One powerful use of online communities is to help get new ideas into a business; taking advantage of the fact that many (if not most) of the best ideas for your business are likely to come from outside, from people who don’t work for you. There are some well know examples of businesses working with consumers on co-creation in this way: MyStarbucksIdea and Dell’s Ideastorm being among the most well known.
Most of these sites use a similar process: people can join the community and then suggest their own idea, comment on existing ideas or vote for the ideas that they think are best. The best, most commented on or most voted for ideas are then responded to by the brand. They are an effective way for businesses to get ideas into their business and, more importantly perhaps, of showing customers some of their internal decision making and letting people who buy the product understand more about, and even influence, the processes by which it is made.
Like any good online community, such ideas sites work best when they work with other social networks – interacting with people on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, in forums and blogs. Going to where relevant people are and harvesting their ideas, encouraging them to come to ideas site and add their thoughts. This hub-and-spoke model of social media engagement is a classic and successful way of engaging people online, and a recent ideas site has gone one step further and integrated this model into its functionality.
Last week, Californian Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced the launch of MyIdea4CA.com, an online community to harvest and evaluate ideas for the State of California. The site has much of the same functionality that we have seen elsewhere: the public can suggest, comment on and vote for an idea. The difference with this site is that the ideas are submitted in the first place not by signing up for the site, but by posting the idea on Twitter with the hashtag #myidea4ca. You can even sort your idea by adding an additional category hashtag; so if your idea is about education you use #myidea4ca #edu. The site then pulls in all of these tweets using search and allows you to sort, read, comment on and vote for them.
Using Twitter in this way is a great way to increase the number of initial ideas submitted to the site, lowering that initial barrier to engagement by using a place where people already are (Twitter) to bring them and their content to a new place (MyIdea4CA.com). If you want to comment on, or vote for, ideas you still need to do this on the main ideas site, but to submit an idea you do not.
This certainly will help California to get more initial ideas, removing that barrier and allowing people who want give an idea to use Twitter to do so. The danger, of course, is that people who are not on Twitter are excluded from taking part. Whilst the Twitter population continues to grow, it is still far from a mass market tool and so restricts, perhaps quite significantly, participation in this ideas forum.
Of course, that could be said of many online communities and other ways in which organisations engage customers, stakeholders and the public online. But by mandating that all ideas must be submitted via Twitter does exclude a large proportion of online users in California. Whilst the use of Twitter is a great and fantastic example of how and online community can work with social networks to maximise participation, it is better if there are multiple ways of allowing people to engage. Let some people submit ideas via Twitter but allow others to submit them on the site in other ways.
A cardinal rule when you are building and growing an online community is that technology should be invisible. You shouldn’t put technological barriers in the way of sharing ideas. Whilst the use of Twitter on MyIdea4CA.com is a fantastic example of how organisations can engage people through this site, as an online community it is missing out on the opportunity to engage more people in different ways.
Some more reading
- How organisations can use Twitter – some ideas (freshnetworks.com)
- MyIdea4CA shows both the power and limitation of opening up to the crowd (thisisherd.com)
- The Governator Live From Twitter HQ Today. Has His Twitter Service Already Gone To Pot? (techcrunch.com)
- EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Schwarzenegger Launches Twitter Powered MyIdea4CA (mashable.com)
- Crowdsourcing Ideas: Apparently Marijuana Is All California Needs (cloudave.com)