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Ford and Social Co-Creation: Why idea sites are not enough

Social Co-creation is a big buzzword now; it’s sort of crowdsourcing, evolved. Using customers to help you throughout the new product (or service) development process is an exciting opportunity that’s been made vastly easier by social technologies.

Most of the case studies in this area talk a lot about idea sites or e-suggestion boxes. What these platforms do is allow for companies to publicly collect ideas from their customers or employees through a community-like environment. The companies that have done a good job with this have a process for vetting these ideas and building on the good ones to help them innovate. Doug Williams, an analyst with Forrester, recently wrote a great case study on Ford’s ideas site, “Your Ideas.”

In the case study, Doug is careful to say that these sites are only about ideation. And he’s right. So, what about the rest of the process? In the Ford story, Doug relates how the ideas are brought to an internal community of “predictive” employees from different disciplines in the company to help them decide which ideas will be successful and merit attention to move forward in the pipeline.

But where’s the customer’s voice? Ford says it does market research on concepts that have gotten past a certain point in their development. Why limit the customer’s involvement to ideation and then go back to traditional market research? It seems like there’s a huge opportunity to continue this great effort to include customers all the way through the whole NPD process. Not just as a check-in, not just before launch – but instead, giving customers a seat at the table.

The benefits to idea sites are many, but if that’s your version of social co-creation then you are leaving a ton of value behind. Idea sites have limitations that keep them from being very good at anything beyond Ideation (and maybe that’s by design). Some of the downsides:

  • Too many ideas – Large public communities like these produce an overwhelming number of ideas. 
  • Members submit the same ideas – lots of duplication
  • Difficulty turning ideas into solutions – not a lot of active problem solving going on because they don’t invest that much time in it. 
  • Hard to keep people engaged – Idea boxes tend not to get return visits.
  • You don’t know anything about the people providing the ideas.  That context can help inform how to use the ideas and shape them.
  • No privacy – competitors can learn from your customers’ ideation just as easily as you do, it’s all there for everyone to see. If they can execute better on the ideas, then they’ve just innovated on your dime.

Companies that truly want to do social co-creation need to build processes and a platform that keep customer engagement at the center and throughout the new product development process.

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