9 Easy Ways You Can Use Social Media to Inspire Innovation

Here' s what to look for when using social media to see what customers are saying about your business.
CEO, Small Business Trends LLC
March 19, 2012

There’s a lot of discussion in the innovation community these days about social innovation—the process of harnessing social media to “crowdsource” innovation by drawing in ideas from a wide range of people. But while social media has great power as a crowdsourcing tool, managing, motivating and getting focused input from strangers in the crowd can be time-consuming and difficult for the average small business owner.

Fortunately, there are simpler ways to harness the power of social media to inspire innovation in your company. In fact, with a few tweaks, many of the social media tools and steps that are probably already part of your typical business day can provide a raft of new insights into ways your company could be more innovative.

Use social media to see what your customers are saying about your company, your products and your services. To start, all you need to do is simply observe what customers are posting, tweeting and sharing about your business. Notice not only the questions and concerns that arise, but also those that come into your business by phone, chat, e-mail or any other way customers contact you.

As you read and listen, consider:

  • What customers like about your products or services. Can you come up with related products or services, expand on the products or services that are especially popular, or add new products or services with similar features and benefits?
  • What customers dislike about your products or services. How could you improve the features that aren’t meeting customers’ needs? Should these products or services be eliminated and replaced with something entirely different?
  • Common questions are customers asking about your products or services. If lots of customers repeatedly have problems understanding or operating what you sell, you’ve pinpointed an area where further innovation is needed.

Listening to what customers are telling you about your own products and services is just the first step. Next, use social media to see what customers are saying about your key competitors.


  • What people like about your competitors’ products and services. Could you develop a similar product or service, putting your own innovative spin on it to capture that business?
  • What people dislike about your competitors’ products and services. Does your product or service meet a need that your competitors’ doesn’t? If not, could you innovate something that would fill the needs not currently met by your competitors?
  • Common questions people have about your competitors’ products and services. If what they sell is complex, confusing or hard to use, how could you innovate something simpler to capture that business?
  • If there's a creative way customers are using your product or services. You may discover customers are using your product or service in unexpected ways. Maybe they’re customizing or personalizing it. How could you innovate to provide more customized solutions and capture that business?

Finally, use social media to watch for bigger trends, both among your customers and your competitors’ customers.


  • If there's something that a lot of customers have questions about. Suppose you own a marketing firm and you notice customers talking about Pinterest. That could suggest you need to develop a solution, webinar or product to help your customers take advantage of the tool.
  • If there's something a lot of customers are doing. If you own a luxury tour business, you may notice more customers talking about taking their parents and children with them on vacation. Maybe you need to develop tour packages that will appeal to multi-generation tour groups.

When you shift your thinking about social media to ways it can inspire innovation, you’ll notice new ideas arise quite naturally—all you have to do is listen in. Of course, if you need further insights, you can always throw out questions, polls or conversation-starters of your own.

How are you using social media to innovate in your business?

CEO, Small Business Trends LLC