We're seeing some interesting successes in how companies have used social media to drive open innovation. I like the example of Ecomagination from GE, and how they had a high degree of social media interaction. They used YouTube, blogs, communities, Twitter; all kind of mechanisms. Some worked better than others, but not only did they manage to get a tremendous buzz on their initiatives here, but they also learned so much about what's going to be valuable in which situations.
That's a challenge with social media, there's not just one approach here; for example you can't just have a LinkedIn network. You need to have five or six different kinds of tools and services and you need to understand they have their purposes, their strengths and weaknesses according to different scenarios. And that means you are going to have a very complex situation where you need to find the right match in order to serve your needs the best way. I like to see what different companies are doing with their communities.
Another example that springs to mind is to look at a community site like IngenuityWorking.com, which is run by Psion, a maker of rugged mobile computers that was recently acquired by Motorola. They have created a community that not only showcases their innovation assets and needs, it also enables an entire ecosystem to discuss innovation and exchange ideas. What if two companies connect here, come up with a great idea and then want Psion to be involved?
This could lead to an unforeseen opportunity for Psion and since it comes from unexpected sources, it might even have a disruptive potential. Psion has created a system in which they've got the conditions and the environment for disruptive innovation in place. However, this is only at the early stages – the front end of innovation – as Psion still needs to have processes in place to turn such ideas into revenues.
What are some of the challenges that could affect take-up?
We're just at the end of the beginning of seeing how to use social media for business purposes and even earlier for innovation purposes.
The challenge is also that many people in many industries don't even know how to use social media, but it's getting a lot of traction now, a lot of attention; we are only getting started. I believe that a few years from now you're not going to be the only guy in the sandbox playing with these; you're going to have more people coming in. And the more people you have coming into this sandbox, the more interesting it is going to get.
But you can get value out of this already today, and that's even beyond the value of just getting the lessons first. You can get better interactions and you can get lots of business intelligence using social media today and that business intelligence can be used to develop new products and services. You can reach out to people you've never thought of before and get better access to that knowledge.
And just imagine five to ten years from now what the world is going to look like. Everyone is going to have a smartphone, and since everyone is going to have a smartphone, everyone can get access to new kinds of information so mobility is going to be another huge factor in terms of how to use social media. It's not going to be computer based it's going to be based on the mobility factor.
It's going to be scary; it's going to be interesting to see where it's going to go.
One of the issues to accept is that you cannot keep up with everything, the change is happening so fast, developments are happening so fast.
So one of the biggest challenges in this complex world of social media opportunities is how can we choose the right mix of social media tools and services that can help our innovation efforts? That's going to be one of the key questions.
Too much rapid change could scare people away?
You have a catch-22 in that people who don't really buy into this don't invest any time to understand how social media works. But the problem is if you don't invest the time you'll never see the opportunities.
If anything perhaps they should start looking at the stats about social media take up and usage?
I agree with you because this is a mega trend that is unstoppable, this is where it's all heading, so why not just get on board. And the other thing about communities is that the whole world is already one big community – look at Facebook it already has almost one billion users so people are already connected. The challenge is how can we build sub communities that can be tapped into.
Open innovation via social media requires a multi-target approach with many touch-points to your innovation community, your innovation ecosystem, and customers and users.
Social media is growing at an unprecedented pace and we can expect new platforms to continue emerging. Companies of all sizes need to start working on the intersection of social media and open innovation now in order to reap future benefits.
Now is the time to become the visionary leader in your company and in your industry when it comes to navigating the intersection of open innovation and social media.
To get started, ask yourself how many important innovation partners you have within your corporate umbrella, what value could these partners bring to your company if they were able to interact with each other, and how you can make this happen.