Q: Who Should Own Social CRM? A: Not Who You Think!


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Social CRM is at the earliest stage of its development. The rapid evolution of social tools, particularly Internet based ones (and in the near future, mobile Internet based ones) is driving the co-evolution of their adoption by leading edge users. (Who would have thought that I would all but abandon one-way blogging at CustomerThink for the two-way conversation on Twitter?) But in another sense, Social CRM has been around as long as people have indulged in commerce. Relying on friends and family for the best advice is literally thousands of years old. In many local economies, it is part of the glue that holds traditional markets together.

As Social CRM increases in importance to business, people naturally start to ask who should ‘own’ it. The obvious answer is ‘the customer’, as almost by definition, they currently own Social CRM. But that isn’t good enough for the control freaks in management. So who should own Social CRM? Most of the organisations I look at don’t have any natural home for Social CRM. Why shoehorn it into a department that isn’t able to manage it properly? Rather than say, stuff it into Customer Service, it should be placed with those best able to use it, indeed, those who are probably already using it.

In a business new to social CRM, this may be a disparate social network of individuals doing their own thing across the business. A self-organising group with no formal authority, but a lot of social authority. In a slightly more advanced business it might be a cross-functional team formed specifically to look at Social CRM and containing many of the earlier social network. Further on it might be a formal Social CRM Coordinator given the role, responsibility and authority to promote Social CRM across the business. In some organisations, it might even be the Chief Customer Officer (although organisations have a few hoops to jump through before they get that far!).

Looking beyond these traditional organisational forms, there is a strong case for building hybrid organisations to enable Social CRM. These have a rigid organisational hierarchy at their core; necessary for efficient, effective operations. But they also have a looser organisational network at their interface with the market; necessary for engaging with ever-changing customers. And for literally bringing customers into the organisation. You won’t find many of these hybrid structures in traditional CRM departments. (Although I did build one for a different purpose at a UK credit card company over 10 years ago). But you will find them in companies like Innocentive, Adidas and P&G, who are actively engaging in open innovation with partners and particularly, in lead-user innovation with customers.

By successively passing the baton of responsibility to more formalised groups in this way, and eventually to hybrid organisations, business has a much better chance of developing the various capabilities required to measure, monitor and manage Social CRM for optimal co-creation with customers. Something that won’t happen if it is simply given to a wholly unprepared department like Customer Service. Or Marketing. Or Sales!

To put this in a nutshell, in proper organisation development, the form (of the organisation) follows the function (it has to carry out). Given a new function, look for the part of the organisational that has the closest fitting form. Just make sure it works closely with customers. Or better still, that it actually contains real live customers within it.

What do you think? Is Social CRM best part in Customer Service? Or are you taking a more rounded view?

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator
Follow me on Twitter

Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

Further Reading:

Zenger, Complementarities, Common Change Initiatives, and
The Team-Based Organisation

Innocentive, Innocentive, Where the World Innovates

Berger & Piller, Customers as Co-Designers

Graham Hill, How Customers Drive Innovation at P&G

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamhill/


  1. Graham, it really does depend on who the initial advocate is for Social CRM and how it will be utilized. While Social CRM must become part ot he overall corporate ecosystem, ultimately, it will start within one organization (often support). In this case support should clearly be the “owner” of the effort.

    However, as I look slightly further into the future, and as we look at some of the key components, I see a different owner. The key components for anything social need to include:

    – Relationship building.
    – Adding value to the community before you seek something in return. You should always seek to give more than you take.
    – You must be transparent, open, and honest. You must share who you are as a company.

    As I look at the above I am constatnly brought back to marketing as the “owner” of Social CRM in the second phase of rollout, once it has gone beyond the department/function level.

    In phase three of the roll-out, where social crm is being used across the company and as part of value co-creation efforts with customers, partners, internal users; the “ownership” of Social CRM swings slightly, with Marketing and Customer Support jointly owning the solution.

    This is but one CTOs opinion, what is yours?

    John Moore

  2. I think the better question is not “who owns scrm,” but “who will provide the leadership?”

    In my company we’ve recruited those people already passionate about social media from a variety of departments and we’re creating recommendations for our CEO. We are the “hybrid” you’re talking about.

    I’ll be reading…


  3. Graham,

    This was very well written, and has an innovative concept (for most organizations) that is the hybrid strict-loose model. I think you are onto something, but I want to take it one step further (don’t I always? 🙂

    I think that we are getting closer to the concept of self-organizing entities here. I am quite certain you have read about this (my favorite book remains Turtle, Termites, and Traffic Jams by Mitch Resnick) and parts of that are both reflected in what you say and in the concept of “ownerships” of SCRM. Hear me out.

    I have said for long that if you want to call it SCRM and implement it, then it should be per the requirements of the customers. I have also said that these customers are beginning to organize in self-policed communities ad-hoc, and they don’t like “control” or “management” of the relationships. This all gels very well with self-organized entities. They come together for a purpose, they have rules that are self-imposed that they all follow, and they act together (customers, communities, and companies) for the greatest interest of the larger universe (in this case, the product they are working to design or improve, or the service model they are aiming to implement).

    These ad-hoc communities are very powerful and all they need is a scenario, a platform to engage in whatever behavior they are into, and that is where you question comes in. I don’t think that SCRM is “owned” by either the customer (communities) or the company — is is the set of actions that happen to create better interactions and make the community happen. Now, what the company can own is the platform (I call it Community Engagement Platform) and they provide it for the community to work on. This way the community can work together and the company benefits from the byproducts of that collaboration – information about their products or services to make new ones, improve existing ones, or service the deployed ones. In a separate example, the termite anthill is a platform for engagement, as is the highway in a traffic flow. These self-organizing entities have a place where to perform their common tasks, create something, and use it for the benefit of the larger community.

    I don’t spend lots of time editing and re-writing comments to posts, so if any of this does not make sense, let me know. I see a very interesting possibility by applying some of the concepts of self-organizing entities to this problem of SCRM – and I do believe that if we can make the companies “own” the platforms, the communities will thrive and with them the companies behind them.

    Thanks for writing a great post!

  4. John, Glenn, Esteban

    Thanks for your comments. They are much appreciated. They are a valuable addition to the broader conversation about Social CRM taking place on blogs and particularly, on Twitter.

    Having read a number of opinions about where Social CRM should be placed, I remain convinced that simply giving it to any particular department – because they already have contacts with customers – is the wrong idea. In most companies, many groups have contacts with customers; marketing does through market research, sales does through face-to-face sales and customer service does through post-sale service. But so do many other parts of the organisation; NPD does through innovation, operations does through order customisation and finance does through product pricing. But no one of these departments is the natural home for Social CRM.

    As I outlined in my initial post, it makes more sense from an organisational design perspective to align ‘custodianship’ of Social CRM to those most active in Social CRM within the company. Function finds the right organisational form, to recast the old ‘form follows function’ saying. In the early days, this will likely be a self-organising group of people already experimenting with Social CRM and its application. As the company’s experience with Social CRM increases, more formal structures should be put into place to match the evolving nature of their interactions with customers. And hybrid organisations are already in use in a number of companies who work extensively with a large number of ‘outsiders’.

    Let’s be honest with ourselves. Most companies still need to learn how to use Social CRM to co-create value together with customers. This doesn’t come naturally to companies used to the illusion of ‘management’ of customers through CRM. And it doesn’t come natural to customers used to the reality of companies’ unfulfilled promises either. Companies with significant experience with CEM are likely to be further down this evolutionary pathway than companies still depending upon CRM. And the few Adidasses, P&Gs and Eli Lillys who have already started experimenting with co-creation will be further still.

    But they all have much to learn if they are to get the most out of Social CRM. This includes (but is not limited to) understanding what customers really need (through looking at customers jobs & desired outcomes), how to co-create value at each product usage touchpoint (through applying service-dominant logic), how to bring together an eco-system of delivery partners to provide customers with a complete solution (through multi-side market mechanisms), how to price products for co-creating value during usage (through performance-based contracts) and how to design experience platforms that purposefully enable customers to co-create value together (through applying design thinking to experience design).

    These are still early days for Social CRM. We should look at what it means with open eyes, and with a willingness to look at different and new business models. Social CRM is more than just an extension of traditional CRM. It is our entry ticket into the hitherto closed world of the customer. A world that is rapidly coevolving as technologies enable customers to do old jobs more effectively and to do new jobs that previously they couldn’t do at all. We need much more than just traditional CRM thinking – including traditional CRM departmental thinking – if we are to make the most of the many opportunities Social CRM will no doubt provide.

    Are you ready for the Social CRM journey? Is your mind open to all manner of new possibilities? Are you willing to work with customers as co-creation partners? If not, this is the time to get off the Social CRM roller-coaster ride and to wave goodbye as your competitors start their journey into the future.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  5. Hi Ed

    Thanks for the heads-up. I read through Dr Natalie’s post. But I think I covered off why simply giving Social CRM to customer service, or to any other department, is a daft idea in my original post, in my comment and in many excellent Twitter conversations.

    I do understand the importance of having an executive sponsor to help make any substantive organisational change stick. But there is a huge difference between organically developing your Social CRM capabilities (including, but much broader than just Social CRM technologies) and trying to implement a fully functioning capability. Social CRM isn’t like CRM; where many companies just bought technology, implemented it and then wondered why their business didn’t improve. We owe it to ourselves and to our customers not to rush into stupidly implementating Social CRM technology and then thinking the job is done. It didn’t work for ERP, it didn’t work for CRM, so why should it work for Social CRM.

    Social CRM is in its early stages of development. And the lead implemetors are not companies, but customers using Social CRM for their own devices. Let’s see how it develops and learn what capabilites we need to build in companies and with customers, before handing it over to any particular organisational department. Particularly to disfunctional customer service. Let’s let our customers drive us for a change. As former CEO of Ford, Don Petersen said, “If we aren’t driven by our customers, our cars won’t be driven by them either”. A sentiment that could have been tailor made for Social CRM.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.


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