Chemical Company Uses Social Media to Boost Innovation

Published Feb-04-13

A specialty chemical company uses social media as an innovation incubator.

Evonik Industries, Germany

The Story:

Chemical Company Uses Social Media to Boost Innovation Social media can be a valuable resource for companies. It can be used to:

1) Test products and services to identify any weaknesses
2) Develop solutions to those problems
3) Come up with product or research ideas
4) Foster innovations

Social media’s strength lies in the ability to be able to connect with diverse people with similar interests i.e., a specific company’s products.

Win-Win Scenario

Organizations benefit because they get access to reliable market research and potentially profitable solutions. They are engaging with a specialized subset of their audience, people who possess great product experience and knowledge.

Consumers may or may not receive financial rewards for their enterprise, but even if they do not, many enjoy participating as it helps to boost their knowledge about a field. There is also the thrill of coming up with and demonstrating their own solutions.

New Thinking

Evonik Industries is a specialty chemical company and one of the largest producers of hydrogen peroxide in the world. It wanted to generate some new thinking about applications for hydrogen peroxide and so in addition to its usual pool of expertise it turned to social media. This online engagement with social media followers proved fruitful.

A number of applications were suggested that the company would not have received otherwise, and they included such ideas as a formula for gold recovery, as an agent to remove mildew stains from walls, and a fuel for DIY helicopters.

The initiative was not a glorified suggestion box as users provided detailed explanation of uses and/or reasoning behind their suggested applications. For example, participants described exactly how the compound is able to remove mildew stains when it is activated by the ultraviolet radiation of sunlight. This approach is less aggressive than other cleaners on the market and so can be applied to more delicate materials such as fabrics.

Following this social media open innovation exercise, Evonik carried out extensive research to assess the market potential of application fields and identify potential partners. These fields then went forward to be worked on by internal project teams.

Social Media and Open Innovation

Although social media is primarily a medium for entertainment it can also be used as a powerful business tool to help organizations innovate and compete more effectively in the global market place.

Two of open innovation’s guiding precepts are that the best people do not work for your organization and that your problem has already been solved by someone else. Social media offers a quick and cost-effective way to access those ideas and individuals.

The intersection of social media and open innovation is a promising evolutionary step in innovation. It is still in its very early stages and the full potential will not be realized for some time. More experiments have to take place, failures experienced, and lessons learned.

But the alignment of physical networks and social media communities in the digital space should ultimately lead to faster and more diverse innovations.

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