Rather than continually striving for technological advances, brands should shift their focus towards how their products and services can enhance the social relationships of consumers.
Despite a long history of using social engineering to drive efficiency, productivity and skills, much of the business potential of social innovation has gone unrealized. As a consumer benefit, social innovation puts relationships between people front and center. Essentially, it involves brands offering services that enhance the social relationships of their customers. Three social innovation opportunities are immediately available to brands — currency, matching and context.
1. Social currency
According to social psychology, the strongest predictor of happiness is relationships with other people. Therefore, social currency that can be spent to deepen and amplify relationships can tip the balance towards one brand over another in highly competitive marketplaces. The following “Four Ps” represent a social currency people can spend on others, and which brands should make available to consumers to enhance their standing and strengthen relationships:
Push – Sharing something with others, such as a promotion that’s redeemable only by sharing on social media, or a joke or picture to post or pass along. The best push elements catch a moment and get shared.
Partnering – Interacting through a conversation, adding content to an existing thread, or an activity that invites reactions from others. For example, when brands work as intermediaries around a compelling human need, such as Mumsnet, which connects parents around common issues. Provided that brands are honest and authentic, they can earn permission to do more in this kind of space.
Participation – Connecting and building a relationship with a social group, such as contributing ideas, joining a discussion or signing a petition. Participation is often about shared passions – think Spotify. Brands that can engage best here are often known for a strong point of view, such as Patagonia.
Place – Connecting or gathering with others in a physical or virtual location where people can go to get something done without the hovering presence of a brand. IKEA’s acquisition of Task Rabbit, for example, helps connect its brand idea about home to a place where there are people with the skills to help other people bring that into being in their own lives.
2. Social matching
Brands should match people to communities that can help them use and consume products in better ways, like recipes, household tips, shopping advice and self-help remedies. They should also link people who share similar passions about their category, and who share interest in a common brand to expose them to new ideas and opportunities in other areas of their lives.
Brands should match consumers in unusual ways that provide serendipity and surprise, exposing individuals to new things through new relationships with new people.
3. Social context
Brands tend to focus on the individual consumer rather than a collection of people that makes up its target market. Yet in the digital world, conversations are increasingly responsible for marketplace outcomes and individuals are channeled by conversations. This means that increasingly it is the network that decides not the individuals.
What makes gaming so engaging, for example, is not the game itself but the community of gamers that provides the social context so vital to the appeal of the experience. Brands should, therefore, get smarter about the social context of consumption, and then innovate around ways to make that social experience better.
Delivering social innovation as a benefit
Social innovation is the open opportunity for out-of-the-box breakthroughs in the marketplace. The imperative is to deliver social innovation as a benefit. This can come from currency, matching or context as outlined above.
When striving to deliver social innovation as a benefit, brands should explore three key questions:
1. What are the social dynamics that enfold my brand?
2. How do social dynamics channel consumers through the decision journey?
3. What will improve the connections and relationships people have with other people?
Brands have only scratched the surface of social innovation. This is the next frontier of value and growth, one tied to the critical elements of experiences, relationships and algorithms in the future of consumption.