Social media applications are embedded into our everyday lives, personally and professionally. These tools are generally intuitive and encourage collaboration, the sharing of information, and relationships built across a variety of conduits. This trend is well established and now businesses are exploring when and how they can utilize social media to help enhance business interactions that stimulate the innovation and product development process.
Tucker Marion, Professor of Technological Entrepreneurship at the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, is an expert in these processes and tools. He has been at the forefront of the movement seeking to understand the relationship between technology and entrepreneurship, and how it influences the development phase of new products. We spoke to Tucker to learn more about the impact that IT tool usage, specifically social media applications, has on the product planning process.
“We found that the use of these new social media tools is significantly lower than the adoption of traditional IT tools such as e-mail and computer-aided-design,” said Marion. “Traditional tools have a significant, positive impact on new product development, including team collaboration, ideas generated and management evaluation.”
Recently, companies have begun to invest in information technology (IT) tools and services in order to improve the new product development process. Among these are a variety of social media tools that aim to allow users to easily communicate, collaborate, manage and launch new products and services.
Somewhat surprisingly, Marion also revealed that to date, studies show that social networking tools like blogs and Twitter negatively impact management evaluation of the project phase, while having no impact on new product development, team collaboration and concepts generated.
“What we found suggests that social networks like Twitter and Facebook are not helpful to the product development process,” explained Marion. “However, many of these tools and styles of communication are so new to the business community that it’s too soon to determine a definite answer.”
How can innovators and entrepreneurs integrate insight gleaned from social media tools into their new product development? After all, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have become so widely used that their social media efforts have created vast marketplaces of ideas for firms to identify consumer opinion and emerging trends.
“Companies that embrace collaborative communication technologies of all kinds show the most significant improvement in innovative product development,” explained Marion. “When companies increase knowledge sharing in a constructive way, they can develop a concept or prototype that is appealing to the consumer.”
Companies still struggle to understand how to utilize social media to stimulate innovative product development in a practical, measurable way. So far, there are a few areas of practice that show promise in generating actual business value for idea generation. For instance, using social media to supplement market research can save companies time and money. Social technologies also make it easier for teams to collaborate, solve problems and share important information and knowledge. Social capabilities can provide the means to analyze initial consumer feedback, making it easier to incorporate back into the product development pipeline.
These new channels for dialogue allow for more direct feedback, which means products can be developed faster and more cheaply than in years past.
In this video, Tucker Marion explains his motivation to understand the relationship between information technology, new social media tools and the new product development phase:
Does your organization currently use social media to innovate product development? What challenges has your company experienced when using social product innovation to enhance innovation or product development processes?
For more detail on this research, a recently published journal article can be downloaded here.