Taking the Plunge into Social CRM

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In the column "Integrating Social Media Is a Strategy for Success" (January 2014), I concluded that while not without its challenges, an integrated social CRM strategy incorporating public and private social communities is a powerful way to help your company reach new depths.

I'd like to go a step further by suggesting that you cannot just dip your toe into the social CRM pool and expect meaningful results. Here's why:

  • You need to build self-sustaining public and private social communities to generate and feed meaningful insight into your CRM customer profiles, which in turn can be leveraged to drive enhanced customer engagement. It takes at least one year to build a self-sustaining social community. For every 100 invites you send to customers/prospects to join your community, assume that 10 will accept and participate from time to time, and one of these 10 will become a super user, taking a leading role in driving the success of your community (i.e., commenting and engaging other members on a regular basis). You need at least a dozen super users to sustain a community.
  • It takes time to establish blogger personalities within your community. These are key to driving social community member engagement.
  • Community contests play an important role in driving traffic to your social community. It takes time for members to enter the contest; this cannot be rushed.

Effective social communities establish meaningful success metrics right out of the gate. These include community health and financial return metrics. Community health metrics are straightforward but take time to achieve—e.g., number of members, posts/comments, discussion threads, etc. Financial return metrics are more difficult but equally important. In one community we designed and built, we justified the business case around a .5 percent annual increase in revenue resulting from an additional half case of product sold to each community member every year. This increase resulted from peer recommendations and influence from community members, which again takes time to establish.

Let's review three companies' attempts to achieve meaningful social CRM based on leveraging social insight from their private social communities. Company A, a B2B2C company, created a solid community business case that linked its community to its CRM system, but the initiative was shot down by its executive team, which felt it took too long to realize the proposed revenue gains.

Company B is a B2C company. Its executive team clearly understood the value of social CRM and of the need to create a private social community that drove social insight directly into its CRM system's customer profiles. They agreed on a sound financial metric—the percentage increase in sales from community members versus noncommunity members—and measured this on a quarterly basis. Company B allowed two years to achieve a self-sustaining community, which has since been met. There was also a lot of time spent ensuring that meaningful customer comments made in the social community could be easily harvested and sent to that customer's CRM customer profile, giving Company B's sales and marketing personnel deeper insight into each customer's needs. Its efforts have paid off in increased sales and customer loyalty.

Company C is a global B2B manufacturer. Given its dominant market position, new initiatives, such as its private social community, receive careful scrutiny in a very structured approval process. This has meant that Company C's executives worldwide have had time to buy into and actively engage in the initiative. Its community business case linked the community to its global digital strategy, and included a meaningful ROI at the end of a two-year period. While it has not yet integrated insights gathered from community members into customer profiles, this will hopefully happen soon.

All three companies set out on a solid course to achieve social CRM success. Unlike Company A, Companies B and C accepted that building a self-sustaining social community cannot be accomplished overnight. They acknowledged that it takes time and careful planning to create social CRM success, but that the rewards more than offset the wait. Is your company ready to take the plunge?

Barton Goldenberg (bgoldenberg@ismguide.com) is president and founder of ISM, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1985 that applies CRM/social CRM, big data analytics and insight, knowledge communities, customer experience management, and channel optimization to build customer-centric business initiatives. He is a frequent speaker, author of CRM in Real Time, and publisher of The eGuide to Mobile and Social CRM.

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