Using Social Media to Enhance the Product Development Process
by Kelly Hensel
According to socialnomics.com, if Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 3rd largest and double the size of the U.S. population. As Karen Graves, Senior Scientist from Kraft, stated in her Monday presentation “Utilizing Social Media in the Product Development Process,” social media isn’t a fad … it is changing the way the world communicates. This has a huge impact on how companies reach out to consumers. Before social media, there was one-way communication from company to consumer. Now, social media enables two-way communication and interaction. Currently, companies are leveraging social media mainly within their marketing and advertising departments and not very much in product development. But, according to Graves, there is plenty of opportunity to enhance the R&D process through social media. “Of course, this is challenging because social media by nature is viral and not confidential,” explained Graves. She went on to share advice on how to use social media throughout the product development process—from ideation, creation & development, and launch, to maintenance—while keeping proprietary information confidential.
In the first phase—ideation—companies can use social media to connect with brand evangelists for ideas. Mountain Dew recently launched Dewmocracy, a contest that asked for consumers to come up with the new flavor of soda. The consumers were even able to help pick the winner, determine advertising, etc. Also in this phase, Graves advised monitoring social media for unmet needs that might enable a new product idea. It is also possible to create customized secure social networks and invite specific consumers based on demographics to test concepts and participate in surveys and chat groups.
In the creation and development phase (which Graves noted is often the most challenging to keep confidential), companies should consider leveraging bloggers by conducting a home use blog. In this case, the company would send a product home with consumers and have them blog/journal about their experience with the product in a secure social site. This enables you to “get in the consumers home early in the process and get the true experience,” said Graves. She also advised monitoring the use of Flickr and YouTube to see how consumers are solving packaging problems or frustrations. As Graves said, consumers may think of a “creative solve” that never even occurred to you. Additionally, it is possible to create a custom social network. In Kraft’s case, they have one called the Cultivar, in which they pick chefs brains about their products in development. In the case of Philadelphia Cooking Cream, Kraft received guidance from the chefs on flavor and texture elements, in addition to recipe development.
In the launch phase, social media is extremely important to spread the word about the new product and secure consumer liking. To do this a company can redesign its social network pages (such as Facebook) to highlight the new products and interact with consumers. When Jello Tempations launched, Kraft asked their fans to upload pictures of their kids stealing their adult Tempations. Once they loaded the pictures, they unlocked a coupon offer for the new product. Companies can also take advantage of YouTube’s popularity by posting commercials and clips. It’s also important to leverage couponing through mobile applications and group coupon sites.
Finally, in the maintenance stage, social media enables companies to keep their products alive and fresh in the marketplace. To do this, companies can redesign their social network pages and/or websites to encourage interaction. In the case of Kraft’s Mac N’ Cheese, the brand ran a campaign with Twitter encouraging consumers to tweet about the product. Then, within 24 hours, the company turned some of the tweets into commercials. Companies can also foster interaction via YouTube or Flickr. An Oreo and YouTube campaign involved a video competition asking consumers to share their “Oreo moments.”
Graves concluded her presentation by stating that it is important to embrace social media now because in the future she sees a “move to a virtual product development process” and “virtual consumer and sensory testing.” The truth of the matter is that consumers often have great ideas for your company and social media enables you to hear their ideas while at the same time creating a sense of community with them.