Social CRM at a Crossroads: Where to Next?


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Social CRM has evolved from a novelty used by only a few organisations, to a powerful tool that practically all use. Much of this evolution has been powered by the hype cycle. Social CRM is now at a crossroads. It can go in three directions: it can become just another communications channel, it can become a technology solution, or it can become a way to co-create more value together with customers. Only by looking at Social CRM as an enabler for value co-creation can organisations use it to develop a sustainable and profitable business model.

A lot has happened in the last few years. From an interesting new experiment in influencing customers to buy an organisation’s products, Social CRM has grown to become a bulwark of everyday business. When I watched a Ford advert on TV in New York recently, the only response mechanism advertised was to go to Ford’s Facebook page. Social CRM is now mainstream. But the headlong growth of Social CRM, powered by the ever-present hype cycle, has not been without cost. Organisations that should have leaned from their failure with CRM in the 90s have made the same old mistakes again. Despite these setbacks, Social CRM has prospered to the point where it is estimated to take about 10% of budgets for customer management activities. With this growth comes management responsibility. Social CRM has now reached a crossroads. It can go down any one of three tracks in front of it. One of the tracks leads to short-term success, one leads to medium-term failure, but only one leads to the kind of sustainable success that companies are looking for. Management must now decide which track it wants to go down. The choice is not as straightforward as it might seem.

The first track is to see Social CRM as just another communication channel to market. As inside-out marketing has become less effective, marketers have been on the lookout for a new way to get their message out. What could be better than harnessing the natural sociability of customers to market to other customers? Just look at the success of companies like BMW, which uses Social CRM to identify, develop and support brand fans. And Roger Smith Hotels, which uses Social CRM to nurture relationships with niche networks of the hotel’s guests. Or even Medecins Sans Frontières, which used Social CRM principles to communicate with front-line aid workers during the recent Haiti earthquake disaster. Social CRM as a channel for marketing, sales and customer service certainly works, but it is still mostly about the organisation, and not about the customer. Because of this, it can only ever be a short-term solution.

The second track is to see Social CRM as a new technology. Despite the lessons of the wasteful CRM years, many of those responsible for Social CRM just see it as the latest new technology to be implemented. Just buy the technology and you have Social CRM, goes the line of thought. Egged on by technology analysts, like Forrester, Gartner and Altimeter, organisations buy Social CRM tools and implement them without thinking through all the other complementary capabilities required to turn the tools from expensive pieces of software, into enablers for business value creation. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with Social CRM tools per se, indeed, they can be a powerful enabler for business when part of a more comprehensive approach. Just look at how Lithium enables organisations to create communities that customers can use to get answer questions about its products answered by other customers. And how Attensity enables organisations to make sense of unstructured customer text data. Or even how Spigit provides a platform for organisations to use open innovation to crowdsource product ideas together with customers. But too many implementations of Social CRM technology fail to create value. They are living proof of the old saying about technology from the heyday of CRM: OO + NT = EOO (Old Organisation + New Technology = Expensive Old Organisation). Don’t become an expensive old organisation!

The only sustainable track is to see Social CRM as an enabler for value co-creation throughout the customer and product lifecycles. Unlike the other two tracks, this one starts with understanding who is involved in value co-creation and what value delivery looks like to each person. It then looks at the touchpoints over the end-to-end customer and product lifecycles to see how value is delivered and what resources – knowledge, skills, experience, time, money, etc – each person needs to bring to each touchpoint to co-create the most value. And finally it looks at how value flows between the different people involved at each touchpoint, as they co-create value together through the customer and product lifecycles. Armed with these insights, the organisation can identify exactly which Social CRM tools should be used to enable more value to be co-created. Just look at how Vodafone works closely with customers to co-create new products and services that make customers’ lives easier. And how KLM uses Twitter to support customers during their journeys, for example, during the recent Icelandic volcano eruptions when thousands of flights were cancelled or delayed. Or even how Lego provides an entire ecosystem where customers can co-design, co-produce and co-market new Lego building kits to other customers. This is the only track that is designed specifically around maximising the value created for customers as well as for organisation; through the intelligent use of Social CRM at just those touchpoints where it makes sense. It is also the only one that provides the organisation with the sustainable success from Social CRM that they are looking for.

If your organisation is standing at the Social CRM crossroads, I hope you know which track you should take. It is tempting to take the Social CRM as a communication channel track. But you know that will only provide short-term benefits. It is also tempting to follow the crowd and take the Social CRM as a technology track. But you know that just like CRM, you will struggle to achieve the promised benefits. You know that there is only one track to take for sustainable profitability. The Social CRM as value co-creation track. Good luck on your journey. If you choose the value co-creation track we will be with you every step of the way.

I will be one of the ‘Official Bloggers’ at the Enterprise Social 2.0 event in Brussels during the 8th/9th March. I will be tweeting (hashtag #es20) and blogging interviews with the people responsible for Social CRM in many organisations just like these. Look out for my tweets and posts from the event over the next few days.

Graham Hill
Customer-centric Innovator
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Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Fully support your view. In not wanting to miss the boat, companies have the tendency to jump in and go for track 1 or 2. They struggle getting the prime questions addressed: how will you be creating value using social media / CRM. I believe a successful approach could be to start with small experiments to demonstrate the value before having the big high level committees decide on its fate. As marketers we need to geet involved. If we leave it to the IT department then we ask for trouble. We do have to include them early one in the evaluation process to get to good and well supported solutions.

  2. Hi Marc

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you entirely. Companies must experiment with SocCRM to see what works. As Steve Blank says, “There are no facts inside the building!”. In other words, the only way to see what REALLY WORKS is to get out there and run controlled experiments in the market. And whlile you are running the experiements, you should be gathering the sort of hard data that you can plug into a robust ROI Business Case. Luckily, SocCRM lends itself to this way of working very well.

    Let me know if you need any more information about getting out of the building. I have been running all my CRM, CExM and SocCRM projects this way for the past 10 years!

    Graham Hill


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