What's in a Name: Is There a Future for Social CRM?

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Here we are, just two years since Gartner introduced its Social CRM Magic Quadrant, sitting on predictions of growing the market to multibillion dollars in the next couple of years, and I ask: Is there a future for social CRM? I know analysts are supposed to be curmudgeons—but is this going too far?

First, let me say that I never liked the term social CRM—I never saw a need to call it social. It would have been fine to simply add social channels and new technologies to an already beleaguered CRM without managing to change its four-letter-word image. Indeed, the value of social CRM was not to reinvent the way relationships are conducted or improve our engagement quotient or even give social customers "control of the conversation," as Paul Greenberg says (rightly so, I might add).

Social CRM was supposed to make money for vendors.

What began with a financial motive yielded new technologies, discoveries, and lessons about customers' expectations and a new way to manage relationships for better value for both the customer and the organization. That was never the goal—but it works far better than making more money ever did.

After three to four years of "doing" social CRM and two failed Gartner attempts at defining a Magic Quadrant and a market, it is time to regroup and ask: Is there a future for social CRM?

Since I am an analyst, the answer is far more complicated than yes or no. It is also not, for probably the first time ever, it depends.

To find the answer, first we have to understand what social is and what it isn't. If you do a Wikipedia search on "social enterprise" or "social service" or even "social marketing," you'll see the term was never meant to describe channels used for collaboration, but rather for actions and movements that improve the way society is and what organizations do to care for people (not related to business).

That the term social has been misused all this time is not surprising. What does surprise me is that what has been dubbed "social behaviors" or "social characteristics" are thought of as new and innovative for organizations. There is not a single business entity today that could be where it is if not for its ability to relate to customers. That is what has made business work since commerce was invented. How can we think this is new?

The only thing that the social "revolution" brought us is more channels. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, communities, forums, and virtually all other social networks and aggregations of people online are channels. There is nothing new on them.

As for the concept of CRM, it is, of course, not new. Not only that, but adding new channels does not change its DNA—it is still about collecting information about customers and using that to create better profiles, to know them better, and to understand how to relate to them better. The many iterations and attempts to destroy or change it through the years have not changed that.

Even though Paul Greenberg is correct that the social customer has gained control of the conversation, this will not bring about a different way to use CRM. We are still out to collect as much information as we can about customers, to aggregate that information, analyze it, and use it to build better relationships. These new social channels brought us a deluge of data that we need to figure out how to categorize, classify, analyze, and use, but that is all there is that is new. The social "revolution" has not changed the core idea or concept of CRM.

Thus, the short answer to the question above is no, there is no future for social CRM.

However, the future for CRM looks quite bright. As I said many moons ago, and have continued to say over the last few years, don't call it SCRM—just add social to CRM and call it done.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner, and has assisted Fortune 500 and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments.

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