Social CRM as a viable strategy? Not yet.


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It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog article. This one was inspired by a number of meetings I’ve had with vendors over the past few months. The vendors range from email service providers to social community platforms to database management companies. What do they all have in common? They all claim to have a robust social CRM solution. I don’t know who created this term or defined it but it kind of irks me that so many people are claiming to be doing it when nobody really is.

Lets start with a definition of CRM and why CRM became important. Many decades ago, before national chains dominated the retail landscape the owner of your corner store knew you by face if not by name. She knew if you were a regular customer who bought groceries for a large family every week or if you were someone who just stopped in from time to time. And, if you were a regular, you would get a little bit of special treatment. Maybe the best cuts of meat would be reserved for you, or maybe you might find a free pack of gum made it into your shopping bag for your kids at home. It was really simple… but it wasn’t scalable. So, when corner grocery stores were replace by sprawling supermarkets, the person at the register had no idea whether you were a regular customer or not and so, had no idea whether you deserved special treatment. Enter the loyalty card. Now, anyone within the massively decentralized supermarket network can access CRM data to know exactly who you are, how much you’re worth to the company and you in theory, you get targeted with the offers you deserve based on your value and that are most relevant to your needs.

CRM uses data to close the intimacy gap caused by the massive scale of the supermarket’s operations.

Fast forward to today. We live in a world where social media networks allow 2 way communication between brands and their customers (and multi-way communication amongst a brand’s customers.) Marketers have taken to social media quickly and many pundits have declared that communicating through social media will replace all other forms of communication. I think this is going way to far, but that’s not the point of my post.

The point of this post is that as long the number of customers in your community is relatively small Marketers can connect directly with their customers to have ongoing dialog, they can see the history of their relationship in terms of past tweets or status updates and make decisions to treat customers based on their individual needs. Much like the corner store owner and his customers, the relationship is an intimate one.

Here’s where the army of “social CRM technology” vendors comes in. There are lots of great tools that allow you to view the social communication history and manage social communication with customers. Manually.

But, much like rewarding your best customers, while its possible to manage this process manually with a few customers it isn’t scalable. If you have millions of customers, this just isn’t possible. So, for “Social CRM” to be viable, marketers need technology that bridges the intimacy gap.

Companies like Klout that score customer influence are starting down this path but penetration is still relatively low. Even as penetration grows, there’s still no way reliable way to connect a customer’s social identity to the rest of the data a company owns about them. Similarly, companies like co-tweet have developed great solutions that make it easy for marketers to manage multiple social accounts across platforms. But there’s still no way to systematically provide different messaging to different groups of customers.

So, for now we can’t reliably incorporate social data into a customer’s record and the data used for segmentation. And, even if we could, we still can’t deliver customized communications based on a customers’ behaviour in social media channels. This is what CRM is all about. So, until the technology that enables these activities is developed, social CRM is just a concept and a vision of the future.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Michael Nurse
Michael Nurse is a business strategist focused on digital business model innovation and managing customer relationships in the digital space. He leads the customer strategy and planning function for the Atlanta office LBi - a digital marketing agency. Views expressed in his blog posts do not necessarily reflect the views of LBi.


  1. It’s true that today’s innovation in social CRM doesn’t offer tools that holistically look at customers via all social networking portals. Today, it’s impossible to track, monitor and/or assess what hundreds or thousands of a business’ customers are saying in social forums. However, while it’s clear that there are still gaps in the social CRM market—and I’m hopeful that they will eventually close—it’s important to look at what social CRM can do today.

    Honing in of the social capabilities of social CRM is a given. There are tools out there that allow you to scan social networks for key words and conversations; however, less discussed is social CRM’s internal functionality, which has really come a long way. The internal functionality of today’s sCRM solutions are perhaps the best vehicle to help drive innovation from within. It’s ability to mindshare across all departments and employees (from the secretary to executives) is unmatched by any other communication tool today, including face-to-face meetings. SCRM’s functionality allows everyone in a company to seek advice, suggestions and resources from anyone else, instantly, consistently, and around the clock. No longer are brainstorming meetings confined to a conference room with a handful of marketing representatives. Now, an individual can draw from the collective whole to seek out recommendations on ideas or next steps; as can an idea be vetted and discussed in real-time by everyone in the company. SCRM’s infrastructure also creates greater collaboration, facilitation, and transparency; and with a more homogeneous workforce in place comes greater potency for creating ideas. And for these reasons, the social CRM market today shouldn’t necessarily be scoffed at or viewed as too young and underdeveloped.


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