The speed at which customers are able to collectively recognise, share and inspire product alternatives where brands fall short is changing rapidly. This is one of the most significant changes to bringing goods to market since Ford’s production line. Social networks are not only sounding boards influencing buying choices they are also fertile ground for user innovation.
Social networks allow the masses to create change
Social networks have grown to influence people’s buying decisions to such an extent that 77% of 16+ online users will use a search engine and 55% (Mintel, 2011) will conduct research online before making a purchase. In the future user experiences will inevitably usurp price comparison sites or at least become their equal.
Where there are similar brands and comparable services, word-of-mouth will decide the winners and the losers. Despite this trend there is little to suggest that online brands are doing enough to support this type of product innovation often reflected on social networks. Brands seem much more adept at reactionary brand management and iterative product development because they perceive it to be cheaper and logistically easier to manage.
I recently read an article regarding how Amazon could lose 1.6 billion dollars in one second because users are increasingly impatient with the amount of copy and downloading speeds (Fast Company, 2012). While impatience is a technocratic attribute of a society that is speeding up, whether you are reading or purchasing products the journey should be appropriate. Brands need to provide users tools that are less cumbersome than developer toolkits and more effective than customer experience surveys that get ignored.
Businesses need to listen more now than ever before
Brands need to be much better at proactively facilitating and integrating user experience directly into product innovation. The challenge can seem insurmountable if the company is large and cannot be agile, or has a research and development team that has invested too much time and money in a fixed process and methodology. However while brands and users are vying for the next best thing like Angry Birds or Flip as a mobile app, at the heart of it is a simple and undervalued process that brands already experience, but do little about.
When users look to solve a problem arising from a poor brand experience, brands must consider how they can take advantage of social innovation stemming from a situation they caused. In a world where people have increasing less brand loyalty, perhaps it’s easier to show users why they should be loyal. The first step is listening and then acting on their ideas for improvement.
Innovation occurs wherever there is a conflict, collaboration and dialogue
It’s my opinion that social networks are one of the most accessible mediums for user collaboration but they are not as effective as they could be for brands to improve user experience. Currently, social networks are becoming a much more viable alternative for users that had in the past researched expert opinions. Users are increasingly using word of mouth. Collective experiences on social networks result and reflect the user’s need for innovation.
The task of providing an online environment for innovation is complex. Social networks, innovation and brands are not straightforward because there are independent factors that while working together may not actually be related or have clear-cut dependency. Therefore the social networks and the issues that arise may change and the methods of engaging and encouraging the dialogue should be on-going.
Currently, social networks like Facebook (300+ million), Renren (100+ million) and Google+5 (90 million) which have hundreds of millions of users, have derived their value on at least two levels. The first one is by assigning value to the actual users data, which can be sold, and the second is the actual money they could spend. Based on which marketers will target them based on the information they provide and actions they track online and in turn sell them products. I think there is a third inherent value of the social network based on what the users produce. This is much less manageable and possibly more important, especially in native form, than their shared experiences.
How well is your business listening
While innovation has been argued within the design community as being the result of creativity constrained by parameters, it is often the user who feels constrained and they are increasingly sharing
these experiences on social networks.
By the time a solution is created as a response, the nature of the problem may have changed and with that the iterative problem solving becomes mute, we are left with an iterative process of refining instead of unique solution development born out of necessity or user experience.
So how can user experience contribute to product innovation by effectively utilising social networks?
– Prioritise solution-finding platforms like Google where problems can be incentivised but start with a problem.
– Engage broad networks of people and find your brand advocates and innovators. Although it can be argued that within any group there are those who are attached to everyone else and they are in essence tipping points of trends, calls to actions and solutions, even they need help.
– Realise that device platforms are transitory so in their short life they need to provide, ideally through reporting, some step off point for further creativity and social response.
– Social monitoring to understand what people are saying about you. Deploy the best tools to listen and listen well, both internally and externally. The information is all around you and it is changing everyday, so there is always something out there that you don’t know.
Purpose can help with these challenges because we understand brands, technology and users. We design solutions that improve social presence as part of the digital and non-digital brand experience
landscape, through tools, analytics and user feedback.
Specifically we offer:
– Digital strategy. In order to see the big picture you have to know where you stand in context with your competition and your users.
– Clarity to align your unique brand experience, consistently across any interaction.
– Brand engagement. If they are not talking to you, your audience may be talking about you.
– Proven methodologies. These result in a coordinated, consistent and relevant brand presence on social and digital platforms. If it’s worth mentioning then it’s worth mentioning to the right audience.
– Design with user experience in mind not products or revenue. Get to know your audience by as many means as they can engage you.
Kevin J. Spellman, PhD
Sr. User Experience Consultant
Kevin is a Sr. User Experience research consultant at Purpose. He bridges the gap between brand communication, user experience and digital platforms by delivering insightful and measurable strategies.