Two Finnish service designers recently unveiled a prototype for a social media toy that’s constructed out of a classic Brio shape-sorting box outfitted with magnets and LEDs. Called the IOBR (the first few letters of its Iobridge tech backbone and an anagram of Brio), a small child can use the toy to let her friends know what she’s up to. Yup, it’s a toddler-sized status update.

Toddler places a square block into a square hole

From the designers’ Web site: “The actual status update is done by placing the appropriate block in its designated place on the box.  For example, an ‘eating’ update is sent by placing the square block with the ‘plate, spoon, fork’ icon in the square-shaped hole on top of the box. This results in the illumination of the corresponding status light on the friend’s device.”

The system has received press from major media outlets dubbing it “Twitter for toddlers.” CNN reported: “No word yet on . . . whether or not you're going to want your kid to learn about these status updates, so to speak, at such a young age.” But focusing just on the IOBR’s status update feature is really missing the point of this project. 

Status updates might be a dream for brand marketers, but customer experience professionals face some big challenges when it comes to today’s popular status update delivery systems, like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. The set of activities that people can do on any given social platform — such as checking in, posting photos, joining a group, or replying to a comment — has remained fairly small over the past several years. Plus, there’s no real distinction between the available activities for say, college students, stay-at-home moms, and insurance sales agents — even though the needs and desires of these groups are likely very different.

The net result? Brands are limited in the types of interactions they can have with customers on major social networking platforms — and so they’re also limited in the type of value they can actually provide there. And great customer experience is all about delivering value.

Brands can go a long way toward creating value by asking and answering three questions: 1) Who are our customers; 2) what are their goals; and 3) how can we help them achieve those goals? Brands wanting to create valuable social customer experiences should look to the IOBR system for inspiration.

  • It’s designed specifically for preverbal (and pretyping!) toddlers. Because it’s integrated with the Brio shape-sorting box, which was developed for toddlers 12- to 36-months-old, the IOBR prototype has a built-in interface that’s perfectly suited for kids who are just learning to speak.
  • It helps parents accomplish their goals. While the IOBR is specifically designed for toddlers, parents might actually benefit most from this toy! It taps into kids’ inherent social nature and leverages the incredibly powerful force of peer pressure to get them to do the things their parents want them to do — like brushing their teeth. The designers say, “As any parent knows, mornings and evenings are possibly the toughest moments during the day. In the evening, everyone is tired from work and play, and in the morning, we often have to rush to get everyone out the door in time . . . The IOBR can be used as a small game to motivate children to be more swift in their activities. ‘Let’s see if you are in bed before your friend.’ ”

Just so it’s clear, I’m not suggesting that brands ditch large social networking platforms. People are obviously flocking to them in droves, and they’ve become a standard part of the media mix. To boot, we’ve seen many branded social networks flop on the build-it-and-they-will-come premise.

However, more and more brands are defining their competitive positions around delivering exceptional customer experiences. These companies will soon need to look for ways to make customer interactions in every channel more valuable and more social — and the IOBR is a great step in that direction.

What do you think of the IOBR? And what’s your company doing to create social customer experiences?