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Innovation and B2B Social Communities

Humans are Social Beings

Humans are hard-wired to connect and innovate. In the Digital Age, this innate need to collaborate, network, and create communities is in hyper-drive. Digital technology may be the enabler, but it is people and their inherent need to connect that really speed things up. Behind every tweet, status update, and conversation on social media is an individual seeking the rewards of being part of an ‘online tribe’. As part of the narrative on innovation, tribes or social communities have developed organically from the collaborative, open engagement of online networks.

B2Bs cannot ignore the transformative power that social communities have on the way people connect. Companies can no longer innovate in isolation. Truly innovative companies do more than offer products and services they think consumers, employees, and partners need. They operate on a creative continuum to surpass expectations and imaginations. They set the bar on innovation high by relying on data generated from user involvement, feedback, collaboration, and co-creation.

Innovation with a Purpose

Innovation comes from what business guru Peter Drucker called ‘functional inspiration.’ It is an incremental, iterative process that requires creativity: creativity to, not only invent but to recognize the value proposition in both new and existing technology.

As a discipline, innovation must be purposeful and focused. It must solve real business problems and uncover and solve ones consumers never knew they had. This means mastering the fine line between fostering raw, unfiltered, serendipitous innovation and harnessing it to the company’s core competencies and day-to-day operations. For innovation to be a success it must create value for the company and the consumer. It must enable the company to maintain a competitive advantage through differentiated products, services, and processes that may even extend beyond the imagination of the consumer.

Innovate in B2B Social Communities or Become Irrelevant

The need to innovate to stay competitive and relevant has never been more urgent. With globalization and rapid changes in technology and communication, increasing market competition, and economic and trade uncertainty, organizations must tap into their creative potential, be willing to invest in and mindfully manage innovation through social communities or risk becoming another statistic. This means that leaders need to be prepared to foster innovation.

Leaders are called to innovate or face failure. Some are more receptive than others but none can claim a monopoly on the human need to connect. One critical area where B2Bs must innovate is in how they approach online social communities. B2B leaders can design, manage, and maintain their own social community or they can add their voice to the communities that are already forming around their brand. In other words, the era of one-way communication where companies broadcast information to consumers and marketers control brand awareness is gone. The old business model of funnel sales, traditional marketing and hierarchical communication activities have been supplanted by the B2B social business model made possible with cutting-edge technology.

Communities form the Core of B2B Innovation

Innovation thrives when B2Bs openly collaborate with communities of people (partners, consumers, employees, influencers, focus groups, brand ambassadors etc...) who can identify gaps in the market and generate ideas. However, an idea without form, function or strategy remains just an idea. Through open innovation, human interaction, engagement, and even conflict, argument, and debate, an idea can be discarded or it can take shape and be executed on.

The most powerful principle of co-creative innovation is empathizing with the user. Co-creative innovation means seeing needs, problems and solutions from the user’s point of view. Collaborating creates opportunities to address needs, identify unknown ones, and validate demand before building and going to market with a product or service. Collaborative involvement in B2B innovation can be done in three forms: involvement as an information source, co-developer, or innovator. Each form is based on the amount of knowledge participants have about the company and the market.

Steps to successfully involve communities in B2B innovation

Step 1: Choose which community to collaborate with

  • Articulate the business purpose (i.e. determine which department(s) are best suited to drive community engagement)

  • Understand the value proposition to the company, communities, and individual community members

  • Collaborate with lead users, influencers, financially attractive, and close communities

Step 2: Manage community relationships

  • Place great importance on the management of co-creation

  • Build trusting relationships and keep communities motivated through all the phases

  • Provide open, transparent ways for consumers to submit ideas and comment on the ideas of others

Step 3: Manage collaboration capabilities

  • Motivate employees to actively involve communities in development processes (e.g., incentivize collaboration with communities: provide bonuses to employees)

  • Increase internal integration between different organizational departments, such as marketing and R&D to increase community involvement

Step 4: Measure

  • Measure the success that community involvement has on process efficiency, time to market, quality of product and product performance

  • Measure the success of co-creation from the point of view of the community relationship

Online communities thrive in response to the human need to connect. The speed and hyper-connectedness of today’s technology enable people to actively influence and co-create products, services, and solutions that may fundamentally disrupt markets, communities, and norms. By listening to, watching, enabling, and engaging with online communities, B2B leaders innovate faster to stay ahead of the competition and realize the goals of increased brand awareness, conversion rates, net promoter scores for consumer and employee experience, and revenue. B2Bs that lead as social businesses know the positive impact that an online influencer, strategic tweet or online conversation about their product or service can have on stakeholder sentiment and the bottom line. They are also all too aware of the perils of ignoring them.