Direct-to-consumer brands and other retailers are mining Facebook Groups to get ideas for new products
  • Some direct-to-consumer brands and some retailers are using Facebook Groups to get ideas for new products.
  • The adoption of Facebook Groups comes as the platform shifts toward privacy.
  • Some of these companies say these groups let them interact with their most avid customers and gather direct and real-time feedback from them, which they can use to make design and product changes faster.
  • Brands using social media for product ideas is hardly new, and Facebook Groups aren’t necessarily replacing traditional product development tactics, though.
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After making activewear for men, 5-year-old clothing brand Rhone branched out into casualwear earlier this year. It first rolled out durable pants it called “commuter pants,” adding a similar shirt product in April.

The idea to branch out to everyday clothing was company-led, but the decision to go beyond pants was not. Rhone got the idea thanks to its 1-year-old Facebook Group, where consumers were clamoring for a similar shirt, said CMO Adam Bridegan.

Rather than relying on a traditional product innovation pipeline, the company asked the group’s 1,000-plus members what the new product should look like. Should it have a collar? What solid colors should it be offered in? Should it be washable or dry-cleaned?

The shirt sold out “several thousands of units” in a matter of weeks, according to Rhone, and is set to add inventory and styles later this month.

“We are constantly communicating with our community and implementing changes at a rapid pace,” said Bridegan. “Many of our best selling products have come from our community recommendations and feedback.”

Retailers are increasingly using Facebook Groups for product development

Direct-to-consumer brands including Bark, Lively, Birchbox, and Boyfriend, and even some retailers, like Gap’s men’s athletic brandHill City, are similarly turning to Facebook Groups.

Read More: Direct-to-consumer brands that built their businesses without traditional advertising are now embracing it in key ways to fuel growth

These groups, some retailers say, allow them to gather direct and real-time feedback from customers that they can then use to make design and product changes quickly. The groups also let them connect with and cater to some of their most engaged customers, given that people have to ask to join Facebook Groups.

Bark, for example, has a VIP group that comprises about 10,000 of its longest-standing customers called “Bark Alphas,” where it lets them exclusively try new products. It sees an average of 200 posts and more than 17,000 comments and reactions a week, and in the 10 months since its launch, has served as a test bed for many of Bark’s new products, includingmemory foam bed,poop bags, andtraining pads.

When the company was developing its training pads, it sent out a survey to the group, collecting more than 700 responses. A lot of the feedback was incorporated into the final product, said Stacie Grissom, director of content at Bark. People said that they tended to slip on other brands’ training pads, for instance, so Bark added a floor-friendly adhesive to its own training pads.

“The group has been pivotal in helping us with our product testing surveys,” said Grissom. “Beyond new products, it also gives constant feedback on our current products. We take that feedback and deliver it to our design teams to make adjustments on the 450-plus toys we make each year in real-time.”

Similarly, actress Kate Walsh’s fragrance company Boyfriend frequently uses its private Facebook group “Boyfriend Confidential” as a focus group for new product ideas. After bringing back a perfume last year, for example, the company decided on its next product — a car freshener — by polling the group.

Boyfriend sold hundreds of these car fresheners within weeks, said Luigi Picarazzi, founder and CEO of agency Digital Media Management that runs Boyfriend. Using the group let Boyfriend get its fans involved every step of the way.

“They had a say in everything from what the shape of the bottle should be, to even the messaging on the packaging,” he said. “And it was a safe start, as we got to test the approach out first with low quantities.”

Why Facebook Groups are becoming a bigger focus

Social media has been fertile ground for consumer insights for a long time. Brands such asShake Shack and Pepsi have used chatter on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to learn about consumer preferences and create products accordingly. The former brought on the Chick’n Shack and the latter reintroduced Crystal Pepsi, for instance, this way.

But Alex Sturtevant, global director of brand at Stink Studios, an agency that works with many direct-to-consumer brands including Casper, said that he’s seen an acceleration of brands using social media for concrete business purposes in the past 12 to 18 months.

Brands’ use of Facebook Groups isn’t incidental. Facebook Groups used to serve mainly as avenues for community-building and customer service for brands. But Facebook has been prioritizing Group activity as part of a new emphasis on ephemeral and one-to-one communication.

Facebook has been pushing Groups to marketers and publishers since the recentredesign of its flagship app. Groups are also getting more space in tabs like Watch, Marketplace and the gaming section. According to the company, 1.4 billion people use Groups while2.4 billion people visit Facebook every month.

Read More: Facebook has a new plan to push brands on groups, but breaking up with the news feed is tough for marketers

“It seems to be a big focus for them, and they have been prioritizing groups both in the UX and group posts in the feed,” said Melody Hernandez, VP of Boyfriend Perfume and Digital Media Management. “For us, it’s an opportunity to boost up organic engagement that is efficient and cheap. Not everything has to be pay-to-play.”

Facebook Groups aren’t necessarily replacing traditional product development tactics like research and development, testing, and market research. Instead, some marketers are using them as an extension and confirmation of what they have learned from other channels.

That’s because these groups tend to be small and their members tend to be fans of the brand, not neutral, so brands shouldn’t over-rely on them for product development, said Nate Skinner, co-managing director of Stink Studios. These communities also have less reach than the News Feed, and require resources to monitor, as Business Insider haspreviously reported.

“It’s an incredible way to act fast and iterate, but product development should not be sourced simply from these forums,” he said. “It seems most relevant in the product testing stages, when you can refine the product and begin to understand use cases for messaging it at launch.”

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