Social Media and Product Development – from Theory to Practice


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Many of us have seen those “Did You Know?” videos on YouTube. With millions of views, these compelling videos give facts and stats on globalization in the information age, demonstrating the pervasiveness of social media as a medium for collaboration, knowledge sharing, open discussion and relationship building. This post briefly discusses three areas that show the most promise for generating real business value.

As this trend explodes in our personal lives, innovative companies are piloting social media initiatives to move the needle on business drivers. Recent Gartner research on the trends of using social media to support business processes shows rapid growth and adoption of various mass collaboration platforms to create, share, discuss and co-develop ideas and information.

Despite this, companies still struggle to understand how to apply social media principles and technologies to innovation and product development in a practical, measurable way. With scarce best practices to follow and uncertainty around metrics, companies are clearly still experimenting. Here are three areas that show the most promise for generating real business value, including improved problem solving, enhanced idea generation, increased customer intimacy and expanded development networks.

Front End of Innovation: Next to marketing and communications, the front end of innovation (FEI) is the area where the potential of social product innovation is most clear. Traditional product innovation methods like focus groups and formal market research can be time consuming because of the large amount of strategy and planning involved. Using social media to supplement these activities can save time and money. Companies have had success in FEI using social models and technologies for idea generation, vetting and analysis. This includes collecting new ideas and requirements, community commenting and voting, and reporting and measuring capabilities to help identify and select the best ideas to promote to the innovation pipeline.

Social Product Development: Social media has huge promise in its ability to enhance communication and collaboration during the product development process. Companies are using social models and technologies to create “communities of practice” around various product teams, supporting the way these teams work today and making it easier and faster to collaborate, solve problems and share knowledge. In some cases, the technologies available that support social product development integrate into product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions that are already in place, providing a modern, flexible environment that product development teams enjoy using.

In-Market Support and Sentiment Analysis: This is another business process that can be enhanced by social technologies that help companies listen, collect, gauge and measure feedback on in-market products. Sophisticated sentiment analysis tools are available that help analyze customer sentiment, identify opportunities for new products or features, and incorporate this back into the innovation pipeline.

Is your company using or planning to use social media principles and technologies to innovation and product development? What challenges has your company experienced when using Social Product Innovation to enhance innovation or product development processes? The next blog post in this series will focus on common challenges and approaches to overcome them.

About the author:

Amy Kenly has over 14 years professional experience in innovation, product development and PLM. Kenly, a regular speaker and blogger on social product innovation, has been selected by PDMA to author a chapter on “Social Media and New Product Development” for the upcoming third edition of the PDMA Handbook on New Product Development. Kenly leads Kalypso’s Social Product Innovation practice, which has recently published the white paper “Social Media and Product Development: Early Adopters Reaping Benefits amidst Challenge and Uncertainty.” To access the white paper and research findings, visit

  • Daniel Mitchelmore

    I work for a company that has put the development of tools which enable this at the core of it’s business. We worked with Foolproof to run an online market research campaign which allowed Facebook users to inform the features of a forthcoming RBS Insurance Direct Line app. 
    It was so successful (see that it lead to the development of a social polling application which is now being used by a range of brands including Dr Martens to inform product development and marketing strategy. See for more info.

  • Amy Kenly

    Thanks Daniel, this is a great example of a company that started small with a specific initiative to design a new app. The two-way conversation they’ve started with their customers can lead to even bigger collaboration opportunities. Examples like this should be nominated for SPIKE Awards! Check out

  • Ronald Hermans

    Nice blog Amy ! Thanks for this, looking forward to next blog post, since I’m a bit the evangelist in my company (and implementation of this will be one of the objectives). Very interested in best practises !

  • Amy Kenly

    Thanks Ronald! I think a lot of evangelists like you struggle
    because as soon as you bring up social media in the context of innovation and
    product development, everyone rolls their eyes and says “We’re not going to
    design the next [your product here] with Facebook.” This means evangelists have
    to do a lot of education, and to be frank, even the leaders in this space haven’t
    come up with definitions or best practices they can agree on. Clearly, the more
    we can all engage and share our experiences, the faster we can move things
    along. You might check out the upcoming Social Product Innovation Summit. It’s
    a free virtual summit on October 18th that will focus on this topic
    with expert speakers and plenty of opportunity to network with other attendees.
    More at

  • Patrina Mack

    Amy, I’ll be presenting a webinar for PDMA on the practical application of social media tools to the product development process.  See  Vision & Execution has exploring how to effectively crowdsource product development since I brought the topic of NPD 2.0 tools to the 2008 International Conference.

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  • QKnetwork

    am a Engineering professor at a private
    university in Connecticut. For years I
    boycotted social media sites because I considered it waste of time. Well now
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