How to Leverage Your User Community to Drive Product Innovation


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Product management is everything – from the presidential campaign to Apple’s success to the local brewery that created a special beer-drinking glass to differentiate their customer experience.

The role of product management is to design, develop, and launch products that will fly off the shelves in your market. Business development people love product managers because they hold the key to making marketing and sales very painless.

The challenge is doing product management well. The key to a successful product strategy is making decisions based on quantitative and qualitative data from your market in order to:

  • Solve the right market problems.
  • Address those problems in a unique and innovative way.
  • Deliver the solution in the way that aligns with how each target segment wants to purchase it.
  • Make the product or service easy for users to adopt.
  • Put programs in place to help customers find ongoing success with your product.

How to Improve Product Management Using Your User Community

For years, product management professionals have used a variety of low-tech methods to collecting feedback about their products, user experiences, and position in the market. Many of these tactics are still valuable today including interviews with customers and non-customers, surveys, and focus groups.

How to Leverage Your User Community to Drive Product Innovation

Recently online communities have emerged as a powerful tool in product executives’ arsenals. The social features in modern online community platforms allow for easy idea validation, collaboration on requirements, and a consistent stream of market data.

7 Ways to Use Your Online Community Software to Drive Innovation

#1) Small Advisory Groups

With small groups of engaged customers, organizations can test ideas, collect feedback, and act on that data more effectively. Online community software is an excellent platform to manage and engage product and customer advisory groups. The segmentation and security features allow organizations to create private groups based on any profile demographic or data from their CRM system or membership database.

#2) Conversations About Market Problems

All successful products are built on solving a specific market’s urgent and pervasive problems. Use the secure discussion forums and listservs in your online community to host a monthly/quarterly online roundtable to draw out the problems that your target market is willing to pay to have solved. Use these online forums discussions to not only verify that your products and services are solving the right problems, but also to identify customers with whom to have in-depth follow up interviews.

#3) Video Explanations

Although your messages, new programs, and product roadmap may be simple to those in your organization that are working on them every day, they are probably not as clear to your customers or members. Use the social video and media library features in your private customer community to securely host short videos explaining new concepts and asking for feedback. You can then host discussions in the online forums or in the comments thread for each specific video.

#4) Social Documents

Efficiently validating ideas with your market is a cornerstone of good product management. Use the file libraries and social document features in your online community to get quick feedback on concepts, requirements, and product designs. Each file can have its own discussion thread to promote easy engagement or you can highlight multiple files as a group in the user community discussion forums.

#5) Idea Tracking

Give your community members or customers an outlet to share their top ideas for your organization or product. Use the idea submission tools built into your online community software to segment users so that they can share, rank, and discuss product enhancements or new solutions that are relevant to them.

#6) Surveys

Though surveys don’t give organizations accurate initial data about market problems, they are an excellent tool to confirm the results of customer interviews or prioritize the data you have gleamed from your user discussion forums. The survey tools in your online community platform make it easy to ensure that each user groups receives only the surveys that pertain to their products, so that your product managers don’t become noise to your users.

#7) Wikis

Sometimes relying on product managers to fully capture the needs of your target audiences can be slow and riddled with omissions. Improve the speed and accuracy of your innovation processes by bringing customers into the preliminary planning process. Wikis in your online user community enable you to gather requirements and develop plans alongside your customers and partners.

Online Community Takeaway

Online customer communities will never fully replace traditional product management methodologies. However, private online communities present a unique opportunity for product managers to listen to the market, test concepts, and get feedback more effeciently at each stage gate of development. Mix and match the tools in your online community platform to harness the power of your user community. There is no one way to collect market data and online community software makes it easy to experiment and evolve as your customer community matures.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Joshua Paul
Joshua Paul is the Director of Marketing and Strategy at Socious, a provider of enterprise customer community software that helps large and mid-sized companies bring together customers, employees, and partners to increase customer retention, sales, and customer satisfaction. With over 13 years of experience running product management and marketing for SaaS companies, Joshua Paul is a popular blogger and speaker on customer management, inbound marketing, and social technology. He blogs at


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