With Facebook heading toward a $100 billion IPO and the statistic that Internet users spend an average of 700 minutes a month on Facebook, the boardroom has started to wake up to the significant role that social networks and social media generally play in managing relationships with customers. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to explore the convergence of social and customer relationship management.
Where customers go, we must follow. They expect it; even back in 2008 a Cone Business in Social Media Study suggested 93 percent of consumers believed a company should have a presence on social media sites and 56 percent believe that by doing so companies were providing better service. When you factor that some segments, particularly young ones, are abandoning web mail for social networks, it’s time to move.
Social media has always been about customers expressing themselves, their feelings, views, and their experiences; essentially talking to each other and their peers. This conversation is taking place in public, and it is the public nature of social media that we need to crucially factor into plans to integrate it into a corporate CRM strategy.
Fan pages on their own do not drive engagement; the starting point for CRM is to connect your company and your brand with customers and prospects. This is potentially one of the greatest immediate benefits that the social networks have given us; the ability to allow customers to automatically opt in to a relationship and, subject to the appropriate privacy approvals, to seamlessly port their profile and contacts from the network to the brand. Creative and imaginative use of in-network advertising, games, brand pages, and peer activities are all a good way to start this process.
However, the privacy elements are critical, and social networks have historically had a pretty bad rap for some of their privacy practices. Being the custodians of so much personal data, they carry some pretty awesome responsibilities. Any consumer brand looking to leverage these social recruitment opportunities needs to comply with all the network privacy standards, but also needs to consider their own policies and practices and even issues such as the legal jurisdiction in which they operate.
Tip for marketers: Creative marketing initiatives, with a solid respect for individual, privacy facilitate a great new way to engage and capture profiles of qualified prospects.
Having engaged the customer, we now want to talk to them. CRM has always been about driving the right message to the right customer at the right time. Increasingly that has been on a personalized and exclusive basis. That is to say, we want you to see this message, but not your friends. Social networks certainly tick the box for the right time and often the right context, but being a community it is often not the right place for those highly targeted exclusive messages.
Arguably, anything exclusive does not play to social strengths and may even backfire. It would be better to focus on campaign activities that are looking to drive fast, more viral distribution and collaborative behavior. For example, travel, entertainment or group buying promotions and activities, leaving the highly targeted stuff for email or other more personal channels.
Tip for marketers: Consider promotional dialogue and messaging that lends itself to social and peer channels, rather than exclusive offers that you don’t want to see shared around.
Socially-led serving is double-edged. In some areas it works incredibly well and is potentially a lower cost way of offering better service. IT and software companies lead the way in peer support models. If you searched for something like, “I cannot get my printer to work” you would quickly find lots of helpful advice and support from people who have resolved exactly that problem. The more fans your brand has, the more people there are that want to help others have the same great experience.
The down side of this type of servicing happens when it gets too personal, say a customer has a huge dispute with a hotel he recently stayed at. The hotel concerned really does want to engage you in a public forum to solve your problem, it is never good, and there are significant privacy question marks about having such a dialogue in a public space. These need to be quickly and effectively “taken outside.”
Tip for marketers: Clear service strategies and monitoring/management practices need to be established to facilitate the good stuff and traffic away from the bad stuff to a place where it can be better and more appropriately managed.
What the peer-based servicing does do is help us identify those brand advocates and leaders that are so committed to your brand they are willing to help you and your customers have a better experience. We need to cultivate and encourage these people, who are unlike traditional PR staff and are doing it because they love you, rather than for money.
These leaders and advocates are perhaps some of the most interesting CRM phenomena to have emerged from the growth of social platforms, so we need to treasure and recognize them. Sometimes a simple thank you and public acknowledgement is enough. Some are starting to go further; Estonian Air has actually started to reward the right social behavior and advocacy with real live FFP miles. It will be important to find the balance between the bribery of miles with that warm feeling that one gets from helping something that you truly care about.
Tip for marketers: Engage your brand ambassadors, thank them, and perhaps occasionally reward them for the support that they give you.
Building Brand Devotion
For years practitioners of loyalty and CRM have been looking to build a greater one to one interaction with their customers, creating a closer and more emotional relationship. By integrating social media and tools into our CRM initiatives, we take a huge step in that direction.
One of the challenges, and there are a few, is to capitalize on the channel effectively, driving the right kind of messaging, the right sort of engagement, and representing your brand to your customers in the different social channels and tools.
Done properly, your customers will love you. Done poorly, your customers will very possibly hate you and may never trust you again.
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