Originally published in 2013.
While the emergence of social media has begun to radically shift the discourse between citizen and government, it also has shifted the conversation between worker and management as well as between the corporation and the consumer. Perhaps one of social media’s greatest contributions is a chance for companies to dialogue directly with their customers (B2B) and, also, their consumers (B2C) on a variety of platforms any time of day. However, it’s also one of the biggest corporate fears!
It’s clear that executives who have taken the bold step and engaged in social media see the impact of its value in areas like brand messaging, market research, targeting specific markets, and the ability to drive purchase. But not yet fully grasped by most large corporations and companies are the contributions that can be made to product innovation by a direct dialogue with their highly devoted user communities. These very dynamic user communities are a vibrant source for disruptive innovation. The dedicated, some might even say fanatical, consumer has skin in the game and the motivation to innovate and adapt products in ways almost impossible for internal corporate innovation groups to imagine as they are steeped in corporate culture and, despite their best efforts, the status quo.
These continuing advances in computer and communications capabilities translates to the present day in a very liberating way for the user communities, but also the average consumer. What were once considered merely productivity tools for work has opened up a world of consumer creativity as these “tools” have moved from the office environment to the home computer to the laptop, tablet, and mobile phone. Now, the relative simplicity with which any consumer can contribute their ideas to the mix encourages and fosters creativity.
In his 2007 TED Talk, researcher Charles Leadbeater laid out a compelling case that innovation isn’t just for professionals these days. “Passionate amateurs, using new tools, are creating products and paradigms that companies can’t. … These tools turn users into producers, consumers into designers.” [Charles Leadbeater on Innovation, TED 2007]
User innovators and designers have also spawned the another archetype: the consumer curator. A great resource for product research and innovative use of adjacent product categories it is a rich area to mind formarket research, consumer attitudes and community trends. The emergence of sites like Pinterest allow even the consumers who are not quite able to push the boundaries of innovation to have a creative outlet where they get to pick their personal preferences and “innovate”.
Corporations take note, the creative chi of the computer mixed with an “open” environment has been infused with the creative soul of the crafter and is melding in the heart and mind of the consumer.
We are witnessing the emergence of a new participatory consumer who seeks more than just a choice, but also a voice. Listen and leverage.