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.


  1. Sandhya PillalamarriJune 16, 2009 at 4:45 PM

    I agree fully.

    It would be great to learn about what methods PTC employs to listen to their customers. Do you have user experience teams that observe the task flows and in-context use of the people using PTC software?

  2. Sandhya,

    thanks for the comment. Yes we do. in fact Our user experience team just completed 3 days of usability feedback sessions on our products and our website at PTC/USER (#ptcuser09). We have an entire team focused on the user experience with our products. This is a very high priority for us.