User Communities: A New Source of Innovation for Companies

The importance of user communities in the innovation process continues to grow as companies search for new uses for their products. This change fits in with our modern world's evolution towards an open and digital era.


The first step in this direction came from internal "expert" user panels. Then innovation was opened up through collaboration with other organizations. Now, more and more companies are learning to capitalize on user communities to innovate. These communities are external to the company and spring up spontaneously. "They represent an important source of ideas in our evermore digital world where consumers move quickly and share their opinions instantaneously." says Vincent Mangematin, Director of Research and a professor at Grenoble Ecole de Management. The challenge is knowing how to guide these communities to implement co-creation and achieve real results.

Accept a loss of control

The key to success is to be found in a company's willingness to accept its inability to control all aspects of the innovation process. "Allowing users to create and give feedback forces companies to change their R&D strategy. Trying to control what users create is pointless as it will only sterilize their innovative capacity." highlights Mangematin.

Find new uses for existing products

Innovation has transformed from a process based purely on the innovation of objects, to one which creates new uses. It's not just about offering new products, but also new services for these products. "The health sector, for example, is in the middle of a revolution. Companies that meet the needs of healthy people who want to stay healthy are the companies that will win out on the e-health market. This will particularly impact insurance companies who can position themselves with offers related to prevention. They can earn market shares by offering services that accompany consumers in the management of their health in addition to traditional insurance contracts." adds the professor.

Be ready to change your business model

This evolution is leading to new business models. Trackmania is an example of this mutation according to Mangematin. The company, created in 2003, went from providing a PC car racing game to being an online multiplayer game. Trackmania is currently focused on developing tools for its user community and monetizes its game primarily by selling advertisements for car races. Co-creation with user communities is a change that will impact all companies. The question is who will capitalize on these communities for innovation and avoid being "Uberized" by eager newcomers.