Social Media Expands Role of the Customer

NEW YORK (CRM Evolution 2011) — Customers are no longer just customers. That was the pithy conclusion of Tuesday’s keynote panel, “Innovative Social Strategies,” at CRM Evolution 2011.

“[Companies] are integrating customers into their activities, engaging the customers in the creation of their business model, and getting rewarded so there is an immediate business benefit that circulates,” said Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group. Greenberg was joined by Ray Wang, principal analyst and CEO of Constellation Research Group, and Brian Solis, principal of Altimeter Group. The panel was moderated by Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal of Third Idea Consulting.

While social media should be top of mind for businesses, Greenberg said, the basics cannot be ignored. “They are the fundamentals of what you have to do for your customers,” he said. “Consequently, the hype around that these channels are a must is beginning to fade, and people are starting to figure out what they really need to do to utilize these channels.”

Wang added, “Businesses are looking at emerging technologies, and they are trying to stuff them into existing frameworks, processes, and technologies, and really it’s just another channel and just another technology.”

Wang encouraged companies to apply social media best practices to traditional forms of marketing. “Even with conversation and listening to customers, it still doesn’t change the fact that if you read a company’s mission statement or vision statement on the company’s Web site, it doesn’t speak at all to a human being,” he said. “So it actually unravels at the very beginning as to what he company stands for in the new era where the customer actually has a say in what that business means for the people around them.”

Solis related this phenomenon to issues that arose around e-commerce. Social media and social CRM have to be an “enabler for business,” he observed. “The same kinds of questions are happening here. People are just trying to figure out what this is. What makes sense? How can we get this in the marketplace? They need to experiment. They need to try and test it out.”

This kind of “experimentation,” Solis continued, takes “people like you. It takes time and energy and willingness to stick your head out just a little bit to make it a little bit better for the customer and a little bit better for someone inside the company. The cost of doing that has come down, and that’s the one big difference between this era and e-commerce.”

While Greenberg agreed that “the cost of experimentation, at least initially, is low, fundamental problems” will result if a business fails to plan and think through its goals from the beginning of a social media campaign. “We have an incredible amount of companies using social media now because it’s social media, and others are using it because they think they need to,” he said. “Always have a strategy of what business value you want to extract. It’s not always about just doing it because.”

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