Families and the crowd.

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106 Witten Familie und Crowd

From the research workshop. Family businesses have always been very successful in involving individual customers in the development of new products. In times of digital transformation, they are now increasingly integrating the broad mass of customers into their innovation development via the Internet and with the help of digital technologies.

Innovation means when the market screams hurrah. Or of course the customers. For this reason, companies are increasingly integrating long-term users of their products into innovation development as early as possible. They know where the shoe pinches. An which jobs need improvement. Und how this can actually be implemented.

This so-called open innovation approach is successfully practised by family businesses in particular. Their corporate culture, in which values such as trust, reliability and traceability play an important role, makes it easier for them to maintain a close relationship with their customers. This has long been implemented in workshop formats with individual lead users. These are customers who feel the needs that may become relevant in future markets much earlier than the mass of customers. Their assessment therefore makes the prediction of demand potentials more reliable.

In the meantime, however, not only the opinions and information of individual lead users are requested. In addition, ein Überblick is becoming more and more important due to a broad customer base. However, a family-owned company that would like to systematically record these within the framework of open innovation activities is breaking new ground. How can it contact a large number of decentralized customers, the crowd, in order to jointly develop innovations? What possibilities are there for networking? What fast information and communication channels are available between family businesses and the crowd?

In times of digitalization, the Internet in combination with modern Web 2.0 applications and Internet platforms actually enables a crowd-based solution: "Virtual Idea Community" is the catchword.

In such an idea community, the customer crowd can upload self-developed innovation ideas from the product or company environment of a company to an Internet platform and discuss them intensively. Other customers can take up, comment on and even further develop the ideas they have posted.

The creativity and quality of the idea contributions should be stimulated by the self-reinforcing emergence effect of the collaborative interaction of different customers or product users with different knowledge, strengths and experiences, thus increasing the quality of the original submissions.

Technical requirements for such special Internet platforms manifest themselves in the central customer actions in idea communities. The main focus here is on the input, commenting and evaluation of ideas, as well as on the joint development of ideas.

Therefore, from a technical point of view, idea community platforms usually combine various digital Web 2.0 technologies and combine them to form an overall system.

An example of this is the idea management system. Such systems are well known from the company suggestion system. In companies, they are usually operated via the intranet. Now they experience a new application domain through idea communities. Idea management systems organize the generation, presentation, filing, administration and retrieval of customer ideas in idea communities. They help the company to manage customer ideas efficiently. Finding good ideas quickly in a large pool is also important to protect them from theft. Once promising ideas have been identified, they can be protected from prying eyes of the competition by blocking functions.

Another digital Web 2.0 technology integrated into virtual idea community platforms is the online evaluation system. Damit customers can judge already submitted ideas.

Such rating functionalities can be found in various forms on the Internet, for example in social networks such as Facebook, where status messages from other users can be rated by the "Like" button. Or the Amazon online shop, where the products on offer are rated using a five-stage rating scale.

The idea evaluation functionality in idea communities ranges from simple binary scales (thumbs up/thumbs down) to more complex evaluation scales in which, for example, the dimensions of novelty, market potential and feasibility of ideas can be evaluated separately. From the company's point of view, such evaluation systems are also suitable for pre-selecting the best ideas from a mass of submitted proposals.

In this way, idea evaluation systems fulfil an important task. Above all, the company gains a customer-based opinion on the basis of the evaluations. A positive community rating reflects customer acceptance and thus potential market opportunities for an idea.

Wiki technologies are also increasingly finding their way into virtual idea communities. These technologies make it easier for customers to develop ideas that they once uploaded, for example by adding and enriching their own ideas or even overwriting individual text passages.

In addition, modern chat technologies, such as those used in social networks à la Xing or LinkedIn, expand the range. They enable real-time communication among customers for the joint development of ideas.

Large corporations such as Dell, Starbucks, SAP or Google have already been using virtual idea community platforms very successfully for several years. On the Internet platforms of these companies, customers submit thousands of ideas - and are again commented on ten thousand times.

Family businesses are well advised to use virtual idea community platforms, based on various Web 2.0 technologies, for themselves as well, in order to let the crowd have their say in the development of new products. This is because these Internet platforms not only make it possible to reach a large number of decentralized customers cost-effectively and independently of time and place. They also enable the efficient handling of information objects, i.e. innovation ideas.

This avoids misguided new product developments and allows consumer-relevant information and requirements to be recorded at an early stage. Family businesses are still showing restraint. Against the background of their already pronounced open innovation culture, they should venture the step into the crowd. ®

Authors: Dr. Ulrich Bretschneider and Dr. Anne Katarina Heider,

Witten Institute for

Family business (WIFU).

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