Social Media & Product Management (Pt. 1)

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jtpedersen_social media_roundaboutThis marks the start of a series on Social Media as it relates to Product Management.  Social Media has significantly matured, particularly over the past three years.  Yet, given its relative ubiquity, just how to leverage it productively, let alone understand it effectively, remains something of a bugaboo for many.

And, why is that?  What is social media?  Who can use it? What are the benefits? Why might it work, or not, for different people.  These are a handful of the questions I’ll look to address.

Lets Get Started
For today, let’s take a look at what I mean, by, social media for product management?  Fundamentally, I’m talking about how product managers, those responsible for charting the course of a product, can use social media to improve their efforts.

Social media enables to building of effective relationships with an interested audience, enabling you to better guide your product through it’s entire lifecycle.

Common Ground
Let’s step back a moment, and clarify the context of ‘product manager.’ The reference to a ‘product manager’ can vary significantly from one company to the next, as well as one industry to another.  In some cases, ‘product management’ is undertaken as a team activity.

The team might include, or reside in, Marketing, Sales, Development/Engineering, and Project Management organizations.  Each team member may be viewed as having equal responsibility in bringing a product to market.  In other contexts, perhaps most common, the product manager is viewed as owning the ‘dream,’ yet without direct resource control, relying on his or her ability to sell their dream to the other team members (including senior management).

Regardless of how your organizations defines a ‘product manager,’ for our purposes here I ask you to think of this person as the product owner, the person (individually or collectively) who needs to collect feedback and morph it into a dream.

A Traditional Approach
A traditional approach to product management often depends on someone who is a SME, or subject matter expert.  The ‘essence’ of what a product is, or will become, is tightly tied to this individual’s sense of what the market needs.  Along the way, they will engage various consultants, authors, customers, and internal staff (e.g. Sales, Marketing, & Support), as they pick and chose their path.

The product manager, depending largely on their own expertise, solicits input from various knowledgeable sources.  It’s a very demanding position.  All these input sources end up funneling their views of what the market needs into a single person.

A key challenge, is that this is only so scalable.  At some point, you can only take so many calls; meet so many customers; read so many email; or review data on defect reports and customer issues.  Yet, the breadth of input—despite the deluge—can be relatively narrow.  Support provides input from your existing customers.  Sales provides feedback based on the shifting sands of their daily competitive landscape filled with prospective customers.

As a product manager, I know I am always trying to capture as much input as possible, while also balancing it against all the other input.  So, yes, I can hear you now, thinking something like, “…uh, yeah, and he’s about to suggest I spend an extra 3 hours a day twittering away.’”  Uh, no.  Bear with me, we’ll get there.

The New Tools
With the next section, we will start to look at some of the relatively new tools available.  We’ll also spend some time discussing current constraints, such as corporate policies, comfort levels, and yes, the ‘time suck.’

(image credit: Colin Brough)