Social CRM: Do Your Homework

In the past six months, there has been an absolute explosion in the use of the term “Social CRM.” That makes right now a good time to take a look at how this term is used, and who means what by it. The difference between various offerings is huge, so it’s well worth your time.

First, understand what is meant by “social” in the context of CRM (define). CRM as a form of technical art has been around for awhile, so it’s better to define it (though more than a few new entrants appear not to have fully appreciated this). In this context, social implies that people are working with other people to share information and produce better outcomes. In a recent column, I noted the difference between “interactive” and “social,” and that same distinction applies here. So, right off the bat solutions that claim “social CRM” but then demonstrate what they mean through features that post marketing e-mails to Twitter are lightweight at best. Useful? Sure – a recipient pushing an e-mail offer into her network is worth something. Is this social CRM? You be the judge.

What really makes “social + CRM” work? Connecting customers, business processes, and employees. (Note that this is equally applicable in non-profit or governmental organizations, though the terminology may differ.) Social CRM involves multiple elements, linked together, to provide an end-to-end understanding of how your brand, product, or service is received in the marketplace and how your internal processes produce and deliver experiences that drive this reception. Zappos is the oft-cited example: get the right people, organized around the right values and processes, and the marketplace conversations will largely take care of themselves. (For an excellent presentation of social CRM, you can view this presentation prepared by Gaurav Mishra, CEO of an agency where I’m the consulting director.)

Active Listening

The processes that underlie social CRM and its application to business start with active listening, a term coined by Rohit Bhargava. Platforms like Alterian’s SM2, Sysomos’ Heartbeat, and Radian6 provide the tools – including the critical workflow elements – needed to undertake a solid listening program in a way that fits near any budget. Tied together with tools like BuzzStream or, a robust enthusiast/influencer view of your markets can be had. Brands ranging from mid-size national firms like India’s Cafe Coffee Day to global brands like Philips are using listening programs to more fully understand – in near real time – what their customers are thinking, a point emphasized recently by thought-leader Esteban Kolsky. (Disclosure: Philips is a client with whom I am currently working.)

Social Applications and Collaboration

In another column, I discussed the engagement process and the role that social applications play in driving collaboration. Back in 2006, I talked about this same point from a purely advertising perspective. We’ve come a good distance since then but the fundamentals remain: get your customers or constituents working together and you’ve taken a huge step in creating a social business.

At the CII 2010 Brand Summit in Bangalore last week, Rohit Bhargava cited the example of the Obama logo: designed to be used, changed, morphed, and adopted (in the personal ownership sense) by related causes, organizations, and constituents, it stands as an example of what it means to give over control. Take a look at your brand standards and logo usage guidelines: are they restrictive (most are) or do they encourage “remixing”?

Examples of engaging social applications and collaborative platforms range from incorporating more pronounced social CRM capability to the Dell and Starbucks “ideation” apps built on India’s Hindustan Times has created its “Talk to HT” in exactly this same spirit. Right after “ideation,” customer support is the next front in social CRM. Salesmanship begins when the customer says “No,” as the old saw goes. So, customer support begins when the customer says “Yes.”

Platforms from Lithium and Jive (disclosure: I’m a Lithium reseller and have also worked with Jive) provide not only “self service” cost benefits (and who isn’t interested in lowering costs), but do it in ways that actually raise levels of satisfaction. operates here as well and, with its $300 “connector” to, is rapidly maturing into a solid support option with ties to the organization. If you’re keeping track, that’s the third mention of in this column. Keep your eye on it is rapidly spreading across the entire social CRM ecosystem, either with branded products or connectors to other best-of-class service providers.

Back to CRM: count on established CRM veterans like Oracle, SAP, and SAS to weigh in as well, along with Neighborhood America’s ELAvate platform that is aimed at government and public sectors. It all adds up to an emerging tool set that redefines CRM with a distinct social element. Noting that it’s not necessarily a “new thing,” the adoption of social CRM requires some serious research on the part of the business team charged with evaluating this.

Time spent now – while the solutions are emerging – will put you in the driver’s seat when the request to brief your team on what all of this is and what it means to your organization arrives. Trust me on this: that request is sitting in the minds of your C-suite execs right now, and it’s only a matter of time before one of them clicks “Send.” Do your homework now and be ready with an answer.

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