Social media has gotten a lot of play in the last few years as the hot new marketing channel for creating awareness and generating demand. While much of the press has focused on social media’s impact in relation to advertising and promotion, there’s another huge potential benefit social media can offer B2B organizations that’s not being talked about. Namely, how social media is an untapped frontier of customer insights and data that can lead to new product ideas or help to prioritize customer requirements for enhancements to existing offerings. Yet, we find that few organizations’ product management or product/solution marketing teams are leveraging social media in any systematic or formalized way to fuel the innovation process.

Social media offers the ability to gather product feedback and understand customer and prospect perceptions regarding your company and your competitors’ offerings. Here are three best practices we frequently recommend to our clients:

  • Monitor buyers. While your organization may already use a social media monitoring tool on the corporate marketing or customer service side of the house, consider purchasing a license for the product function (the cost for a social monitoring tool starts at approximately $300 per month) to listen to what your customers and prospects are saying. Such a tool will help you identify all the social outlets your customers and prospects use, such as online interest communities, your user communities, competitors’ sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and media sharing sites. Select keywords and phrases that enable you to discover and isolate conversations or comments that would be valuable to understand the issues in your market; this can help not only shape the roadmaps of your existing offerings but also identify potential new markets by uncovering buyer needs that you can solve.
  • Proactively solicit feedback. In addition to passively monitoring customer sentiment, perceptions and comments, we recommend that you also post questions on sites and discussion boards that will ignite a conversation or procure commentary from the marketplace on a specific topic or new release. Your own customer online community (which every organization, small or large, should implement) can be very effective in generating functionality and roadmap ideas by listening to conversations between customers. You should also create a private area within the community site for a select group of customers (such as your customer advisory board) to solicit and validate ideas without polling the wider customer base.
  • Analyze your competitors. One great advantage of social media is that you can learn not only your customers’ sentiments about your company and products but also their perceptions regarding your competitors. Use monitoring to discover your competitors’ vulnerabilities and consider: Is there a feature, functionality or service you offer that your competition doesn’t or where there’s a high level of dissatisfaction? If so, exploit that gap through your positioning and campaigns, and share this competitive information with your salespeople. Pay close attention to changes in competitors’ share of voice, sentiment and brand perception, and see if you can connect these changes with specific events that can be exploited. You can also track how your competitors support their partners across the social channel to help in developing your own channel social media strategy.
  • What customers say about your product or service is, unfortunately, not always positive. Since social media is often an outlet for dissatisfied customers to voice negative opinions about your company or offerings, there should be clear governance on how product managers can turn these gripes into opportunities to publicly engage with unhappy clients and assist them in solving their issues. Remember: Recognizing such issues is often the first step toward optimizing current functionality or introducing new features that can improve your offerings.