The times, they are a changin’….a notion famously expressed by Bob Dylan some 50 odd years ago, and one that can be applied to organizations’ and their product development practices as a result of social media. In recent years, technological advancements have changed the socio-economic landscapes for organizations, and have created an ever competitive and complex market. Social media is playing a pivotal role, with an unprecedented rate of adoption that surpasses conventional tools such as the radio, telephone, television etc. Companies across all industries are having to use social media in product development in order to stay current on fine-tuned market needs and trends. Social media offers the potential to significantly improve a business’s performance. It is being used by companies to not only communicate to their customers, but also to learn about their customers, in hopes of advancing product development.
Product development is defined as the creation of new products or services, and/or the improvement of existing products or services. Social media has become a key source of information for product development. Businesses can easily “mine” social media for valuable insights into how customers are using products and services and/or what they like/dislike about them. Traditional product development typically involved focus groups and formal market research, which can be costly and time consuming. More recently, companies have been using social media to supplement these activities through investigative practices such as “social listening”. Social listening is a concept that refers to the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords, phrases, brands or industries, and leverages insights to discover opportunities for growth.
A company that exemplifies this concept well is Allbirds. Founded in 2014, Allbirds is a shoe company based in San Fransisco that prides itself on designing environmentally friendly footwear. The company is a certified B Corporation and currently makes shoes out of merino wool and eucalyptus.
Traditionally, companies have used social media platforms as a means of one-way communication to customers about their products or services. Allbirds however, has adopted the new social listening ideology and is using Instagram as a focus group and generate product ideas, innovation and customer feedback.
The company has embraced this concept so well, that they have made 27 product improvements to its first style, the WoolRunners, since debuting in 2014. The end result is that the shoes have been dubbed as “the worlds most comfortable shoes,” and the company was dubbed as one of the most responsive brands in 2017.
According to Allbirds CMO, Julie Channing, listening to their customers desires is a big part of their strategy, and helps reinforce the brands receptive image. “We listen to what consumers like and regularly receive pieces of feedback that we can use to make sure we are holding true to our standard of making better shoes, and that’s really about making continuous improvements” said Channing. “It’s something that people really appreciate…They know we’re listening, so they share a lot of their ideas with us.”
For example, Allbirds debuted it’s limited-edition Kotar Sky runners on Instagram last March. The sky blue shoe was originally designed for men, however the post received so much interest from women requesting the shoe be made for woman as well. In response, Allbirds created the shoe in women’s sizes, announcing the launch in August in an Instagram post that highlighted one of its followers’ requests for the shoe.
The social listening practices enveloped in the company’s product development strategy have also worked well when dealing with and responding to negative feedback. Previously, the brand received complaints about slipping insoles and rolling tongues. When Allbirds saw this, it fixed the issues and commented back to update the original posters.
Allbrids marketing and development seem to be paying off. They have been so successful that they have now surpassed Nike as the fastest growing shoe company in the world. Their Instagram following has increased by 200 percent since last year, and they opened up two brick-and-mortar stores last year, despite starting as a purely e-commerce brand. The company has also won the favour of the techies of Silicon Valley, with Google co-founder Larry Page, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and venture capitalist Ben Horowitz spotted wearing the shoes.
Lessons for Others
Social media is a lot more than marketing, and its application continues to transcend traditional boundaries. Using social media for product development allows companies to discover ideas about their business and create more useful and attractive products and/or services in a cost effective and time efficient manner. It is allowing companies to tap into the market and build a greater understanding of their customers needs. Companies big and small can learn a lot from Allbrids and how they use insights gained from social media to be responsive to their customers and create and/or re-create a living-product, one that continuously evolves based on customer feedback to create the best possible product and increase their bottom line.
Industry: Online Retail
Name of Organization Contact: Julie Channing, CMO
Authored by: Allie
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