The Importance of Social CRM to Direct Marketers

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Jared Brickman, Pinckney Hugo Group
Jared Brickman, Pinckney Hugo Group

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

The practice of leveraging social media to develop sales, manage reputation, and support customers, known as social customer relationship management (SCRM), has seen mixed results for direct marketers. For some, it has matured into an essential tactic, while others find only needless expense, frustration, and, in the worst cases, damage to reputation. For the most part, however, SCRM programs “have more watchers than users,” with only 11.3% of marketers having a “formal social CRM program in place,” according to a March 2013 CRM.com study of more than 1,000 companies. With this as a backdrop, when should a marketer engage the social space?

Each marketer faces a unique set of circumstances in his organization that requires a thorough analysis. It's more than selecting the right social CRM software or uploading a clever profile photo—the process of assessing opportunities, risks, and metrics to gauge the bottom-line impact of a social CRM program is critical.

First, think about the business's goals and resources. If sales growth, brand presence, managing reputation, or improving customer service are big-ticket items in the business's near-term plans, then social CRM is worth considering. There might also be impetus for giving social CRM a go if existing marketing channels are exhausted (for leads), have lost (or never achieved) the cost efficiencies anticipated, or don't currently include a social CRM program. However, since there's only so much time and money to invest in marketing initiatives, it isn't worth diving into social CRM if resources are best invested in other channels.

All about interactions

When considering social CRM, there is a fundamental question every marketer should ask: Is there a conversation? To answer this question, start with the staff that deals directly with customers or clients (this might be sales, marketing, or support teams). In a discussion about their conversations with target customers, try to draw out key terms and phrases. Next, enter those terms and phrases into Google and free social media monitoring tools such as Social Mention or Topsy. Do those keywords return relevant conversations? Are these conversations being had by target users or is it all simply intra-industry feedback? While “the big social networks” (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Google+) are good platforms to review, don't forget to browse relevant lesser-known niche social networks and online communities.

If the research shows that the social media conversation is alive, next consider the opportunities and risks of getting the brand involved. At minimum, is there an opportunity to successfully establish an active and engaged brand presence in these spaces? What is the likelihood that users will engage with the brand online? Can you drive users to make purchases? How much burden and expense could be relieved from the customer support department if issues could be mitigated via social media? On the risk side, what's the likelihood that you'll spend time and money building a presence that result in dead air? Or, worse, a brand reputation disaster, a la McDonald's #McDStories.

These questions do not come with cut-and-dried answers. For clues to what the risks and opportunities may be, turn again to social listening tools to monitor your competitors. If they've actively participated in social conversations for at least a year or two, there's a strong chance their social tactics are good for the company's bottom line.

Before fully investing in social CRM, it's important to formalize a methodology and tie in metrics that will help measure its effectiveness. While Facebook likes and Twitter followers are nice data points for marketing team meetings, real dollar-value conversions driven by those channels are more impactful in the boardroom. A broad range of sales and customer support data tools can help marketers track target users' social touchpoints all the way through to the close of the business. These software packages are the key to efficiently and effectively relating social CRM activities back to the bottom line. It's important to consider their costs, along with the cost and time of hiring or engaging resources to manage them, when weighing the benefit of investment.

Why should direct marketers care about social CRM? Simply put, it might well be a worthwhile investment. But at a glance, it's hard to know if it will be a waste of time and money, or a keystone marketing tactic. Either way, with the continued rapid growth of online marketing channels, there's little argument against making the comparatively smaller time investment necessary to methodically assess the unique set of opportunities and risks involved in tapping the social sphere.

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Jared Brickman, Pinckney Hugo Group

As senior digital strategist, Brickman is responsible for planning and managing interactive projects and programs for agency clients. Brickman also is a Google AdWords Qualifi ed Individual. Prior to joining Pinckney Hugo Group, he was a digital specialist at Greteman Group. He has also been a keynote speaker for the American Marketing Association, the Public Relations Society of America, and several other organizations. Brickman received a Webby Award Honor in NetArt from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. A trained pianist and bassist, Brickman used to be an A&R executive and has experience playing in a variety of music groups across numerous genres. During his musical career, Brickman headlined a debut show at the Knitting Factory in New York and toured with the Crane Latin Ensemble.

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