3 Reasons to Care About Social CRM—and One Not to

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Esteban Kolsky, ThinkJar
Esteban Kolsky, ThinkJar

Why should direct marketers care—or not—about social CRM?

Social CRM is everywhere these days it seems. Just about every vendor in the CRM and enterprise software spaces in the past year has relabeled its product as social CRM, and most of the startups talk about it as if it's the solution to all problems.

Of course, if you ask them to define social CRM—well, that's another story. If you ask 10 vendors to define it you're bound to end up with 20 different answers before the discussion ends, as they would all add something to their definitions that they heard from the executives before them to make their original responses more acceptable.

This brings the question, of course, of the existence of social CRM as a category or market definition. The answer is: No, not really. There's an added value from collecting information from social channels (social media if you want to call it that) and communities and using that data to analyze customer patterns, profiles, and behaviors—and then adding all that to the stored data (CRM) and creating better insights about customers; there is no doubt of that.

Alas, if there's no social CRM but we can generate some value from interfacing and connecting CRM to social channels, what shall we call it? I was asked to respond in five words or less. My answer: “Social CRM is CRM. Period.”

That brings me back to the topic of this column: the essential question of why should direct marketers (those who have a direct connection with users) care about social CRM. I can talk about this forever, but I will briefly summarize it in three reasons why they should care:

1. Interactions with customers happen on social channels more and more. There are too many stats (a quarter of people going to social channels first, more than half of people online are in at least one social network, social traffic surpasses all other uses of the Internet, etc.) to ignore this fact, and virtually all organizations already have or are now embracing those channels. If the interactions happen in social channels, marketers must be there to have the right conversations and collect the right data.

2. Marketers need to collect intelligence about customers' behaviors and sentiments—and those are readily available in social channels. There is an interesting trend we noticed when customers moved to social channels: They became more honest. Instead of answering questions the way they thought we wanted them to answer (as it is traditionally in surveys), customers are freely exchanging their feelings and sentiments in social channels. Nothing is more sincere than a conversation between people, and marketers can “eavesdrop” on them.

3. The main purpose for social channels is collaboration—and that's where direct marketing is going (as well as where everyone else is going). More and more these days we're seeing collaboration between partners, organizations, employees, and customers in online communities. Customers are none too happy to provide direct feedback, information, data, and intelligence in exchange for being heard; communities are the new playground for this to happen, and collaboration is the game. Social channels are the training wheels to get to effective collaboration, thus good proving ground for direct marketers.

Why not

It would be unfair to answer a question of “should I?” without playing devil's advocate and taking the second position, as well. So, here's one reason why direct marketers shouldn't care about social CRM.

There's only one acceptable circumstance for not caring about social CRM: your industry, your customer base, your intended audience, or your target audience aren't in social channels, nor are they likely to be. Granted, this is becoming a smaller and smaller group these days, but there are still certain areas (a simple example is manufacturing, but not because it's not possible; simply because it's still too early) where the use of social channels yields no fruit, nor does it gain much from customers.

What do you think? Is social CRM just a big passing fad?

Or is it, simply, CRM?

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Esteban Kolsky, ThinkJar

Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM delivery, consulting, research, and advisory services. Most recently he spent eight years at Gartner, focused on customer service, CRM research, and consulting. While there he coined the terms for EFM (enterprise feedback management) and CIH (customer interaction hub). He also wrote on the social networking topics that led to today's revolution and assisted Fortune 500 and Global 2,000 organizations in their contact center development—from vendor selection to strategies. Kolsky is currently advising vendors and organizations on how to extend customer interactions from the CRM niche to the entire organization to become social and collaborative businesses.

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