Web Strategy (Advanced): Applying a Social Computing Strategy to the entire Product Lifecycle

Applying A Social Computing Strategy to a Product Lifecycle

Warning: For Advanced Strategists only
This is for the advanced only, not a company that is still trying to answer “what or why”. To gauge the sophistication of your organization, see this chart. Deploying this strategy without grasping the foundations of social media, the cultural changes it implies or testing trial programs will likely lead to failure.

You: A Social Media Strategist
You’re responsible for the direction of your online strategies for your company or organization, specifically using social media and computing tools to reach, connect, and build communities around your brand. Most folks at your company know this space is important, but don’t know how to do it, they are relying on your expertise to think holistically, integrated, and strategically.

[Think Bigger. Modern companies are already integrating efficient social tools in every announcement, launch, and event. The savvy strategists learns to use them in a holistic way]

Web Strategy Theory to know before you go forward
If you’ve not already figured it out, the corporate website is becoming less relevant, and web marketing (and support) has spread off your domain and google results. You also know that prospects trust the opinions of existing customers (who are ‘like them’) far more than marketers, as these communities of practice assemble, your brand is decentralized –embrace!

How did I learn this strategy?
First or second hand experience. I first learned about this from watching Robert Scoble and the famous Origami launch, a product that was deployed using many of these phases (although I’ve not heard of much of the product since) I then deployed this at Hitachi Data Systems (Shel has the story) for a few product announcements, they were smaller, but effective. Lastly, as the Director of Corporate Media Strategy at PodTech my primary purpose was to advise clients on these strategies. This strategy has been in my head for over 2 years.

1. Listening: The most important step
This is one of the biggest problems for communicators today, just like a real conversation, is learning to listen. Any savvy party goer knows to listen before jumping into a conversation at a cocktail party. Marketers, MarCom, Integrated Marketing, Advertising, PR, have forgotten (or never knew) that by listening to the needs of the market will help them to create more effective messages and then evolve into a conversation.

Tactics include: Creating a feedreader, and subscribing to feeds in your market, using a social media measurement vendor (see this list of companies), create an internal Air Traffic Tower, talk to customers, review support forums, (on your site or elsewhere) and find anecdotes from blogs showing market need. These ‘needs’ and problems that customers state they have will then be used in part 2 and 3.

2. Seeding: Conversations vs Messages
Marketers want everything to go “viral” (what I call velocity) but often fail to realize that by involving the community is one of the most effective ways in encouraging velocity. Engaging in conversations both public and private (embargo) gives ownership to the community. By using step 1 to understand members who have expressed pain in the market, those are likely candidates for involving in these discussions. Show them that you’ve listened to them, and you want them to be part of the solution and eventually the announcement and product.

Tactics include: Conversing with those in the market through comments, email, and other means, involving them. Example: I was a customer of Factiva (Dow Jones), I was using their Insight product, but found several flaws, I blogged it, they engaged, and they started to include me to lead a roundtable, product feedback, and eventually write a white paper with them. Also, many companies involve bloggers in an embargo, as they would want to break the news first and early. Treat bloggers, podcasters, and the like just as you would press and media.

3. BANG! The Integrated Announcement
This is where all cylinders fire together, collectively, and holistically. Depending on your tool set, all blogging, twittering, Facebook, media, and traditional marketing engines need to focus at the same time. The goal? Get the attention and trigger a discussion. Many of the tools should point to a single product blog or product webpage. The worst thing you could do? Link to a static press release. Press Releases don’t inspire and are designed to give information –not encourage dialogue or interaction. instead, point to your lead blogger, who could link to the press release and who will then introduce the product team, where there should be media to trigger a discussion, and let users ask questions in forums. Communications should let the market know that the product team is standing by to answer questions, and will be proactive, their waiting in the ‘conversation booth’.

Tactics include: Understanding how to ‘drop pebbles‘, using an integrated web approach, and engaging one’s community, overlays for events, use tools in a holistic method. Get familiar with the many forms of web marketing.

[Think bigger. Social Media and Computing applies to all stages of the Product Life Cycle, not just Marketing]

4. Hand off: The Product Experts step forward
This is where most social media strategies stop, but in fact, it’s where it should just start. At the BANG! the lead blogger or teams will point to the product group. The product group must be ready to stand by and ask questions in comments or forums. I’ve noticed the successful strategies will include media as a lead in, a video tour, demo, or audio podcast that provides a very human element. Many of the people who come to the product area will not stay, and that’s expected, this is the slide down the narrow funnel.

Tactics include: Product blog, Product forums, Media in the forms of Video, Audio podcast, animation. Product Managers will be using listening tools (section 1) to respond and converse with the market.

5. Filtering: Finding the real customers
As the initial hype from the announcement wears down, the real customers and prospects will emerge and get closer to the product team. These aren’t the analysts, media, press. An ongoing dialogue between the product teams and customers will occur. The product team should be releasing frequent updates, releases, demos, and be very receptive to the market. Update: This stage is a great environment for your company to identify the Tipping Point “Mavens” (from Trevor Speirs in comments)

Tactics include: Continue communication between product teams and customers. Encourage customers to take an active role in deploying products and promoting to prospects. Tools such as blogs, forums, and wikis will foundational. Enhance with an ongoing media series such as video or audio podcasts around best practices of product usage. Encourage customers to create their own media and promote in community. Strategic blogging comparing your product to competitors keep your brand relevant and ‘in the conversation’.

[Savvy companies will reduce support costs by encouraging customers to self-support each other. Collectively, they know more than the product team]

6. Customer Growth: Learning, and Supporting each other
Here’s where the real growing happens, as a thriving community around a product starts to assemble, while many customers never participate a small active group will contribute, and a slightly larger group will occasionally comment. The savvy product team will encourage users to self support each other, why? They collectively know more about the products than the product team. Lastly, there are cost benefits for customers to self-supporting, as well as research information.

Tactics include: Creating an online community platform that encourages customers to self support each other, and for product teams to learn, and help as needed. I deployed the HDS user forums at 4 dollars a week, it’s still thriving today. I setup a global team to watch the forums, keeping out spammers and addressing and alerting product teams to any critical issues. Also remember that support has moved off the corporate domain, a distributed strategy is needed.

7. Research and Development: Build the “Perfect” product
Now the fun starts. By including customers in the product development process using social media communication tools, product teams have the opportunity to build a product right to spec. John Schwartz the CEO of Sun Microsystems was quoted saying that “Intranets are an anachronism, they’re going to die” and that product teams of the future will collaborate with customers in real-time to determine the product needs of the future. Giving customers a sense of ownership will also pay off as you develop customer advocates who are more likely to want to purchase a product they helped to input or build.

Tactics include: Consider creating a voting or prioritizing feature, as it may be hard to justify weight of request on forums. See analysis of Dell’s IdeaStorm, which was also done at SalesForce and WebEx. Encourage customers to create a wiki, to support products, define future requirements. In person meetings, as well as reading what they say will continue to add datapoints.

[Reduce Research and Development costs, involve customers in the product requirements phase: they may advocate, buy more, and reduce sales and marketing costs]

8. Up Selling: “Of course I’ll buy it, I helped design it!”
Every product gets replaced, it’s the law of innovation. As customers are now part of the design process of a product, they’re more likely to purchase the product. Done correctly this could reduce marketing and advertising costs as well as excess inventory. Take Threadless for example, where customers design and rate products. Only highly rated products are created (T-Shirts) and are quickly sold out –little inventory, design cost, or support.

Tactics include: Encourage the voice of the customer to be as strong if not stronger in this phase. Customer References programs are being impacted by social media, so allow the positive (and negative) voices to be featured –you can’t stop it anyways. Reward customers who advocate your products, and engage those who detract, getting them involved, engaged, with a sense of ownership. There’s a variety of tools to use during this process.

9. End of Life (EOL): Product retires
Every product goes away and evolves into something bigger, better, and evolutionary. In this case, because the community of customers have been so close to the process of development for the next revision, many should upgrade to the next version. Support will continue to the products using the tools

Tactics include: Use social media tools to encourage users to learn about new products, in many ways, elements of the first few steps to get the word out to existing customers should also be used in the customer forums. Media and real customer testimonial (positive and negative) may be most effective.

10. Repeat Process:
Listening, conversing, and joining never end. The process to understand customers from their own natural and native voices will continue and the process will continue. It’s my vision that social media is an overlay to all announcements, products, across and up and down the enterprise.

Tactics include: Measuring success, self-awareness to continue to make the process more effective, and communicating internally.

Limitations: Please note there are internal communication strategies that involve social computing and media, this article does not address those. Secondly, measurement should be a core component of the whole process.

[The savvy Web Strategist will make communications more effecient, reduce support costs, and build a “perfect” product through customer collaboration using social computing strategies]

Was this helpful, leave a comment?
For additional resources, please review all my posts tagged “Web Strategy“, there are multiple pages.

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  • Very rich, informative, and well written Jeremiah.. I look forward to your next post!

  • I must say, it’s an excellent post. I love the points in #8. I’ve just been reading “Selling Blue Elephants” and it’s all about RDE.

    This totally backs up the strategies that I’ve been integrating into our application and how we’ve started to role out our products in the last 6 months.

    I see this method, combined with a product launch strategy that is also engaging on a social loop level, the only way that things will be marketed in the future.

    Companies that are not already practicing this type of engagement strategy with their clients will quickly be left in the dust.

  • Thanks WSE!

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  • How is it I missed this when you first posted it? This is a terrific strategic view into social media for business use. It’s exactly the way I’ve been thinking about it for a long time as well. Hopefully companies can manage that critical hand-off between marketing and product dev. I personally love holistic approaches to using tool sets — its why I tend to call it social computing tools instead of just social media, because to me, the “media” part isn’t a complete idea on usefulness.

  • Thank you for pulling this all together Jeremiah. This is a very logical and well-planned process. I am currently trying to develop a similar process/strategy with one of my clients who, as a major pharmaceutical company, are bound by regulatory restrictions.

    For most products, your strategy seems spot on. For regulated industries, there are more hurdles to overcome.

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  • Adam Gershenbaum


    “This is just a sample of what’s coming at Forrester: It’s possible I’ll be able to back it up with data, case studies, and detailed information for EACH of the 10 phases.”

    Really looking forward to this. Currently trying to impress the values of social computing to my company. It’s an uphill battle but I am patient and have faith that the core values the company practices within towards their employees could evolve into an outward facing strategy towards the public.

  • Adam, I do have examples for each of those, real case studies.

  • Adam Gershenbaum


    I found the time over the weekend to look through the links you’ve included in this post. Can’t ever say it enough – your insight is always valued! I’m really glad I came across it!

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  • Jeremiah,

    Shouldn’t THE goal of applying a social computing strategy to product lifecycle be to shift thinking AWAY from “a perfect product” to “a platform for a product ecosystem”? That’s what the most successful “products” become.

    The product vendor “seeds” the ecosystem with a product that can be extended, enhanced, configured, integrated, etc. in myriad ways, ie a product platform. And the community then creates the ecosystem around it.

    Offerings like Windows, Linux, SugarCRM, World of Warcraft, Chumby, iPod, and Firefox comes to mind.

    Your vision of “[I]ncluding customers in the product development process using social media communication tools, product teams have the opportunity to build a product right to spec” seems overly centralized and hierarchical. Sort of like the Windows model: tell us where you want to go and we (MSFT) will take you there.

    I think Firefox is one of the furthest along in decentralizing and flattening the evolutionary structure of a product. Much of FF’s evolution is driven by 3rd party addins that the FF team then incorporates into the FF core.

    There is no perfect product for everyone, but there are great product platforms for enabling community members to build the products that are perfect for them.

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  • Great post Jeremiah. I have been watching this space emerge over the past decade in manufacturing (real products, not just bits 😉 and it is amazing to see how far its progressed in the last 24 months.

    One thought on item 7: there is alot more opportunity out there for real innovation here. Social production of software has shown the way: let the users write the code. For manufactured products that means giving users design tools to let them shape the product they want to buy. We’ve seen glimpses in things like the Mazda 3 facebook design challenge last year. I guess all I wanted to add was that there is more that text to the ide of user and designers working together!

    Keep up the good work and really interesting posts.

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  • “Listening: The most important step”
    This is more often overlooked by marketers…
    It’s very important to “REALLY” listen to your consumers and know what they “REALLY” need. Get feedbacks and respond to it.
    This is a very informative and great article!

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  • Jeremiah,

    There’s a huge caveat with this.

    I hate being a beta tester. I hate being the guinea pig for a half-finished product. I’d rather just have it work from the get-go because it’s less painful in general.

    In terms of software (my stomping ground), the key is to have an app that does core functions well and then is built around a good API. At that point, it’s plug and play and the customer doesn’t have to suffer through painful upgrades and UI changes. If this is the approach from the start, your agile development approach works marvelously.

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  • 7410545

    HI – i am exactly in this position where i am expected to create a platform for communication between our content providers and subscribers – we will be looking at our own tool as well as using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and still considering other soc. networks. would you be able to give us basic recommendations based on our current site? What would the job specifics be for a person who would be in charge of making communications happen etc.

  • 7410545

    HI – i am exactly in this position where i am expected to create a platform for communication between our content providers and subscribers – we will be looking at our own tool as well as using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and still considering other soc. networks. would you be able to give us basic recommendations based on our current site? What would the job specifics be for a person who would be in charge of making communications happen etc.

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  • Hi! This is a great post!

  • socialmediamanagement

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