NEW YORK—Over the course of just a few years, social media has evolved from a novelty that companies were just starting to experiment with into a core channel for driving customer engagement, panelists agreed during a morning discussion on the third and final day of the CRM Evolution conference here Wednesday. Still, the platform is in flux. "Before the problem was that no one knew what social [media] is, but now the problem is that everyone knows what it is and everyone is doing it, but that doesn't mean they're doing it well," Chris Morace, chief strategy officer at Jive, said.
Though building a social media presence is the first step in developing an effective overall strategy, it isn't enough to differentiate companies in a market where nearly every organization has a Facebook or Twitter page. To take the initiative further, companies have to stop thinking of social media as a channel and think of it as "an extension of the customer," Katy Keim, chief marketing officer at Lithium Technologies, said, echoing a sentiment that many others have shared during the conference.
For some time, social media was just a powerful listening tool that enabled customers to provide uninhibited feedback, but social networks are slowly beginning to drive action as well. "It's not just about identifying a customer problem through a Facebook complaint and shooting it around the organization until you find the right person to solve it anymore," Steve Kraus, senior director of CRM product marketing at Pegasystems, said. "Now, it's about converting those complaints or concerns to actions like price adjustments or service changes."
Other panelists said they were noticing similar changes in their customers' strategies. Meg Bear, group vice president of the cloud social platform at Oracle, shared how clients including Leapfrog and General Motors are relying on Oracle's social listening tools to convert customer feedback into actual changes. Leapfrog, for example, is responding to a social media–generated push to bring back an old beloved toy, while GM is using Oracle's new Social Station tool to better deliver on social objectives and rehabilitate the company image through social customer engagement. "Every story has a hero. When it comes to brand-customer relationships, the customer is the hero, and social is helping put the hero at the forefront," Bear said.
In the sports industry, social presents a unique opportunity for brands to engage customers during the off season or during any sales downturns. Typically, major league sports teams have an advantage over other brands because their customers—the fans—