Enhanced product development through online communities
Companies can make use of online communities for new, fresh ideas for revitalising and specialising products and services, as well as feedback on points that customers appreciate. However, using online communities efficiently to boost innovation requires motivation, incentives and tools for participants.
A doctoral study shows that customers participate in collaborative online communities because they value new angles, effectiveness, a sense of community and the entertainment value. Interesting topics, an open and constructive atmosphere, the gaining of better products, winning competitions and receiving rewards are also incentives for participating in online communities.
Consumers like to participate in product development if they feel this is a way of obtaining better products. Consumers often have more radical ideas than the manufacturer’s product developers. The more passionate the customers are about the product, the better for the company.
The study showed that companies and consumers do not have enough potential for collaboration in innovative online communities because of a lack of proper tools. Ideas submitted by individual contributors and comments posted by other participants may arrive with a delay of several days and are therefore not useful for brainstorming. Tools for real-time brainstorming online should be developed so that participants can feel they are actually taking part in a work in progress. Besides providing tools, the service operators must participate actively in the online community.
The study shows that it is important to reward customers for their participation, especially if their contribution is of a good quality. Rewarding practices for participants must be simple and transparent. Rewarding should be flexible, enabling the recipient of a reward to choose the reward himself/herself. In addition to material rewards (money or goods), immaterial rewards such as commendations are important to participants.
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