Social CRM: What Is It And Why Should You Care?

crmCustomers are now providing voluntarily the sort of information about themselves that businesses have coveted for years – through social media “channels” like Facebook and Twitter. This information can make marketing more precise and boost the value of customer databases, while increasing sales and improving service.

With social CRM (SCRM) businesses can use social media to build long lasting relationships with customers through meaningful, two-way conversations. That’s what makes SCRM “information rich.” But the relationships come first. Without them, your customers will feel less affinity with – and loyalty to – your business.

SCRM: A Strategy Not A Product

Social CRM is not a process or a product; it’s a strategy that can encompass several technology platforms and tools, including a traditional CRM (customer relationship management) system. Traditional CRM is the foundation of SCRM.

This is a useful definition of SCRM, which was crowdsourced and assembled by Paul Greenberg:

“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

Note that this definition says nothing about what you need to buy, how many people to hire, what processes to use, or how to measure ROI. SCRM is about interacting with the people or groups of people who you know as customers and who have individual traits, desires, and styles of communication.

Through social media, SCRM extends the reach of what you already do in the brick-and-mortar world to relate to the individual qualities of your customers. Social media comprises the various online technologies that enable people to communicate easily via the Internet to share text, audio, video, images, podcasts, and other multimedia communications.

We can all readily name the large social media channels: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. There are also other forms of social media, like blogs, discussion groups and photo sharing sites. Any of these channels may be a place where your customers gather to talk about you.

A conversation that takes place through these channels has a wider reach than one that takes place in a physical location. Complaints or praise made on Facebook will reach more people than comments made to friends over coffee. Social media has given your customers the ability to “broadcast” their opinions.

Types Of Conversations

1. One-To-Many

This is the sort of post you see on Facebook, Twitter, or any message board-style social media resource. Announcements, observations, jokes, and questions are common examples; blogs also qualify as one-to-many conversations.

2. One-To-One

Sometimes, a conversation changes from one-to-many to one-to-one. For example, if a customer voices complaints about your business on Google+, you might invite him to a channel run by your company or engage him via e-mail because it’s a more direct way of resolving his problem. It’s also a way to avoid working through the problem in public.

Or if a customer needs specific technical help, the details of the fix would be very important to the customer, but might not be to everyone else. On the other hand, if the community tends to be highly technical, showing your technical acumen could be worthwhile.

3. One-To-One-To-Many

This is a one-to-one discussion conducted in full view of other members of a social media channel. It starts out as one-to-one, but others will almost certainly participate and expand the scope of the discussion. This is very common in social media.

Let’s take a hypothetical service user group run by a sporting goods store. A thread starts with a customer’s query about tent stakes. The store responds with a message about replacements for missing stakes. Another customer points out that the extra tent pole in the model under discussion could double as an emergency stake. More suggestions follow about how an extra tent pole could be used. The company would chime in if a suggestion was potentially dangerous or damaging to the tent pole. From a single question, different threads emerge with new pieces of information.

From this type of conversation, you can establish yourself as a trusted peer while learning:

1. Who your power users are

2. Who your detractors are

3. Who is eager to help other customers

4. Alternate uses for your products

You may need to adjust the tone and wording of a conversation when it goes from one-to-one to one-to-one-to-many.

The Myth Of SCRM Best Practices

Business leaders love best practices – a set of rules that can be applied uniformly and that work almost universally. Best practices most often apply to the interaction of people with a system. In SCRM, the primary interaction is person to person, with some intermediary technology to connect them. On one side of the SCRM equation is your company and on the other, your customers and potential customers. The customers and potential customers represent a set of preferences, motivations, and behaviors that differentiate them from another group of customers.

Even within a vertical market, customer groups are different. For example, Land’s End and Busted Tees are in the apparel industry. But the practices upscale, stylish Land’s End uses to engage its customers would fail with the ironic, irreverent customers of Busted Tees. Likewise Threadless, which sells products similar to Busted Tees, has customers that vary in important demographic and behavioral ways. Attempting to transplant one company’s social CRM ideas to the other would fail.

You can’t apply a generic set of best practices to your customers that were built from the “average” behavior of many groups of customers. Each business needs to develop SCRM best practices based on its customers’ behaviors and motivations – where do they congregate in social media, how do they respond to contact in social channels, and what is needed to connect with them in a peer-to-peer manner?

Before becoming editor in chief of CRM Outsiders, Chris Bucholtz was the founding editor of both InsideCRM and Forecasting Clouds. He’s a recognized thought leader in customer relationship management. To discover more about how to empower your employees with Mobile CRM please visit

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Chris Bucholtz