Getting a grasp on social CRM

CRM expert Dave Taber investigates the current state of social CRM and the emerging technology tools opening up new opportunities for customer insight

The marketing community has been having so much fun with the term social CRM it's hard to know exactly what it means. Social CRM already offers obvious advantages for both revenue generation and customer support functions, but the definition sure seems to be changing as vendors build out feature sets and integrate acquired companies.

Sure, you can get a plugin that looks into Facebook or LinkedIn, but these will help you see only your personal social network in an easier way. Likewise, you can hook up a lexical analysis tool to your customer community engine, but that really only gives you trailing indicators of sentiment or reputation. These things alone won't help you understand the dynamics of your commercial and personal relationships, let alone provide timely responses. That's the Holy Grail.

Despite all the hype, there's a lot of innovation going on here, so let's take a look some social CRM basics.

Lead enrichment has been a real beneficiary of social networking, allowing Salesforce.com's Jigsaw and others to use crowd-sourcing and other techniques to keep volatile contact information up to date. Other approaches to lead enrichment focus on Web scraping and lexical inference. Zoominfo and other systems, for example may synthesise several avatars from an individual's publicly available information. However, this can lead to some ambiguous information value. A case in point: I was recently represented in ZoomInfo as five separate profiles. Consequently, social network graphers and scorers are an area of important innovation, as they help disambiguate ‘Which Dave Taber is this, anyway?’ and help you understand who follows whom.

As you'll remember from The Tipping Point , all social networks are not created equal. Certain individuals have enormous social network reach and act like Internet exchange hubs. It is therefore critical to identify and leverage these ‘connectors’ to get the maximum social network effect. If you follow the idea that commerce is a conversation, then finding the mavens in your community and working them to best effect for PR, marketing and customer service is going to be one of the highest ROI areas for social CRM.

Unfortunately, there is an area where we haven't seen much yet: identifying who in your organisation has the best connection to someone you need to get to. It would be nice to know who has the best social path, for both speed and credibility of connection. Due to privacy policies, security issues and API limitations, however, it looks like we're going to be waiting a while for this one.

With the Facebook IPO and the Salesforce acquisition of Buddy Media, social advertising is all over the trade and mainstream press. There are cool success stories here, but go in with your eyes open. Results vary, and missteps can cost you in customer reputation – or thanks to violations of privacy, in court.

Far more mature are product review engines such as Bazaarvoice and Extole, as well as sites from Yelp and others. Because these systems develop and groom the reactions of your customers, they can achieve dramatic results. Decades of data show the unsolicited opinions of customers are many times more credible and influential than advertising can ever be. Indeed, an entire methodology has sprung out of the research surrounding The Ultimate Question .

For both marketing and customer service, it's important to understand the attitudes of prospects and happiness of customers. That's why sentiment analytics and social media monitoring have become such vibrant areas of social CRM. Reputation Defender, Radian6 and BuzzMetrics are just three of the more recognisable names in this field of more than 200 products, though it's worth noting most of these products are highly specialised and not particularly well-integrated with popular CRM infrastructure.

To help reinforce the right kind of customer reverberations, community management engines help shepherd customers (typically, active community participants) and corral prospects (often, lurkers). When properly linked with your CRM nurturing campaigns, social communities can be equally important to marketing and customer support functions.

Finally, the latest gamification and engagement systems from Bunchball, BuddyMedia, Badgeville and some other ‘B’ companies offer a tantalising look into the potential of social media when combined with social engineering. Expect these to have the biggest payoff with early prospects and confirmed customers, helping extend your influence outside of your ‘walled garden’ community.

With all this, it's easy to have unrealistic expectations about what social CRM will give you. Reaping the benefits of social CRM will also require some work on your part, as well as your technology team, and it won't happen overnight. Remember, though, that innovation rarely comes to those who wait.

David Taber is the author of the new Prentice Hall book, " Salesforce.com Secrets of Success" and is the CEO of SalesLogistix, a certified Salesforce.com consultancy focused on business process improvement through use of CRM systems. SalesLogistix clients are in North America, Europe, Israel and India. Taber has more than 25 years of experience in high tech, including 10 years at the VP level or above.

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