The Innovation Value in Using Social Media – Beiersdorf Interview
Beiersdorf, the global skin care giant behind such brands as Nivea, Eucerin, and La Prairie, already enjoyed a strong reputation for innovation when it launched a new approach to open innovation in January 2011.
Called Pearlfinder, this communications platform is sure to further build the brand’s innovation capabilities and reputation by encouraging existing partners and also unknown companies, institutes, universities and individual researchers and inventors to exchange innovative ideas with the company’s R&D and Packaging Development departments.
Lindegaard: In which ways do you use social media for innovation efforts?
Clausen: For our Research and Development at Beiersdorf the growing importance of social media is seen as the opportunity to build and exchange with different kinds of communities via the web to innovate. We use social media related to this opportunity on a bigger scale within our Open Innovation Initiative, Pearlfinder, to capture ideas from external partners. Specifically, with the creation of this confidential community network, we have the opportunity to connect with thousands of smart people who can provide us with ideas for our scientific and technological challenges.
Additionally, we work with external companies for netnography analysis to provide us with useful insights into the behaviour and needs of individuals via the Internet.
Lindegaard: What kind of processes or models have you developed for this?
Clausen: The key idea behind Pearlfinder was to develop a concept with more benefits for our scientific partners, e.g. universities, institutes, suppliers, consultants or inventors, compared to existing solutions from competitive companies. We are aware that trust is one key driver for collaborative success between two partners, especially the reliance that ideas are not misused. This is why we decided to build up a protected environment by having a confidentiality agreement between Beiersdorf and the external partner as an entry point to the Pearlfinder community. We received a lot of positive feedback from the members regarding this unique approach, which gives us a competitive advantage.
Lindegaard: How does social media work with your other innovation initiatives?
Clausen: We use it in a complementary way to many other approaches to work with external partners, e.g. innovation brokers, own technology scouting and sourcing. However, Pearlfinder required a cultural change in sharing openly our know-how and our unmet needs within a big community. How can you trust someone you have no personal contact with? Building the trust that ideas are not misused was the key challenge of Pearlfinder. This is why we started the trusted network approach.
On the other hand, social media has one big advantage: You reach a high number of experts who you didn’t know before and who you most likely never would have met.
Lindegaard: What challenges did you encounter when you decided to embrace social media for your innovation efforts? How did you work around them?
Clausen: Beiersdorf’s Research and Development had been very experienced in collaboration with external partners at the time we started Pearlfinder. However, when you start working in a completely new way you face the typical challenges of change management. These we have overcome by the early involvement of future users, a good communication plan to convince internal and external parties, and, of course, top management commitment from the first day on.
Lindegaard: What should be measured? How can it be done?
Clausen: In this still early phase of Pearlfinder, it all comes down to the success of the innovation initiative: how many ideas have been followed-up and at the end the return of investment.
Additionally, we measure how many ideas are submitted from partners who are from other industries or completely new. And you also should measure how many initiatives run within the company to assess the acceptance of the innovation initiative internally.
Lindegaard: What are the key factors in turning such initiatives into a success?
Clausen: As the most important internal factor you need to overcome the “not invented here syndrome” and increase openness within the organisation to share your knowledge and interact via social media.
In case you work with a scientific community, as it is within Pearlfinder, the main external factor is building trust. You have to communicate the benefits and trustability of your concept to the potential partners, thus convincing them to share their knowledge with your company instead of others.
Lindegaard: Did you find inspiration in external cases? If so, can you share what you were looking for and what you learned?
Clausen: Yes, we did a thorough analysis of the existing approaches before we started a concept work with Pearlfinder. The focus was on how others trigger participation and also how they communicate their ways to handle incoming ideas. We learned that working as a reliable partner is important for the external community; this is why we integrated at Pearlfinder the promise to give a precise feedback about the provided ideas within eight weeks after the finalization of an initiative. This approach is well received by our members.
Lindegaard: What recommendations would you give other corporate innovation units looking into this intersection of social media and innovation?
Clausen: First of all, analyse your innovation culture as to whether the organisation is ready for interaction via social media. Using social media elements for innovation doesn’t necessarily mean to interact with consumers only. Many companies start with this new way of working internally first before they go external.
Secondly, prepare for absorbing ideas and solutions from everywhere and define a systematic approach on how you would like to evaluate and integrate them. Also important is to provide to all attendees feedback on their ideas and solutions in a clearly defined time frame. Tomorrow an attendee might have the best idea you are looking for, however, he is not attending the next call for ideas because he never got a feedback on his first one.
This interview is an excerpt from my latest book, Social Media for Corporate Innovators and Entrepreneurs: Add Power to Your Innovation Efforts. Click for a free download!
Stefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.
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