People are notoriously bad at telling you what they want when they haven't yet experienced the thing you think they might like. Apple's Steve Jobs is always banging on about it. It's summed up as 'people don't know what they want.'
Which always sounds, well, insulting and patronising. (image courtesy amydeanne)
This (from December 2007) illustrates the point:
"Am I missing something? The headlines (Consumers Prefer GPS over Mobile Internet/GPS edges out internet as desired mobile feature - study) tell us US mobile phone users would rather have a GPS-enabled phone than a mobile-internet enabled one.But people are exceptionally good at shaping a concept to fit their fitness landscape. In fact, they always place a higher value on something they have had input in creating (which brings oodles of peer-to-peer marketing value).
Translation: I'd rather have a sat-nav than be a live, real-time connected node on the network.
What kind of questions resulted in that?
Q"Would you like to know where you are? Or would you like to know any and everything?"
A"Oh, I'll take where I am thanks."
In order to engage them you have to provide the 'thing' to talk about. That becomes the social object; an integral part of the platform-thinking approach. (discover/bring together/surface/work together to fix).
Give them something that interests them, that engages them. Then they'll help shape it. And if you can give them something to experience - then the 'survey' of their feedback will be all the more effective.
That thing could be a workshop in an interesting location, with physical interaction and decisions made, or a beta site with direct links to the developers, or prototypes to add to and delete from, or....
As long as it's something around which discussion-leading-to-change can happen, the social object will be doing its job. And the discussion is key - the process must be social not silo'd.