Move from Social Media to Social CRM

Many companies are striving to achieve a better social networking presence. But knowing how to do it successfully and generate new business remains a significant challenge.

What's a marketer to do? Our challenge is to educate ourselves while educating those around us. In fact, it's not just about having "followers" or "likes." It's about tracking how many followers are buying your products or subscribing to your services. As management consultant Peter Drucker wrote, "There is only one valid purpose for a business, and that is to create a customer.... The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence."

Social media is a channel, not a strategy. Twitter and Facebook and other platforms should not be used simply because they exist; rather, usage should be dictated by business sense. Does it solve a problem or provide some other value? If you're developing a social CRM strategy, social media might be one of the channels to pursue.

Despite all the hype and the recklessness with which the label "social" is slapped on existing business models, many industry pundits acknowledge the emergence of a new social customer. The social customer is redefining the way individuals interact with brands and corporations. The social customer readily shares opinions and experiences (good and bad) and increasingly makes buying decisions based on trusted networks spread across a growing landscape of both public and private social networking platforms as well as trusted peer communities. The social customer is involved—and evolved.

There's no doubt that the explosion of social CRM has risen to the level of a business necessity. In fact, Gartner projects that the social CRM market will reach $1 billion in revenue by the close of 2012. That's up from $625 million in 2010.

Businesses can no long operate in a "business as usual" fashion. According to an article in Business News Daily, a recent survey released by Regus indicates that 55 percent of U.S. employers are encouraging employees to join social networks in order to garner more interest in their companies. The survey also revealed that 47 percent of U.S. businesses are using social networks to win new business. Additionally, survey results indicated that 38 percent of U.S. businesses spent up to 20 percent of their marketing budgets on social networking activity.

Acknowledging the evolution of the traditional customer to a more social customer is paving the way for the emergence and acceptance of social CRM. With social CRM, organizations can listen to conversations in real time to develop a clearer sense of customer preferences, sentiment, and opinions; engage with customers on their terms for a more personalized experience; and leverage existing customers' trusted peer network to develop new business opportunities.

While many organizations are using social media, very few are following best practices for social CRM. What is the difference? Here are five ways to move beyond social media to build a successful social CRM practice:

1. Think strategy. Social CRM goes to the heart of how organizations work—how they use social media to solve problems and identify, serve, and retain customers. Social CRM allows organizations to connect with the social customer on the customer's terms, with more relevant and contextual interactions across the customer's preferred channels of communication. The strategy is based on customer engagement and interactions.

Getting started tip: Ask yourself what the ongoing challenges are that your organization needs to solve. Make a list. Now ask yourself, can social CRM help solve any of these problems?

2. Get technology support. Without the technology to help companies work differently, a new philosophy and business strategy are impossible to apply. Technology platforms will either help or hinder organizations as they work toward adopting social CRM strategies.

Getting started tip: Capture your customers' social data. Update your online form and Web site pages to request customers' LinkedIn public profile URL, Twitter username, and Facebook username.

3. Put on your customer hat. What does your customer really want? Rather than pushing out marketing messages to customers, the idea is for companies to listen and collaborate with customers. This approach helps customers to shape their own experiences while solving business problems.

Getting started tip: Use your social media management system to identify members among the people who interact with you and your content on Twitter and Facebook. Be sure to acknowledge and respond to questions and concerns and encourage ideas.

4. Take action. Monitoring the social Web for brand mentions is the most elementary of social media activities. What if your members are asking for specific improvements? You should be able to collect that qualitative data, track sentiment (positive, negative, neutral) and whether it changes over time, and take action on the basis of what you find.

Getting started tip: Track how customers are using social tools to connect with your company. Every customer who joins your company's official LinkedIn group, follows your Twitter account, or "likes" your Facebook page should have his or her status recorded in your CRM system. Your CRM system needs the flexibility to capture and report on the wealth of new data in order to take the appropriate future action.

5. Change your culture. Unless your company makes the cultural and operational shifts to become a truly social organization, you'll have lots of new data but won't see a lasting return on your investment.

Getting started tip: Be sure to recognize and reward the individuals who embrace this shift in culture. As an organization, you owe your employees the appropriate guidelines and ongoing training to excel in today's social world and drive your successful social CRM initiative.

What's the real promise of social CRM? It is the ability to change how your company does business. At the same time, you're improving your customers' experience with your brand while building advocacy. Simply responding to as many comments or tweets as possible doesn't make sense. A bigger goal is to actually fix the problems your customers are identifying and to work to collaborate with them.

Patrick Dorsey is vice president of marketing at Avectra, a developer of Web-based social constituent relationship management solutions for associations, not-for-profits, and fundraisers.

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