January/February 2010

Online collaboration: A win for all of us

By Tom Moser

There was a time, not long ago, that organizations gauged customer needs via controlled market research, input this feedback to the marketing group, who then worked with engineering to conceptualize new products and develop new offerings to fulfill unmet needs. The process was understood, fairly linear, and certainly controlled by manufacturer or provider. Success of course was directly correlated to how well the control group represented the whole.

But the days of gathering customer feedback from such a traditional process are now numbered, if not gone altogether. 'Focus Groups' or 'Advisory Boards' will remain important, but are being complemented by online forums, communities, blogs, and other forms of online social media.

Today, as consumers, we have the opportunity to evaluate, share, research, and comment on any product or service online. Consumers can change the course of a new product introduction and influence what companies will develop and sell to us in the future. While this might put us outside of our traditional comfort zone, one thing is for certain-we all need to accept it and embrace it.  In the article, "Time's Person of the Year in 2006: You," Lev Grossman said, "The new Web is a very different thing. It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter."

But can we capture online activity and channel it to influence-and improve-new product ideas and, in turn, even better address the needs of customers? All signals point to yes. A recent Aberdeen Group report titled "The ROI on Social Media Monitoring: Why it Pays to Listen to Online Conversation" surveyed 250 companies directly engaged in social media and identified that those organizations realized a 93% improvement in their ability to capture consumer insight that drove a new product or service development. In addition to contributions to new product development, these organizations achieved an estimated 63% customer service cost reduction and 82% improvement in identifying and reducing risk to their brands.

So how does our industry succeed in this environment? How do we capture the on-the-ground knowledge and demand of customers? How do we allow public collaboration to ensure success for all involved? We encourage all our employees to get engaged and involved online … to make a difference.  In the world of Yahoo! Groups, it is estimated 1% of the user population starts a group, 10% actively participate and may author content, but 100% of users benefit from the activity. Resources required for social media monitoring are fairly small, but a commitment to regularly tracking and using information is critical. For developing an online presence or peer-to-peer network, the resources are obviously much greater. Online endeavors take dedicated resources to manage and monitor such sites. Another facet not always apparent is securing the actual adoption and involvement of internal employees. The rewards are worth it in order to strengthen collaboration with users and harness the value and insights only customers can offer.

Users of equipment certainly have different challenges: How can I ask questions online and learn from others if my processes are proprietary? As a specialist in a particular area, where do I go to find a community with interests like mine? If I spend time contributing, what's in it for me? The benefits to the participants are many:

  • Direct connection to people with answers to your questions
  • The ability to tap ideas/solutions from virtually anywhere
  • Sharing of best practices
  • Discussion of common issues and unmet needs
  • Access to the latest information on new products and services
  • In-depth training, without leaving your office
  • Personal development via accelerated learning
  • Opportunity to be part of a global network of peers with common interests

Social media is dramatically changing our behavior as end consumers. In the B2B world, it is time to fully leverage the capabilities that Web 2.0 enables. We will all win.


Tom Moser (tom.moser@emerson.com) is president of Emerson Process Management's Micro Motion division based in Boulder, Colo. (www.MicroMotion.com/Community)