Social Networks Will Change Product Innovation

But not always for the better.

A recent post over on the HBR blogs declared that social networks will change product innovation because the new communication channels [will] actually force material changes not just in the way companies market their products but in the strategies and operations they use to develop and build those products.

This will happen because it is very difficult and costly to maintain a unified voice across all channels and to control information flows to the outside world. As a result, companies will need to adust to a 24/7 dialogue with consumers, investors, and other stakeholders.

This, in turn, will require changes in product strategy since the focus will have to be on products that will cut through the noise on the channels the consumers, investors, and other stakeholders are on.

But since products take money, development will be steered towards what developers think investors will want, which will, in turn, be driven by what investors say on the channels the company is following. But just like not all investors are fans of social media (even though most of the tech investors seem to be these days), not all investos are users of social media, so development is going to be steered towards the interests of a sub-group of potential investors who are regular users of social media. And if these investors are not in the target market of the product, who knows if the target market will be served at all.

For example, let’s say the target market is the average joe who makes 40K a year in a blue-collar job. This is not your aveage investor, who’s rich and able to drop 10 times that on an investment on a whim. Thus, they’re not going to be a buyer and should not be driving your development decisions, especially if their preferences add cost as a bule collar Joe making 40K a year doesn’t have a large disposable income after paying the mortgage, the bills, and feeding the family. So while the investor might like to see the intelligent toaster made out of titanium, the average Joe would be happier with more affordable aluminum.

So, at least for now, social networks aren’t the silver bullet that will change product innovation for the better.