Will social media increase users' influence over product development?

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I was just reading Mashable's post on Google Buzz. What struck me most is the potential social media has for empowering users to affect product development.

Google Buzz users "organize" to advocate for new features within days of product launch

Google announced Google Buzz earlier this week. Today, Mashable reported that it had received "just shy of 500 responses" within several hours of asking followers: "What features would you like to see in Google Buzz?".

Just think about it. This is an incredibly inexpensive way to capture market reaction and present supporting evidence to a vendor you're trying to influence. Let's look at two alternatives.

Alternatives for capturing market response to a new product

Before social media, users desiring to influence product development may have chosen to conduct a survey by mail, email, or phone. To do so, they'd need to know who had experience with the product and how to reach them. Of these options, only email has the potential to promise rapid turnaround time. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to obtain a large enough list to get this high a response rate. It also would have taken considerable time and effort to assemble the list and use it to get the message out.

Another alternative would have been to use some sort of broadcast media to get the message out. This would have obviated the need to get names, but broadcast media--such as print, radio and TV advertising-- is generally expensive for that very reason. Even placements in highly targeted publications are rarely free.

Will blogs that can speak for many succeed in influencing product development?

Using a blog to find out what others want--and letting the world know seems an awfully effective way to influence product developers. I know that developing a blog capable of attracting 500 responses isn't free either. It takes a lot of work to build a following large enough to draw that many responses. Moreover, only a small percentage of readers of any post tend to actively contribute; and not every follower reads every post. Still, using a blog to rally support for new features is a lot quicker and cheaper way to influence product developers than the alternatives--and pretty cool.

How do you think Google Buzz will respond?

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