Social CRM: Keeping it Social

dynamics crm

Recently, I tweeted about an article on social CRM from Mashable (I tweet at http://twitter.com/MarketingLetter). For those of you interested in CRM or unhappy with the results you’re getting from your CRM efforts, this is a good place to start in understanding how to improve your program and get more traction for your marketing to generate higher returns.

social crm
Image courtesy of Microsoft

What is social CRM?

Social CRM or social customer relationship management is the integration of social media channels into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms. Increasingly, CRM platforms support social media alongside traditional channels so customers can interact with businesses via their preferred channels. This means better customer service and greater marketing insight gathered from customer social media data. [source]

As this definition implies, social CRM must go beyond simply technology. It relies on understanding customer needs and providing for those needs on the platform that best suits your customer at any given point in time. As an example of social CRM, check out the customer dashboard above provided through a Microsoft CRM product.

Responding to this, firms now host customer service hours across social platforms, monitor social platforms, especially Twitter, so they can respond to customer complaints in a timely fashion, and encourage user-generated content that supports customer needs, such as addressing usage issues and recommending new uses.

CRM in the digital age

This article reinforces some contentions I made in earlier blog posts — that CRM goes beyond technology and involves creating valuable relationships with customers. In an earlier article, I made the statement stating “The name CRM stands for “customer relationship management,” which is a misnomer because the company no longer controls or manages the relationship –- the customer does”, which is really at the heart of our discussion on social CRM. Instead of managing the relationships with customers, a firm must now monitor customer communications as a means to address concerns, offer support, and suggest solutions.



I frequently make the point that today’s consumer is more “digital” and gets their information from online sources, especially from others in their social networks including Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin.  Certainly, this is true — at least for some subset of consumers, such as millennials.  However, data suggest that up to 93% of purchase decisions are influenced by posts on social media.

Today, I make the important point that engaging in social CRM goes beyond technological solutions, involving listening, analyzing, relating, and acting on these digital customers in ways that reinforce their relationship to your brand.

Building a social CRM strategy

Here’s a nice diagram showing how to build on these network relationships to improve the profitability of the firm. As you move down the graphic vertically, you build increasingly stronger relationships with customers and achieve greater benefits from these strong relationships. Notice how the strategies vary slightly depending on the stage of the relationship.
implementing social crmImage courtesy of E-Commerce Times

One nice element of this image is it recognizes that building customer relationships is a sequential process that starts with understanding and ends with improved performance, rather than expecting that improved performance is easily achieved with minimal effort.

Another aspect of the image I endorse is that it’s focused on actionable advice for achieving improvements at each step in the process of social CRM. Initial steps in the strategy involve understanding customers and your ability to satisfy them with building strategy, rather than simply jumping into social media without a plan. This helps ensure you’re able to achieve your goals, saves time and money, and makes your efforts more professional.

A final element I want to point out from this image, which packs a lot of punch in a small space, is the role of customers in promoting your brand. This isn’t something you do to customers but something you do with customers. That means you have to provide incentives for customers who choose to engage with you and your brand. It’s a tit-for-tat world out there so don’t expect to sustain continued engagement without providing some benefits.

Benefits provided to your community might include small tokens such as call-outs to consumers who engage with you or supporting causes they believe in. Influencers might get more tangible rewards since they bring a large party to the table.



Building stronger relationships with customers and prospects

Storytelling in social media

Remember from old episodes of Cheers (or watch them on one of the oldies stations or Netflix) how everyone congregated at the bar to swap stories, gossip, or just hang out in a place where “everyone knows your name”. Digital consumers are looking for this type of community online since there are so few places to find it in the “real world”, especially during the Covid pandemic.

instagram stories social media giveaway contest

Whether they’re on Facebook, TikTok, or another social network, they’re hoping for a community where they feel part of something bigger.  When firms interfere with this community through heavy-handed efforts to promote their business (like pop up ads, banner ads, or too many ads) they risk wasting money, creating a poor brand image, encouraging negative comments, and may ultimately drive customers away (consider recent criticism of Facebook privacy and efforts to create alternative social networks as signals their algorithm interferes with community in favor of profits from business advertising).

Developing an online community should; therefore, be the long-term strategy for firms (along with shorter-term strategies that help pay the bills today). Native advertising that slips into the conversation without stopping it, is a great tool for achieving these twin goals. So is storytelling, where the company message is embedded in an entertaining or informative story or even within community efforts by the brand, such as a beach cleanup or employees coaching a team in an area with lots of underprivileged children.

Community places the firm within the group, rather than outside, and makes the firm’s social spaces a place where consumers want to “hang out”. While they’re hanging out in the firm’s social space, they are supporting the brand image of the firm by drawing others from their social network into the space, talking favorably about the firm among members of their social networks, and becoming more likely to buy the firm’s products (and be loyal to these purchases).

Very “you” centered rather than “me” centered

A brand facile in using social CRM is focused on what you, the reader, need rather than what the firm needs to reach its marketing goals. What content would you find most valuable? What form would you like that content in? Video? Audio? Where would you like to see this content (where would you find it most easily)? Don’t just sell your products, engage your readers in a conversation about topics related to your products, your humanitarian efforts, and the celebrations of your people.

Social CRM involves tit for tat arrangement in support of your goals. For instance, form a community around others in your niche for mutual support. Comment on their blog pages, not just to promote yourself, but to contribute to the conversations on their platforms. And thank people who comment on your efforts. Identify influencers or prospective business customers and write about them in your posts. For instance, mention the prospective customer by highlighting their community efforts.



Provide useful content not self-promotion

This fits with the comments above. You need to give your readers something to keep them coming back. Too much of the advice I read about attracting website visitors sounds like the days of transaction marketing — get them in by any means possible — rather than relationship marketing — focus on providing customer value and visitors will return time and time again.

content marketing roi
Image courtesy of Neil Patel

If possible, not only should your content provide value, but unique and interesting content. And remember, this is the Sesame Street generation, for the most part. They want their content fast and easily digestible. If you do this, you’re more likely to go viral, as well. Plus, you’ll attract backlinks that support your SEO efforts, especially if you create custom graphics and videos.

Also, resist efforts to do affiliate marketing and a ton of advertising just to bring in a few bucks. Don’t dilute your valuable content with too many sales efforts. Notice, I added a few ads through Google Adsense to this post, but the ads are limited and don’t really interfere with your enjoyment of the content.

Brand communities provide value

Wikipedia defines online community as:

a virtual community that exists online whose members enable its existence through taking part in membership rituals (Amy Jo Kim, 2000). An online community can take the form of an information system where anyone can post content, such as a Bulletin board system or one where only a restricted number of people can initiate posts, such as Weblogs. Online communities have also become a supplemental form of communication between people who know each other primarily in real life. Many means are used in social software separately or in combination, including text-based chat rooms and forums that use voice, video text or avatars. Significant socio-technical change may have resulted from the proliferation of such Internet-based social networks.

Online communities provide lots of value for both consumers and commercial interests.  For consumers, these benefits include the replacement of “real” community that increasingly disappeared. Gone are the block parties, bowling leagues, book clubs, church socials, and other forms of community enjoyed in the past. Sure, these community groups still exist, but they struggle to stay alive a membership drops due to the increased number of work hours, geographic dispersion, increasingly busy lives, and Covid. While sociologists propose alternative reasons to explain the death of “real” communities (check out Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam for a great treatise on this phenomenon), there’s no disagreement that online communities are growing exponentially to take their place.

digital influence on purchase decisions
Image courtesy of Digital Marketing Community

Commercial interests are increasingly focused on virtual communities as social networks become an important part of their marketing strategies. Virtual communities provide value when used as part of a systematic marketing strategy, including engendering trust, encouraging sharing information, increased willingness to engage in new product creation, and other values.* Facebook’s transition to the metaverse is an example of how the world is increasingly built in virtual rather than physical spaces.

Brand communities are a specific type of community that focuses on a particular brand of product rather than more generalized communities. Brand communities can exist in real life, such as the Harley Owners Group (HOGs) or as virtual communities existing primarily online.

For instance, I’ve studied the Disney online community where members use the internet to share their love of Disney parks, products, and movies. Additional value accrues to firms sponsoring brand communities. In the Disney brand community, members spread information and know-how to help park visitors have more enjoyable visits, they challenged each other to be the most serious Disney-holic which encouraged more visits to the parks and made frequent park visits appear normal,  and addressed negative comments to reduce the impact of these comments.

Avoid dangers posed by your social CRM programs

However, there is a dark side to online community that you must consider when developing a marketing strategy. Specific dangers include:

  • Fake reviews and negative comments
  • Resistance to change
  • Ignoring real complaints

Fake reviews

Everyone has an opinion and they don’t always agree when evaluating a product. You expect that. Some folks want perfection for a small price, which isn’t realistic. But, something about the anonymity provided by screen names and you’re ability to comment without repercussions in an internet audience in the billions, encourages fake reviews or negative comments. We see these in user-to-user interactions where cyberbullying can cause serious psychic or even physical damage. We also see it weaponized against commercial interests by competitors, disgruntled employees, or even customers who didn’t get away with something. Unfortunately, it’s hard for the average user to distinguish between fake reviews and real ones. The best strategy for dealing with fake reviews is to encourage your loyal customers to post real reviews to drown out those fake ones.



Resistance to change

Potentially, the biggest drawback to online communities is their resistance to change. They don’t like improvements to products, discontinuation of existing products, new policies, and procedures, in fact, anything that affects them unless the idea came from the community first.

From the perspective of marketing strategy, this means firms need to get buy-in from their online communities before making changes.  Preferably, they should involve the community early in the change process, gathering opinions, and making changes based on feedback from the community.  Of course, the community doesn’t have the expertise or information to make the most strategically viable decisions, so firms may have to make changes that don’t meet community preferences. In this case, firms should be proactive in communicating with the community rather than letting them find out as the change reaches the marketplace, they should explain why changes must be made, and stay in touch with the community to address questions as they arise.

Ignorance of conversations

Another danger inherent in virtual communities comes when firms don’t follow conversations occurring in the communities, especially when these conversations occur outside of social media owned by the brand. Left unmonitored, communities can run amok and severely damage the reputation of your brand. In the past, firms attempted to shut down the conversation by buying up websites such as “microsoftsucks.com” as a means to interfere with organizing efforts by unhappy customers. Not only will this not work, but it may also actually intensify complaints against the firm. As social networking grows, this danger is growing, as well, as firms find it increasingly difficult to track conversations related to their brand and address issues arising in these networks. An important element of marketing strategy involves developing a strong monitoring system to track comments about your firm and its brands.

Consistent hard work, not an overnight miracle

Social media offers many benefits, but it’s not easy and it’s not fast. Most experts recommend a strategy that relies on consistent messaging across channels — both yours and those owned by other bloggers  It takes time. It often takes 6-9 months of consistency before you start seeing significant results from your social CRM strategy.

finding new customers
Image courtesy of Marketing Sherpa

But, measure everything and continue posting consistently using the strategies I mentioned earlier in this post. By assessing visits to your blog via tools such as Google Analytics, mentions on Twitter, and comments about you in other web spaces, you can evaluate how well your strategy is working with your target market. This involves creating KPIs (key performance indicators) that encompass the entire funnel, not just conversion. As you add new channels of communication or try new messages, what happens to your analytics?  Make changes based on these results.

It’s part of an overall strategy

Social media has to be part of an overall strategy. Who is your audience? Where do they live online and how do they think? What do they value? Which media do they access frequently? What message do they respond to? How do you leverage your social CRM strategy with traditional media? Who is your competition? What tools are they using and how can you set yourself apart as different from them?

These are questions that lead to a successful media strategy, regardless of the medium.

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