Social Product Development

Monday, June 15, 2009

Heightened sense of hearing...

The publishing benefits of social computing are well known and understood. With the advent of blogging, micro-blogging, forums and Wikipedia, there is certainly no shortage of “authors” communicating in an outbound direction. However, the value of social computing as an inbound communication tool – one that helps us get valuable feedback from our customers – is less well understood or practiced.

As a marketing professional, I believe that the most important of the five senses (or arguably six…) is the sense of hearing. Hearing is what allows us to listen (which are two very different things, by the way, but that topic is for another post), and listening is a vastly under developed skill in today’s fast-paced world of product marketing and communications.

In years past, before the advent of social networking, marketers would listen to customers through limited and sometimes clunky mediums, such as in-person focus groups and time-consuming surveys. These “listening” methods were not only expensive, but they recorded just a snap shot in time, and never really cast a wide feedback net. I remember one time organizing a focus group that was held early in the morning so it wouldn’t interfere with the participants work schedule and commitments. Everyone showed up tired and cranky (including the facilitators) because we had interfered with everyone’s regular routine. And to top things off, we committed a focus group faux pas: we served cold coffee…

Do you think we heard accurate customer feedback that day?

Fast-forward to today, where companies can engage with their customers anywhere -- and at any time -- over any number of mediums that are convenient to both parties helping us to better understand customer needs and requirements. Social networking and community building, in the context of product development, facilitates better listening that spans a wider range of customers and an evolving timeframe. Better listening to customer blog posts and comments, or by following customer “tweets” and replies, companies can capture valuable product requirement feedback over the entire product lifecycle rather than just one point in time. This ongoing feedback provides a more complete picture to product managers and design engineers.

Better-informed product managers and design engineer results in better products and faster time-to-market – and we all know the cost-savings benefits of getting to market faster with a better product.

Boil this all down and what you have is this: social computing, and therefore social product development, allows for a heightened sense of hearing and, more accurately, a greater opportunity to LISTEN to your customers. And, those companies that listen better to their customers will be rewarded by them in the marketplace.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Think Engineers and Web 2.0 Don’t Mix? Think Again!

This is what I set out to learn.

First, I read Groundswell in November 2008. In December I pitched to Rob Gremley the idea of having Josh Bernoff and Forrester Research create a social technographics profile of product developers using PTC products as well as those that don’t. How actively do designers and engineers participate in Web 2.0 and social media activities? How about CAD and IT administrators? Managers? Directors? And even VPs? What about across industries? Any differences between those coming from electronics and high tech and those working in aerospace and defense, for example? Are product development practioners from SMB’s any more or less active than those who work in large enterprises? Would we see consistent activity across the geographies PTC serves throughout the world? Do they use social media and Web 2.0 in business?


So we created a survey….some would say (and did) that it was too long. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We sent the global survey out to 750,000 contacts in March 2009. In just two weeks, we had over 7,000 complete responses – a record for PTC. Josh and team churned the data. And the results not only surprised us, but it surprised them, too! The social technographics profile for US online adults in 2008 looks like this.

In comparison, the social technographics profile for our product development practitioners looks like this:

An astounding 89% of the respondents used social media and Web 2.0 tools in their personal and/or professional lives. The data was so significant that we peeled away those that only use these tools for personal use, so we could look at only those who use these tools in their job. We got answers to all our questions. Here are some of the highlights:
  • All roles are active in social media; managers a little more so than designers and engineers, CAD and IT administrators a little more than managers
  • There were no significant differences across industries; however A&D was a little less likely to participate than other industries.
  • Individuals from SMBs were a little more likely than those from large businesses, but all were still very likely to participate.
  • Regarding geographic differences, all were active, but China, India, Germany, Korea were all more active than the US.

So, are product developers ready for social product development. I’d have to say emphatically, Yes!