Do you really want to know what your customers think? Do you want to know what they like, dislike, want, need? You better.

Idea exchanges, sometimes referred to as idea banks have been around for a while now, but they’re morphing and becoming more useful and more powerful now that tools like Facebook have become widely accepted. Companies have taken notice of software solutions that listen to the consumer conversation. Corporate idea sites like Dell’s Ideastorm, Starbucks my Idea Exchange, and the Pepsi Refresh Project are leading the way with web based interactive capabilities that allow customers to suggest, vent, and share. Call it the new virtual suggestion box.

First a little background – Online consumer idea communities or idea exchanges are new ways to solicit feedback directly from your loyal consumer base. The solutions are software based, presented via the web, and normally allow both consumers and the businesses to create ideas that consumers then promote/demote, vote up/down, and possibly add their personal comments. But it doesn’t stop there –  these software solutions have complete idea management solutions. But it better be easy to use, and it better be fun, otherwise the users aren’t going to stay interested for long.

Take, who built on the success of their sales SaaS web based platform, created Salesforce’s Idea Exchange module, called a community, that integrates nicely with other back end action oriented systems.  This is an idea management system. Both Dell and Starbucks make great use of customer ideas and information that become action items for management to prioritize, comment, and hopefully address. Even PBS now has a management exchange – the PBS idea exchange. Another good one is the Best Buy IdeaX – check it out or review the case study. Best Buy also uses Lithium’s social CRM platform.

The power with idea exchange software is not just the front end. More attention has been given to integrate the back end. “It’s the back end that allows all this input to aggregate and integrate into all our other systems”. This is an IT solution that solves a business need! It has to talk to the back end so that we can have people behind the scenes pouring over the information and learning how the company needs to react. That’s were companies like Salesforce fill the needed void.

Jive Software, another idea exchange software solution recently released Jive Ideation. Here’s what SAP had to say about it; “”The SAP® Community Network plays a critical role in helping SAP to develop and prioritize new ideas for solutions that meet our customer needs,” said Anne Hardy, vice president, Technology, Office of the CTO, SAP Labs LLC.  “Having now seen the Jive Ideation Module, it is clear the software could play a role in increasing effectiveness in these areas and in managing the projects in private areas until they are ready for a public roll out.”

Other Ideas – Voting for a Cause

Capabilities of idea exchanges are also reaching beyond the business reengineering and supporting corporate giving. Yes, they’re giving money away! Pepsi launched the Pepsi Refresh Project, where they use ideas that you create and vote, and they actually fund the effort. Funding ranges anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000.

Another strong marketing program is the American Express Members Project.

Other areas that are popping up are creative exchanges, mind sharing software, and additional review oriented web 2.0 collaborative site integrations. There’s also interest in promoting idea exchanges inside the company. The community or idea exchange has become the modern day employee suggestion box. Now that might have some traction! Nothing better then knowing that MAYBE someone is listening. Check out  Bright Idea and Spigit. Some background can be found on

In addition to companies like Salesforce and Jive, there’s also a number of open source initiatives creating similar capabilities.

You Better Do Something

There’s nothing worse then customers voicing their opinions and then no one at the company actually does anything with it. So be prepared to engage, provide feedback, rationalization, and communication. It’s a two way tool- use it. Customer or community idea exchange programs really take the discussion to the next level. But we certainly hope you don’t get shocked with what you get. Maybe it’s time for the Federal government to get into to idea exchange business. Oh they already do…it’s called an election. Not sure if they REALLY want to know what we think!

What do you think about idea exchange communities? From a customer perspective do you like it? How about businesses and corporations? Does this trend have legs?

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