Ways to take action

Pierre-Jean Barlatier: “Research shows that despite success stories, social media are largely underused for open innovation”

Pierre-Jean Barlatier , Associate Professor

In a recently published article, Pierre-Jean Barlatier, EDHEC Associate Professor and member of the FIT Chair, advocates, along with his co-authors, that companies could unleash the (huge) potential of social media for open innovation by taking a holistic approach to social media adoption.

Reading time :
5 Jul 2023

You have been interested in "open innovation" for several years. What does it mean?

Open innovation is a collaborative approach to innovation that involves integrating external ideas, resources, and expertise into an organization's innovation processes. It recognizes that valuable knowledge and insights can come from sources beyond a company's internal boundaries.

Traditionally, companies followed a closed innovation model, where they relied primarily on their own internal research and development (R&D) efforts to generate ideas, develop new products or services, and bring them to market. Open innovation, on the other hand, recognizes that there is a vast pool of external knowledge and expertise available that can complement and enhance a company's internal innovation capabilities.

In an open innovation approach, organizations actively seek external inputs through various means, such as partnerships, collaborations, crowdsourcing, and technology licensing. They engage with a wide range of stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, universities, research institutions, startups, and even competitors, to tap into their ideas, technologies, and insights. This collaborative exchange of knowledge and resources helps accelerate innovation, improve competitiveness, and increase the likelihood of successful product development.

Nowadays, companies are relying on digital technologies because they enhance the efficiency, reach, and effectiveness of open innovation initiatives, enabling them to stay competitive in today's digital age. Open innovation has become increasingly popular because it leverages the collective intelligence of a broader network of participants, reduces R&D costs, and enables faster time-to-market for new products and services. It encourages organizations to be more externally focused, adaptable, and receptive to new ideas, ultimately driving innovation and growth in a dynamic business environment.


How do companies today use social media to innovate?

Companies use social media to innovate from an open innovation perspective in various ways. They can crowdsource ideas and feedback from customers and other external stakeholders through social media platforms. They can also collaborate with external partners, such as suppliers, universities, and research institutions, to co-create new products and services using social media tools. Social media is also used to gather market intelligence and insights on customer needs and preferences. Companies leverage social media to build brand awareness and engage with customers in real-time.

Moreover, online communities of practice are created to facilitate knowledge sharing and learning among employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Social media analytics tools are used to monitor trends, track performance metrics, and identify opportunities for improvement. Success-stories have been highlighted in Research and Press articles like Procter and Gamble with their Connect & Develop Platform for collaboration, The DELL IdeaStorm initiative or the LEGO company with their LEGO Ideas website for idea crowdsourcing.

However, the specific ways in which companies use social media for innovation may vary depending on their industry, size, culture, and strategic goals. Unfortunately, the use of social media for open innovation is not a panacea, most of the companies struggle to use them efficiently from this purpose and several important failures have also raised interest like in the case of the BP oil spill in the Mexico Gulf or the case of the Quirky Startup.


In this sense, why do you think these media are underused?

Research shows that despite success stories, social media are largely underused for open innovation due to their own limits, or because of several barriers faced by companies as highlighted in our research. One of the main barriers is a lack of resources and capabilities. Many firms lack the necessary skills, knowledge, and expertise to leverage social media effectively for open innovation. Additionally, firms may face challenges in managing large volumes of unstructured data emanating from diverse communities. Another barrier is a lack of trust in external partners. Companies may be hesitant to collaborate with external partners due to concerns about intellectual property protection or a lack of control over the innovation process. This can limit their ability to access new ideas and insights from external sources. In addition, companies may struggle with issues related to data privacy and security or may find it challenging to integrate social media tools into their existing workflows and processes. Hence, leveraging social media for open innovation in practice is difficult for firms facing such barriers to using these technologies.


What do you recommend to companies that want to unleash this potential?

Our article recommends that companies that want to unleash the potential of social media for open innovation should take a holistic approach to social media adoption. This involves developing a clear strategy for using social media to support open innovation, building the necessary capabilities and resources, and establishing a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing.

It also suggests that companies should develop clear guidelines for collaboration and communication, invest in training and development programs to build necessary skills and capabilities, and establish legal frameworks to protect intellectual property rights. Finally, the article recommends that companies should monitor their performance metrics regularly to identify areas for improvement and adjust their strategies accordingly.


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