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November 28, 2011

Social CRM Strategy: A Five-Step Guide

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The five steps to developing a social CRM (SCRM) strategy are oriented toward the specifics of the social media ecosystem you’ll be working in and the customers you’ll be working with. Your strategy should also fit the time and resources you have. Take an inventory of your staff resources and the budget you have for sentiment monitoring and listening tools.

Step 1: Find Your Customers

You need to learn how your customers relate to social media. Many people connect to the major social media sites, which have broad appeal and large user communities. Facebook, for example, has 750 million users. In 2011, the site’s fastest growing age segment was 55+.

A second class of sites attracts people based on their interests. There are social networking sites for all kinds of people, from schoolteachers and sports fans to parents and programmers. A simple Web search reveals many of these sites.

You also need to keep an eye on sites that might have a peripheral connection to your products and services. For example, the customers of an outdoor equipment company may frequent a site dedicated to adventure travel. You want to be where your customers are and when it comes to social media that means following their interests not just their buying habits.

Step 2: Learn the Language

Once you’ve located the places where customers are either talking about you or about things that relate to your business, don’t jump in right away. Spend some time observing how the group works, who its leaders are, and the kind of language and tone the members use with each other. Your first step is to behave like you deserve to be part of the conversation. Take Mark Twain’s advice, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than it is to speak and remove all doubt.”

Step 3: Listen

Once you’ve located the sites where your customers congregate and spent some time getting a general idea of how they talk with each other, dig a little deeper. If there are subjects that you want to follow and the site has search capability, take a look at what’s been said in the past about those topics. This is listening in the social media world; it should precede participation.

Since you’ve probably identified multiple social media channels to track. How do you listen in on all of these conversations? If you have the resources, consider a staff member dedicated to social media. That person can keep track of the sites you’ve chosen, coordinate responses to conversations, and incorporate data from conversations into your CRM system. Don’t engage in more channels than you can monitor effectively.

Listening is made easier by social media monitoring and sentiment measuring tools. Listening tools can tell you what’s being said and where; sentiment tools can gauge the general tone of the conversations that mention you. Both can increase your social media productivity.

Your company also has great monitoring tools already in place–your employees. Many will use social media outside of work, and they may run across topics that pertain to your business. Employees should be encouraged to report anything they learn to the person you’ve designated to monitor social media.

Step 4: Engage

When your business is ready to engage with customers in a social media conversation, establish clear rules about who does the talking and where they do it. Someone from service could participate in conversations on a site where service issues are discussed. An engineer would be appropriate on a site geared toward developers.

Look for places to engage that will have an impact. If you see the opportunity to make a difference in a conversation, jump in–even if it’s only to say that you don’t know the answer to a question but can find someone who does. Then be sure to follow up. That level of authenticity coupled with tangible assistance builds loyalty with the person you helped. It also establishes you as a reliable participant in the community.

You can also start your own conversations. You could begin with a legitimate question about your customers and what they’re thinking. This approach can deliver actionable intelligence more quickly and inexpensively than a formal survey. Don’t make these the only conversations in which you participate. You’re there to participate as a peer not an interrogator.

Step 5: Make Use Of What You Learn

You can use two types of social media information: the data you uncover in conversations and the data that your customers and potential customers volunteer in setting up their profiles. Don’t focus only on the latter. It ignores the truly social aspects of social media and the richer information that conversations can bring to your attention. It’s also a source that’s likely to diminish as social media users become more sophisticated in their use of privacy controls.

There is no technology that can automatically detect the social media data relevant to your business and sort it by your customers or accounts. People engaged in conversations and monitoring social media sources will need to manually incorporate important information into customer records.

But the use of social media information doesn’t stop there. It also involves careful process design. For example, since a call for help in social media is heard by many people, the transfer of responsibility from social media monitor to designated service contact to the service personnel who can respond is vitally important. The same is true for sales, marketing, and product development.

Finally, make sure your employees know that social CRM can be an all-hands exercise that benefits the entire company, just like traditional CRM.


A recognized influencer in customer relationship management, Chris Bucholtz is Editor in Chief of CRM Outsiders and a founding editor of both InsideCRM and Forecasting Clouds. For more information on how to build your small and medium size business’s customer outreach and empower your employees with Small Business CRM please visit http://www.sugarcrm.com

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