Why the manufacturer-social media relationship is integral to product innovation

25 October 2013

Philippa Holland

Philippa Holland

Founding Director

While social media has become an integral element of every global business, its status as a tool for manufacturers has yet to be truly realised.

The explosion of smart phones and increased access to social media can have a transformative impact on global manufacturers. That’s why it is imperative for companies big and small to build stronger relationships with consumers, channel partners, and suppliers.

While an increased 30% of global manufacturers intended to increase social media investments last year, it still remains slow to react when compared to industries such as retail and hospitality.

Essentially, social media can support a manufacturer’s growth and accessibility in the following ways:

  • Online collaboration between business and customer
  • Added flexibility to support customer service
  • Increased promotion of products and brand to build customer loyalty
  • Research studies to improve business intelligence

Right idea, wrong speed?

Given the fluctuating economic climates of the last five years, now is the time to look beyond simple company websites and email addresses in order to fully utilise the digital age. Unlike investing in heavy machinery or implementing ERP software, a sophisticated social media strategy is a fraction of the cost, yet is immeasurable in its customer enhancing potential.

Whether you’re one of the world’s big automotives with followers in the thousands, or a plastics manufacturer from Birmingham with a couple of hundred loyal followers, a platform like Twitter can make a company’s voice that much louder. Having one look around the social networking site highlights a number of deficiencies.

Firstly, it is staggering how some of the biggest global manufacturers haven’t created one a handle. Additionally, some of the ones that do have yet to use it in an affective or engaging way.  This is where companies can look towards the automotive companies to learn.

Creating product excitement

Toyota demonstrated this earlier in the year, when it took to Twitter to reveal the principles and processes it uses to build cars at its UK plant in a world-first social media project. It broadcast hundreds of tweets following the production of its new Auris Hybrid, from raw steel to a vehicle ready for customer delivery, reaching hundreds of thousands of potential customers.

Instagram, the latest social media monolith, also has potential for manufacturers looking to promote products through images.

At September’s Frankfurt Automotive show, Mercedes-Benz constructed a space composed entirely of Instagram images of its vehicles: seven million pixels across nearly 13,000 square feet. Its team at its offices selected the most striking images from the over 1,500 submitted and turned them into a mosaic, using software to animate the images.

Every half an hour, the team swapped in a new set of photos to ensure the installation was constantly evolving, with the best images were also published to the Mercedes-Benz Pages on Facebook and Google+. Having generated huge levels of interest, this innovative move by the ever forward thinking Germans was no stab in the dark – and it could set a precedent.

Collaboration in disguise?

As the industry of innovation, manufacturing would be betraying its values by not wholeheartedly embracing it and recognising that innovation shouldn’t be confined to the R&D department. It needs to be accessible throughout an organization.

An intriguing case study is in government. The UK Department for Work and Pensions created a platform called Idea Street that allows its 120,000 staffers to contribute innovations through a gaming environment. In a matter of months 1,000 ideas were harvested and 63 went under development. Such an innovative model could have the same benefits for engaging the manufacturing workforce.

A recently published report on social media by Kalypso showed that social media’s use in the front end of innovation will remain relatively constant, but the use of social media in post launch and support is expected to grow by 33 percent over the next 12 months. Encouragingly, manufacturers may finally be starting to see social media’s ability to add value in many aspects of product management across various phases of the product lifecycle.

The opportunity to gather feedback from customers is compelling, and will be an important evolution in the use of social media in product innovation. Food companies have started to use co-creation processes over social media in innovating new products, while B&G Foods’ Cream of Wheat used a new tab on its Facebook page to introduce new hot cereal flavour Cinnabon, and the tab featured a discount coupon for the product.

Given the stated intentions of companies to invest further in social media spend, the shift is beginning. And for the benefit of UK industry, doing this at an accelerated pace would do it the world of good.

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About the author

Philippa Holland

Founding Director

Diversity of people inspires new ideas.  One of the reasons why I co-founded Bluefin was to create a supportive environment where people – client and consultant – can come together to find answers to business and technical problems. 
 
Since 2002, I have been lucky enough to work with the world’s largest manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and Lafarge-Tarmac, helping clients win by giving them the most talented people in the industry.   Client success starts with our people.
 
We have won six “best place to work for” awards in just 11 years because we recruit and retain consultants that are passionate about learning and sharing their insights and ideas with clients.  This includes attracting university graduates into our sought-after annual recruitment programme.
 
When I’m not spending time engaging with our clients and consultants, I enjoy nothing more than socialising with family and friends. For relaxation, I try and take holidays in interesting places and watch a variety of sports, either live or from the comfort of my home.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race