Using Twitter to harvest ideas:


California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

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, 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 ( 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 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.

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Please don’t talk about a social media ‘revolution’. Not just yet.


It was great to see so many people at my seminar at Online Information 2008 in London today - people even stood to endure me, so thanks for that! I spoke about how you can revolutionise your marketing with social media (and how the term revolution is over-used at the moment!) Giving examples of people who are doing it well and a five-point plan for any brand to implement. You’ll have to catch me somewhere else to enjoy my slides in glorious technicolour, but for those who couldn’t make it, I thought I’d write a little about what I was talking about.

At most marketing conferences I’ve been to over the last couple of years (and probably for longer back than that) it seems everybody is talking about two things:

  1. That people are talking about your brand right now.
  2. That social media has revolutionised marketing.

The former is true. And it always has been. The latter isn’t really true yet.

Whilst there are many examples of people doing really great things in social media (from the Fisk-A-Teers, to MyStarbucksIdea and even our own online communities for brands from Butlins to Vitabiotics), these are currently more the exception than the rule. There is a lot of other great stuff going on in social media, and some really innovative marketing, but it is not really a revolution. That would see a shift-change in the way we approach marketing. Whilst it may be great, a lot of what’s going on is doing old things in new ways rather than doing really new things.

One of the core parts of social media is about the shift from the one-to-one (or one-to-many) publishing model to a model where the community of people online add to and grow content. Some might add a photo, another geo-tag it, another post it to a group in Flickr…and so on. A lot of what seems to be talked about at marketing conferences is using social media to do things in the old way. We need more of the new way - and this means working with the communities online, be they ones that exist already or building your own online community.

Only when this type of engagement marketing is the norm will we really have a revolution.

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Product innovation and co-creation at MyStarbucksIdea


Starbucks logo

Today has been a day of a few announcements from Starbucks. They are expanding their menu and are trying to appeal to different audiences. Today the announcements have been about a new healthy range of breakfast products; a few weeks ago it was a new ‘nurishing’ smoothie with added protein and fibre - Vivanno.

It is clearly a time of much new product development and change at Starbucks, and I was interested to see how they might be integrating their MyStarbucksIdea online community into this process. The community has been running since March 2008 and has proven popular with over 130,000 separate ideas submitted to date. The real strength of this kind of community for Starbucks would come if they could show that it was taking a real role in the innovation process, that it was a good example of co-creation of the type we discussed a few weeks ago in the co-creation series.

So how has MyStarbucksIdea been involved in the development of some of these ideas. If quantitiy of discussions is any indication, then respectably. Over 500 separate comments on Vivanno are on the community. These range from simple announcements of the product in local stores, through suggestions of new flavours, to more fundamental suggestions about the product.

The simplest ideas are sometimes the best. User ‘smadh’ posts a direct comment but one that is a great addition to new product development: add black cherries to the chocolate banana vivanno. There is discussions and disagreement, ‘cosmokitty’ wants small size drinks (sometimes a Grande is just too much), whilst ‘san_jose_alex’ wants the opposite (The Vivanno is delicious and successful. Now it is time to offer it in a larger size!). And in among the over 500 comments there are some that go into more detail. ‘Redwest’ makes a suggestion about the healthy-eating credentials of the drink:

I tried the Chocolate Banana today and was pleasant surprised! Tasted pretty good! My suggestion is trying to keep that exact flavor and cutting down the sugar some… I think that would help this “healthy” drink be even better!

And ‘mizmak35′ was less keen on the drink but makes some suggestions abotu how to make it more appealing:

The Vivanno is neither a Smoothie nor a Frappachino. It was very THIN (like a chocolate milk with a banana thrown in) I would NOT get this again as I am a Frappe addict.
Try making a “real” smoothie consistency and try a chocolate/raspberry combo. Maybe you need to get a soft yogurt machine to compete with the smoothie shops

This level of comment and insight from consumers is of incredible use to a brand and it is good to also see exchanges between members of the community about these comments. Starbucks is able to use these comments and suggestions to feed back into their product development cycle and take changes to market much quicker than they might have been able to before.

Communities like MyStarbucksIdea are a great way to find out how customers respond to new products and to amend them and make changes based on the ideas you are given and the discussions you witness. This is why so many organisations build online research communities, creating a specific space for customers to respond and share ideas and for brands to get real customer insight.

Of course it isn’t clear yet how much the ideas discussed about the Vivanno will be implemented by Starbucks in store. But it will be interesting to watch how all these discussions about the new ‘healthier’ product launches translate into changes to the actual product. Given the level of engagement and involvement that Starbucks have built, it would be a shame if these ideas weren’t used.

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Evaluating mystarbucksidea


A couple of days ago, I wrote about mystarbucksidea and our thoughts at FreshNetworks about the need to close the feedback loop and move the conversation on from just free coffee and free Wi-Fi (see post here). There has been a fair bit of discussion about the benefits of what Starbucks is doing, and as specialists in online communities and customer engagement, it’s something the team has been following quite closely. Some of the more interesting comments are below.

Brazen Careerist thinks that the Starbucks site is struggling because it is not showing customers that it is really listening. This highlights one of the difficulties of setting up an online community or social network for customers - it is not as simple as setting up a site, sitting back and waiting for the magic to happen. It takes close, expert and dedicated management to make it a success.

Charline Li at Groundswell is more enthusiastic and highlightsone significant benefits of such online communities. She has been able to find other Starbucks customers with similar concerns and ideas to her, realising she’s not alone but rathe is a regular member of the Starbucks communitiy.

Netbanker thinks that the Starbucks site could be emulated by the financial services industry. This crosover is particularly interesting as Starbucks (and the Dell predecessor) are both product based offers - banks and the like offer services and it would be interesting to see how a similar online engagement tool could work in this domain.

Finally, Bob Poole comments on Starbucks claim to now be listening to customers through the site: “What were they doing before? Not listening?”. As with all successful online activitie, in needs to run alongside your offline efforts; not cannibalise them. Starbucks wants your ideas


I signed up for mystarbucksidea this weekend - a new customer feedback and engagement site launched by Starbucks this week. In the vein of Dell’s Ideastorm, the new Starbucks site is an online customer opinions box. As with Dell’s site, customers can sign up and then leave comments or suggestions. Other users can ‘vote’ for a suggestion or leave another comment on it. See here for a quick comparison of these two sites.

At their best, sites like this can be really poawerful for brands. They provide a controlled mechanism for customer feedback, allow all points of view to be heard but only those that have mass popularity (and so higher votes) to emerge as ones that a brand might take forward. By addiding comments, customers and contributors can cocreate rounded ideas. And at their most powerful, the brands themselves will feedback what has happened with, at least, the most popular ideas.

Closing the feedback loop is critical to the success of sites such as these. At the moment, most of the comments are suggesting (perhaps unsurprisingly) either free coffees for regulars (on their birthday, after buying nine cups etc) or free Wi-Fi. To move the conversation on from this and to get some real and innovative cocreation of ideas, Starbucks needs to respond to and close repetitive threads such as this. It’s why at FreshNetworks we think that Community Management is critical to making any online customer engagement tool a success. We need to close the Starbucks feedback loop, explain why customers can (or why they cannot) get free coffee / Wi-Fi and then point any future comments such as this to the same response. This shows that you are listening, but also lets other, more creative comments and ideas shine through.