It takes a lot to be a successful business or brand, and social media is a critical tool you shouldn’t ignore. But social isn’t just about marketing yourself, or counting likes. There are other ways to put social audiences to work for you.

Competitive intelligence

If daily brand operations were a movie or TV show, you’d plant a mole at competitors’ factories, and have them report back on all the goings-on. In reality, you’ve got a much better resource to draw from in social media.

The people who could be interested in your brand are certainly using one or more of your competitors’ products, and sharing their opinions on social. All you have to do is sift through and analyze that data to learn any number of things, like:

  • What products their customers love – and why
  • What products their customers hate – and why
  • What products/services their customers wish were offered
  • How well they manage customer complaints – or how badly

Each of these gives you a jumping off point for creating a similar – or new – solution so your brand can compete more effectively, and win over new customers.

Maybe you weren’t planning to innovate a new social customer service approach, but seeing how badly your biggest competitor handles things has inspired you. Or maybe you didn’t know how much demand there was for a product you could easily offer. Seeing the reaction to your competitors gives you a wealth of information with very little effort on your part.

Innovation efforts

On the other hand, you might already have innovative ideas you want to explore. If that’s the case, you want to be sure you’ve got innovation management tools working for you – so your best ideas aren’t lost in the shuffle prior to being developed and tested. And you want to involve consumers in this process as well. How? You guessed it – social.

Maybe you aren’t sure which idea you should work on first. Or perhaps you’ve got an idea in the prototype phase and need to know how/if to proceed further. That’s where social media comes in.

Much like hosting a successful hackathon – where you’d ask other employees, or vendors/clients for their thoughts and ideas – social media provides a venue for conducting unlimited (and free!) focus groups as your innovation efforts progress.

And it’s timely, actually, given that design thinking is the latest trend when it comes to creating a killer customer experience. It’s more than a trend really, it’s a requirement.

Design thinking and product development

Even seemingly great ideas can be ruined by ill-conceived implementation, or a lack of desire/demand by an intended audience – just look to failed designs like the Ford Edsel, New Coke, and Barnes and Noble’s Nook. Innovation that doesn’t best an existing product, or solve a consumer problem, is worthless.

Design thinking is a great approach to creating or improving a product, except for one flaw: It asks designers to imagine themselves as product users – when they may not be. A much better idea is to go directly to the source: consumers themselves. There’s no one more qualified to tell designers exactly what they need in a product than those using it. They already know what they like, and what they’re missing – and the odds are good that they’re sharing this info on social media. And if they’re not, just ask them!

In addition to gaining favor by creating a product that’s just right, making consumers feel like an important part of the design process encourages brand loyalty and lifetime value. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?

Put your social monitoring tools to work

The best part of all this? You’ve likely already got everything you need to harness social consumers’ ideas. If you’re already using social monitoring and sentiment tools to assess brand health and interact with your followers, it only takes a small change in approach to gather competitive intelligence data, or to engage your audience on the subject of product development or improvement.

If you aren’t, there are a number of social analytics platforms available – whether you’re an enterprise-sized brand, or a solo entrepreneur. Choose one that aligns with your budget and goals and get to work wrangling social users’ opinions and ideas on your brand’s behalf. Your next great idea is out there waiting to be found.