to the product development process to increase both innovation and time to market.  The most important aspect of applying social technologies to product innovation is the ability to create a “community” of technical thought leaders where they can share, build upon, and develop ideas. However, you need a methodology to prioritize and implement these solutions. You can apply social communities internally to harness the innovative thinking and problem solving across the company. You can also use them as an ideation and collaboration platform with your customers. For geographically dispersed organizations, social solutions are a superior method for gathering, evaluating, and managing internal ideas.  And there are several third-party social collaboration tools that are available from companies including Spigit, BrightIdea, Communispace and Innocentive, to help you collect and manage the new set of data that comes with social innovation.

While similar to the concepts of Open Innovation, our research is broader, and demonstrates that applying social technologies can extend throughout the entire product life cycle.  The use of community can add value to innovation and accelerate product delivery beyond ideation to product design, testing and early feedback.

The application of new social technologies in the product development space is a new approach for companies, and we see it becoming an increasingly important methodology. TCGen conducted a benchmark study to identify what companies are applying social technologies to product development and to identify emerging best practices.  Here are the key takeaways:

  • Innovation does not have to be unbounded in time. Social innovation allows teams to innovate quickly and repeatedly compared to the open-ended traditional research approach.

  • Social innovation systems reduce the cost of innovation by leveraging ideas and facilitating lean product development with small teams by eliminating travel and using virtual focus groups.

  • The quantity of data from a community is not a substitute for quality. The selection of clearly defined, closed communities with screened participants results in higher quality and more relevant input.

  • There is no need for investment in homegrown social media tools. Good commercial solutions are available, and many of these are cloud based applications can be applied to product creation out of the box.

  • Social innovation tools can provide most of the benefits of in-person Voice of the Customer without the expense of travel. This enables cost effective entry into emerging markets.

  • User Generated Content (UGC) in the form of photographs from a well-defined community of provided product designers with a visual image of the product environment.

  • There are five fundamental components that enable successful social innovation – mastering them all will lead to “success in a box”. They include: Screening Members, Providing Rewards, Coordinating Corporate Leadership, Hiring Qualified Community Management, and Using Existing Tools. These are “table stakes”.

  • The best results came from study participants that mastered three elements: closed and tightly managed communities, time bounded campaigns, and quality user generated content. These separate the “best from the rest”.

Please visit our website to download a free copy of the full study:

How to get started using social innovation

When companies first applied social media to their enterprises, there was a big rush to implement a social strategy. Unfortunately, many companies stumbled because they jumped before they really understood the framework they needed to be successful. They needed new tools, processes, roles & responsibilities, and decision-making models for successful implementation. Getting the most out of social communities also requires changes in how organizations share information and make decisions. It’s critical to understand these nuances to optimize the effectiveness of this methodology.

We developed the Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard (Innovate Products Faster, page 171) to quickly solve this problem and allow the management team to provide their organization with their best chance at success.

The Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard will ensure that you get the most out of increasing the quality of ideas within your organization and will help accelerate the rich collaboration that leads to groundbreaking innovation.

The Tool:  The Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard

The Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard (see diagram below) is a decision-making tool that provides executives and teams with an objective view of their organizations’ capability to successfully implement social solutions to drive product innovation. The scorecard helps you determine whether or not the team is best prepared to launch a social solution by providing critical questions in ten areas. These include the current use of social technologies outside of product development, level of management commitment, social community resource expertise, maturity of tools, and organizational structure to support the requirements for best-in-class application of social communities. The Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard allows you to identify the critical areas that many organizations overlook and the weak areas that you need to address prior to launching a social development initiative.

The scorecard itself is a spreadsheet that you supplement with a group process. Typically, you would get a subset of your executive staff or senior directors together for a real-time meeting session (could be virtual) that would last one to two hours. To complete the scorecard, the team executes the following steps:

  • Instruct your group on the definition of the various dimensions of readiness

  • Each person in the group individually fills out their scorecards, ranking the readiness of your organization without discussion.

  • The facilitator collects all the scores and computes the average and the standard deviation.

  • In cases where the standard deviation is high, the facilitator asks some of the low-ranking individuals why they rated a dimension low and similarly why high-ranking individuals ranked it high.

  • After comparing differences, your facilitator asks if anyone would like to change their ranking. This gives everyone an opportunity to vote based on a common understanding.

Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard

Below is a sample of the results of a Social Innovation Scorecard.  The boxes in grey indicate those areas where the mean value is less than 3.0.  The team will want to consider further preparation in these areas before launching a social implementation to increase the likelihood of success.



After performing the self-assessment, the next step is to create an action plan. Your facilitator would take the scorecard and the discussion out of the room with them to plan a tune-up if needed (usually identified by low scores in conjunction with corporate need). After the facilitator holds more interviews and collects further data, your organization will have a prioritized list of initiative areas to improve the readiness of your social innovation efforts.

The Benefits of The Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard

  • Provides a new methodology for accelerating innovation and time to market in your product development organization

  • Identifies organizational strengths and weaknesses that will impact your probability of success

  • Helps you avoid mistakes in the implementation process

  • Creates a framework for managing the implementation of social solutions

Social technologies in the enterprise are not a fad, and have expanded beyond the marketing, customer service and training functions.  The best companies have started applying these technologies to product innovation, and in order to deliver innovative products to your customers faster, you should be too!

Example Social Innovation Readiness Scorecard.jpg