What’s Next for Social CRM?

If you’ve been interested in using social media as a marketing vehicle, you’re probably aware of social CRM and the abundance of excitement around it as the answer for improving social consumer and fan base engagement. It embodies both marketing art and science. It’s sexy yet geeky (that’s a compliment because I believe geeks will inherit the earth); an ideal stimulus for both sides of the marketer’s brain. At the moment, social CRM is epitomized by cloud-based solutions such as Radian6, Buddy Media, and SocialBakers.

While I’m very impressed by how these solutions empower their customers to more easily monitor, measure, analyze, and publish at the most optimal times with the most optimal content; I am still hearing about unmet needs in the marketplace. I’m listing three of these key opportunities to indicate where I think social CRM may go over the next couple of years, so that you may consider incorporating these ideas into your own brand’s future social CRM roadmap.

Incorporate an Automated System for Social Loyalty and Rewards

It’s fundamental for brands to listen, measure, and analyze; but several 2011 studies cite “exclusive offers” as the number one thing that Facebook users expect when they like a brand’s page. Social marketers ought to prioritize their social service offerings based on what the customers want. Many brands currently reward perks and run contests on an ad hoc basis, but the often lack of follow-through compromises their campaigns’ effectiveness. I believe that, if marketers employ a more continuous, systematic, and automated approach – thinking less about campaigning, and more about continuous engagement and programming – they can increase efficiency, deliver sustainable impact, and truly boost brand ROI by enhancing customer loyalty and advocacy.

I believe smart gamification programs with tangible branded rewards that deepen the consumers’ appreciation of the brands can be a good answer to this. As mentioned in my previous article, “The Future Is Free,” you should leverage the advocacy potential of every reward handed out to ensure that you systematically maximize the win-win for your brand and the fans. And don’t be intimidated by terms like “gamification.” It’s just the latest way of describing a proven and familiar business practice that has existed since the advent of frequent flyer program – reaching Diamond Level or 1K is conceptually similar to becoming a Foursquare mayor, isn’t it?

Integrate With Existing Offline CRM and Loyalty Programs

Marketers have invested tons of money into traditional CRM and are now looking to augment that investment by joining purchases with expressed social intent. That way, marketers can not only better predict interest/intent, and have a communication channel to act with; but they can also better tie social investments to offline purchases if their existing CRM systems capture that information.

Although the identification of individuals across systems can be made by matching email addresses and/or mobile numbers, I recommend creating a social app that obtains permission to mine social data from your users, then explicitly asking them for their existing CRM or loyalty programs IDs.  This way you have an opportunity to clearly explain how you plan to use the data and have a reliable way to link data.

Once joined, the value of your existing customer databases will immediately increase. Your social CRM and loyalty program will also be more attractive because you can start to offer real-world perks that you already offer through the existing system.

Engage Across Multiple Brand Touch Points and Channels

Currently, social CRM is still largely limited to what brands do online and on Facebook, but the most interesting innovation is happening at the intersection with offline – think mobile plus local. All the questions that I’ve received about what social can do for offline channels (e.g., retail and billboards) and the fact that the majority of ad budgets are still invested in traditional media indicate to me that social CRM will incorporate offline media – in a serious, concerted mainstream manner – very soon.

How can we do this? LBS mobile apps, QR codes, and new technologies such as near-field communication will help to bridge the gap. As mobile users increasingly understand QR codes and scan them, I see marketers using them more widely and creatively in print, outdoor displays, and on in-store displays to identify and reward “offline” engagements. Technologies like IntoNow (acquired in 2011 by Yahoo) and next generation TVs can help marketers identify what specific consumers are watching on TV.

I can’t predict what new technologies will thrive, but I’m certain future social technologies will help marketers identify more brand interactions in more places, and aggregate that information into one place for follow-up actions. This is transformational for CRM, as it allows marketers to finally fill the great void between inactive members and customers who purchased with better-defined segments of active users and social influencers.

While many of these active social users may never convert to customers, in the age of social they still have enormous value as potential brand advocates. I hope that we marketers will resist the old CRM temptation to try to convert them with lots of direct mail promotions and AB-tested-perfectly-retargeted banner ads. We should instead aim to better use their social data to understand their reasons for engaging with our brands in the first place, and use subtler methods of influence and gift marketing to build longer-lasting loyalty and advocacy.

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