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Can Innovators Put Their Faith In Social Media?

October 11, 2012

Are you a believer? Can social media help energise your innovation efforts? Or are you sceptical? Are you yet to be convinced? Can unified collaboration (UC) and other modern media tools become more than just complicated gossip and file sharing? Do you really have faith in the value of social media to help power innovation?

Being Smart & Social Is About More Than Tweeting..

In his excellent latest book Social Media For Corporate Innovators and Entrepreneurs the excellent Stefan Lindegaard (see his blog 15Inno) provides a valuable guide to how social media channels can become useful innovation tools. As well as explaining the importance of Open Innovation (building in themes from his previous book ‘Making Innovation Work’) – Lindegaard interviews innovation practitioners from organisations such as Nokia, Gijima, Beirsdorf and Psion – to share how they have incorporated social media tools into their successful product development plans. He explains the use of Yammer, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn through the discovery, incubation and acceleration phases of innovation management – and why their smart use is about more than just the latest trendy technology and smartphone apps …

It’s worth pointing out of course, that social media is not a silver bullet for companies under pressure to deliver in challenging times – and nor is its use without due caution and critics. As Seth Godin has pointed out, the expenditure of valuable marketing resources to chasing and reporting meaningless social media metrics, not proven to be related to genuine business objectives or customer value is at best spurious and at best dumb and reckless. It’s the kind of activity that can hasten the viewing of marketing as the ‘colouring in department’ by their more commercially minded critics. Likewise as Morten T Hansen notes, unfocused and random collaboration and networking has no value to innovation or any other business efforts. Focused and relevant collaboration is another matter entirely. Morten T Hansen sees ‘T-Shaped’ people, those who can connect across the business and the important spreaders of insights that can foster development.

Good Connections Fuel Great Innovations…

For Hansen, Berkun, Kelley – and Lindegaard, collaboration sits at the heart of open innovation – the increasingly vital cultural led approach that places emphasis upon engagement with customers, suppliers and partners. And it is not just academic and theoretical. In my previous posts I’ve reviewed the reports and surveys by Capgemini, GE and Forrester all pointing out that innovation is achieved through nurturing partnerships and allies. And successful, innovators such as GE, and Proctor and Gamble now use networks and partners to drive creativity and product development. It’s a trend in business, in art and science too. A recent article in Scientific American, also reinforces that science and technology is driven by collaborations and sharing of knowledge and ideas across the world and across disciplines – not great moments of isolation and personal genius. In a world that is complex, the need to find and work well with the right people is still (as it always has been…) the essence of invention, creativity, capitalism, distribution and commercial success. As Beth Comstock says ‘we used to think we could do everything ourselves but that isn’t how the world works anymore’

Working Alone Can Be A Bad Idea…

Yet, research suggests most people and organisations are poor at collaborating – and building the right conversations. So how can Twitter and Facebook help with this? For Lindegaard, social media channels and skills are relevant additions to the innovation toolbox. Interestingly, he firstly devotes time to explaining the need for open innovation. This has much to do with culture and leadership style. Executives must avoiding the fear of changing how things are done and realise that to share is a valuable tactic. As he says; “The most important thing to innovation is knowledge – and getting access to knowledge” – and he goes on to say “Corporate innovators must pay more attention to terms such as preferred partner and ‘we’re in the match making business’.

Of course, there is clearly no point in launching into dramatic customer pages in Facebook, install Yammer and encourage executives to network extensively within LinkedIn – if the innovation culture and process is still contained within a small group in R&D, senior management and traditional players. You have to believe in open innovation, before you can really believe and benefit from the power of social media. And if you do believe in open innovation then it would be foolish not to embrace the faith and adopt social media channels. Lindegaard provides a very useful explanation for how to use the various channels available at different stages of innovation process, from engaging with customers and suppliers to collating market insight and finding new contacts.  He shows that social media, used correctly – with a clear purpose, can help to build those useful conversations both within and outside of the organisation.

So is social media simple? Do you just dive in and hope for the best? Well no. It should be approached like any other business initiative and tool. Used well, its powerful. Poorly managed, well, it’s just poorly managed. Unfortunately like networking and relationship management, it’s something that can be easily left to chance and the danger is that hope replaces a strategy. As Lindegaard points out – ‘Networking does not take care of itself. Neither does innovation. This is the same with social media’

Innovation requires a willingness to engage across and outside of the organisation and these tools can help. But if you don’t believe in open innovation have faith in that as a  fundamental philosophy for progress then no amount of smart Tweets  and clever blogs can help. The question is, do you believe?

Thanks to Stefan for making available the review copy. You can download your copy onto Kindle – here.

For more articles on collaboration and partnerships please visit andrewarmour.com.

To download my whitepapers on Marketing And The Evolution of Collaboration and Can Business Win With Gamification – please visit Benchstone. For further from Stefan Lindegaard, please visit his blog – 15Inno.com.

If you have not seen it, you should also check out Stefan’s presentation on the importance of networks – here. 

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