The internet isn’t just a means to send email and look up information. It’s a powerful tool for all kinds of networked communication. But it’s also a great tool to innovate – in your product, your business, or your organization.

Lately, I’ve had a number of chats with my buddies and collaborators Max Senges and Thomas Praus about innovation, how to create a culture of innovation, and how to use the web to foster it. While more and more organizations start their own blogs (which is great), not too many really use social media to realize their full potentials.

One of the main problems, from a company point-of-view, is of course: How can you measure the success of social media programs? Usually, your average company’s management can only go for a social media program if you can put a clear value to said program, right? (Yes, that’s even true for your not-so-average company, although it may depend.) As web strategist Jeremiah Oywang points out: “This is the year of ROI, measurement, and experimentation.”

Luckily, the consulting & social media community has put a lot of thought into the issue of evaluation and social media measurement. For a good intro, I’d recommend those readings:

But while (at least in the the social media sphere) the tools and strategies to measure success are emerging, so far there’s not enough companies that really know about those tools, and thus don’t have a chance to use them successfully. The idea of giving up control and openly sharing your information with customers can be very scary. But social media and other channels between organization and their stakeholders (users, fans and angry customers alike) offer organizations the chance to really learn what matters to their clients, what bothers them, what drives them crazy. That’s exactly the kind of information that an expensive survey, sent out to 10.000 customers, will not get you. It’s also exactly the kind of information that’s absolutely priceless: You get better feedback, often even great ideas on what to improve, and how. Which brings us right back to our starting point:

Not enough organizations use the web efficiently to foster innovation.

While we were chatting away and brainstormed a little about how to deploy web-based strategies and tools that allow to foster innovation, we came to the conclusion that this is a field to which a lot of companies don’t even have access to. Sure, you’ll find all kinds of stuff on the web. But between web 2.0 startups (who know this kind of stuff themselves) and major global firms (who might hire consultants to inform them), there’s a majority of small and medium-sized enterprises who just don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves. (Not to mention all the NGOs and non-profits.)

It’s time to offer some advice in that regard, and to make it easier to access the relevant information. We haven’t yet decided how exactly to go about it. But as a first step, I’ll try to collect more relevant information here on this weblog. As a second step, the three of us are thinking about offering some kind of consulting on the issues of web-based innovation, social media, and better access to new markets. As of now, it’s still very much up in the air how exactly this will look. (As freelancers, but working closely together, following the example of Stowe Boyd & The Messengers; Or rather as a proper company? Who knows.)

But first, I’d like to hear your story: Does your company know how to use the web to innovate? What strategies and tools have you deployed, what worked, and what didn’t? Are you a social media evangelist in your organization? What obstacles did you have to overcome, and how did you? Share your experiences, so others can learn from you!

Full disclosure: I’ve known both Max and Thomas for a long time and we’ve collaborated in a number of projects. Among other things, the three of us have co-written a book about Second Life (buy in Spanish, download for free in English) for Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Thomas and I have also worked together at face2net for a while.)

Update: For easier access to the collected information, you can find it in the (new) category web-based innovation.