3 must-knows for making your online community an innovation hub

A headshot of David Garnder.

by David Gardner

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It's no secret that an online community can provide value to both a business and its customers. What's less known, but gaining momentum, is how a brand can leverage the power of community and loyal customers as a vital innovation partner. 

What is now commonly referred to as, "innovation through crowdsourcing" (via Forbes), is really part of a larger movement, where companies enable their customers to actively participate in and shape the future of the brand. The results can be new product ideas and customer-developed marketing campaigns, and/or initiatives to greatly improve the customer experience through the insights of...well, real customers!

The key to any successful co-innovation project is creating a community with a clear purpose for customers and employees to collaborate.

Here are three things to remember when building a purpose-built community that drives real business value. 

1. Creativity is not an event – it's a process (and it takes work)

Without creativity, there is no innovation. Creativity is the ability to produce new and unique ideas by looking at things from a different point of view. The underlying creative challenge people face is to overcome our natural ‘blind spots’ or barriers when coming up with new ideas.

According to Daniel Kahneman, one of the world's most influential living psychologists, human thinking is actually quite uncomfortable. He explains that our brains have evolved to the point where they have become ‘lazy’ and prefer to run off memories, looking for reoccurring patterns, rather than using the energy needed to process something new. As a result, people find it difficult to consider new or abstract concepts, and tend not to check their answers because of the energy needed to think through something new and different.

Community considerations: Keep it simple and familiar. This is why it’s so important that when presenting new ideas, make it as simple as possible to understand, so that community members need to use as little brainpower “energy” as possible. It might result in them realizing it's worth thinking about your challenge and their ideas in a slower methodical manner.

Proven techniques to accomplish this are based on effective innovation management principles, including creative problem solving and design thinking. The results are communities with a unique balance of rich, fun & engaging experiences for their members. It also uncovers deeper customer insights, which enable brands to meet untapped and unspoken needs, leading to new business value created for the company.

2. The magic is in the methodology

Knowing people also tend to be conservative in thinking and self-edit their ideas, it’s become increasingly important to have a well-designed game-plan behind your community, both in the content you share and in the activities members participate in.

Ask yourself, “What should our community accomplish?” This will enable you in defining your community’s purpose and the type of content and activity programming you will need.

For example, are you looking to create a new prototype, improve a product feature, adapt a current process, implement a new marketing campaign, or gather user-generated content? These are all great questions; however, each one does require slightly different content and activity programming to fully meets its goals.

Community considerations: Be sure to spend the time to purposefully design community content and activities to align with a business objective. The result will be a community with greater focus and higher quality participation.

3. Don’t forget about their feelings

Community is defined as a feeling of belonging. To build a strong community, members need to know that they matter to one another and will have their needs met through their collective commitment to be together. Recognizing the essence of “community”, remember to consider your community’s purpose while thinking about your own. You have business goals to meet and a brand to build, but they can’t be achieved at the cost of human needs.

When it comes to creating the kind of community you want, remember that “fit” is critical. Create an environment where members feel like they have a say in what happens – because when a person’s opinion is heard, they are more likely to come back.

Recognition and rewards matter too. Adopt a well-defined gamification strategy where members can be given virtual points for participating in activities - even better if currency can be redeemed for company schwag and/or real products. 

Community considerations: Think about experiences and events you can create for members – something they’ll never forget. Always find ways to create a shared emotional connection with your audience.  

When you embrace these concepts, your customers can more readily participate in the market research and innovation programs you've designed.  In turn, they'll also become more loyal to the community and your brand. 

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