Lead users play a vital role in next generation product development, as they help designers discover relevant product feature preferences months or even years before they are desired by the general customer base. Existing design methodologies proposed to extract lead user preferences are typically constrained by temporal, geographic, size, and heterogeneity limitations. To mitigate these challenges, the authors of this work propose a set of mathematical models that mine social media networks for lead users and the product features that they express relating to specific products. The authors hypothesize that: (i) lead users are discoverable from large scale social media networks and (ii) product feature preferences, mined from lead user social media data, represent product features that do not currently exist in product offerings but will be desired in future product launches. An automated approach to lead user product feature identification is proposed to identify latent features (product features unknown to the public) from social media data. These latent features then serve as the key to discovering innovative users from the ever increasing pool of social media users. The authors collect 2.1 × 109 social media messages in the United States during a period of 31 months (from March 2011 to September 2013) in order to determine whether lead user preferences are discoverable and relevant to next generation cell phone designs.

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