From tissues to ‘wedgehogs’

May 2011

HedgehogBCS author Eileen Brown looks at the role of social media in innovation start-ups.

We live in a connected world. The information superhighway brings information to our fingertips in many different ways across many different devices and form factors.

We have access to the worldwide knowledge economy. We connect to data stored remotely on servers - who knows where? We gather knowledge, do product research and buy goods online.

This knowledge repository and increasingly fast access speed delivers data and information across the connected world. Anyone with an internet connection, an internet presence and time to invest in communications, can succeed in the global market.

Small companies can broadcast their message using free social media tools. The people-powered social network can propagate and distribute your business idea further than you could do on your own.

You can benefit from the ‘collective sum of human knowledge’ to receive innovative ideas which could take your business in a completely new direction. This community can also highlight potential deficiencies in your idea which you may not have noticed in your desire to get to market.

Ideas out of nowhere?

You might also discover a new business opportunity appears seemingly out of nowhere. Kleenex tissues were originally designed to be used in gas mask filters during the First World War, as cotton was needed in hospitals for dressing wounds.

This tissue was then marketed as an effective tissue for removing cold cream and makeup. In the late 1920s a researcher tried to persuade the company to market the tissue as a disposable handkerchief for colds. This innovative new use for a product took over 10 years to evolve. 

How long would it take today? Crowdsourcing - the use of outsourcing a set of tasks to an undefined number of people in a community (a ‘crowd’) would have taken much less time to suggest a new use for the facial tissue. How long would this crowd take to help you with your product design, development, marketing and advertising?

There are several forums for start-ups and entrepreneurs that use the same principle of crowdsourcing to solicit advice on design and business ideas. These forums use the same social principle as most other social media platforms. Typically a user asks for information or advice and the community responds with solutions or signposts to other resources to use. 

Facebook has recently introduced ‘Questions’, an opportunity to poll the Facebook community for input. Marks and Spencer recently polled their users on a new name for a hedgehog shaped doorstop.

Over 2,500 people responded to the poll and the ‘Wedgehog’ was created. Using the community for input to your product can bring great benefits to your business. The community could potentially spread your message across their communities and beyond. 

Social media enables you to make strong business connections that you can use to enhance your business and strengthen your social commerce ties. And this is the medium that enables effective information flow. You need to invest the time to communicate your business idea in a compelling and innovative way to capture the imagination of the community and watch it propagate.  

Eileen Brown is the author of the BCS book ‘Working the Crowd: Social Media Marketing for Business.’

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