Social CRM is not “Dead”; Social Media needs to Evolve


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IBM Institute for Business Value has released the second of their two part series “From social media to Social CRM“. Just by the title alone, you might have guessed that IBM does not quite agree that the epitaph has been written, nor spoken regarding Social CRM. After reading, and re-reading, this, the second in the series IBM report, I find it a rather bold approach to both social media as well as Social CRM.

The study actually ties the two closer together than anyone has to date. While there are a few ideas and conclusions I might alter, there are some really interesting points as well and it is worthwhile for you to read directly.

The report surfaces some really interesting ideas about Social CRM and social media, which at first blush, I can almost guarantee that many of the regulars who read my blog will at first, disagree with. I can say that because I did at first as well. Frankly, I wanted not to like the paper, with some of my own thinking progressing beyond Social CRM; but that is not where I ended up. The diagram above, and the messages in the report paint a picture where the maturity of social media will only be realized by a progression to Social CRM.

“If companies want to unlock the potential of social media to reinvent their customer relationships, they need to think about CRM in a new light while building a strategic and operational framework that provides both structure and flexibility.”

I found this to be quite refreshing actually; suggesting that Social CRM is the strategy end-point of social media. Whether it is ‘the’ strategy end-point or ‘a’ strategy end-point is to be determined, but IBM makes a strong case. My perspective is, and has been, that Social CRM is not one thing, but many different things, which is why it is hard for people to use it as a label. Sometimes, labels allow us to put things in buckets and sometimes they get in the way. Again, the jury is out on that one too. Just look at the term ‘social’ it meant one thing for the past 50 years in business, only in the past 5 has it become something different.

Where I believe thinking went astray, by those who believe Social CRM has run its course, is by associating only ‘Social’ to CRM where it should be ‘Social Media’ – but, SMCRM is an acronym that would never stick. The nuance is that social media encompasses both the technology (channel) and culture, where ‘social’ is just one part. But, what to call it is not really as important as what it does and how to accomplish your business goals. Among the issues preventing the maturation might be where social media resides within the organization. The place where customers would expect the convergence is an integrated contact center, the problem is that few companies have one. As the IBM report states, typically, 52% of the time, Marketing is responsible for social media strategy, and only 20% of the time Customer Service is responsible. With respect, we are asking one department, in isolation, to manage a continuum of experiences.

How does Social CRM fit with(in) Customer Experience?

Are we talking about Customer Experience, Customer Service Experience or Social CRM? Customer Experience is quite big (more in a minute) and cannot be managed any more than relationships can be managed. I would also suggest (and I have) that Customer Service Experience is a subset of Customer Experience; I believe Social CRM to exist in the same way, it is a subset of the solution, not the whole solution.

A Peter Drucker quote comes to mind: “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it. With this in mind, I would like to extend these great words and suggest that ‘a Customer Experience is not what you design it to be, it is what a customer perceives it to be’. I would also add that managing experiences or perceptions is very difficult (Hollywood and Disney can manage perceptions, most businesses cannot).

The maturation of social media to Social CRM can and will help by providing “integrated insights to improve customer experiences”, as stated in the IBM report. Reading Kerry Bodine’s recent blog and referenced Forrester report on Customer Experience in parallel with the IBM report was quite fun (geek fun, of course). In Kerry’s report, CEM is described as a very broad and important topic – which it is! The far-reaching impacts of CEM include all of the customer communication touchpoints, which includes Social CRM engagement, as well as many many other touchpoints?

“Customers interact with companies across hundreds of discrete touchpoints as they discover, evaluate, buy, access, use, and get support for a company’s products and services” and “customers interact with a company’s employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM. Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period. Trying to tie the two together, if there is an intermediating technology, CRM is not likely to be involved. If a company is speaking directly to a person, and the channel of communication is public; aka social media, then the term Social CRM makes sense. Per the IBM research, social media, when used correctly is about engagement, thus needs to be part of a broader Social CRM strategy. Proper CEM strategy is bigger than CRM and Social CRM but needs to include both if the approach is to be considered complete.

The constant debate of trying to separate out people and process from technology is tough, but important. “Service excellence is achieved by an almost harmonious dance between the people, processes and technological components.” I believe this can be stated for both Social CRM and Customer Experience – but that is just me. Just because a vendor is making a statement, does not make the statement wrong – nor right.

If you made it to this point, you might be interested my post earlier this spring called “The Perception Gap in Social“, based on data from the first IBM report in the series. Full disclosure, IBM is a Sword Ciboodle Partner, and Sword Ciboodle is certified on IBM’s insurance framework

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mitch Lieberman
Finding patterns and connecting the dots across the enterprise. Holding a strong belief that success is achieved by creating tight alignment between business strategy, stakeholder goals, and customer needs. systems need to be intelligent and course through enterprise systems. Moving forward, I will be turning my analytical sights on Conversational Systems and Conversational Intelligence. My Goal is to help enterprise executives fine-tune Customer Experiences


  1. Mitch, thanks for an excellent and insightful post.

    Social CRM is not dead, even if the term “Social CRM” is being used less these days by vendors.

    IBM is using Social CRM to mean an end point in evolution of social media programs. Makes sense to those who look at the world through a CRM lens.

    It’s not surprising that the IBM report uses “Social CRM” because the report authors are “Global CRM” leaders in the IBM Global Services Business. Like others in the “CRM” industry, social is the new adjective to define the new/improved CRM.

    The authors reflect the traditional CRM bias towards value extraction with this statement in the introduction:

    CRM strategy, enabled by processes and technologies,
    is architected to manage customer relationships as a
    means for extracting the greatest value from customers over the lifetime of the relationship.

    But it would be equally valid to use the term Social CEM, especially since research has show great experiences are a much more significant factor in value delivery, which is impacts customer loyalty much more than front office business process automation aka CRM.

    As you astutely pointed out, “CRM (Social or not) does not include a display ad, the coffee cup, the shower curtain in a hotel room, all important to CEM, though not to CRM.”

    Where I disagree, however, is when you say, “Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period.” So, CRM includes the retail store experience, when a shopper (human) interacts with a clerk (human)? Not in my experience it doesn’t, unless the clerk is empowered with some form of technology.

    My POV is that the of the term “Social CRM” is declining not because the concepts have no meaning, but because of market confusion as the term is used in many wildly different ways. Buzzword burnout happened with CRM, and now it’s happening with SCRM.

    Again, thanks for sharing your views about Social CRM and the IBM report. It will be interesting to look back in a few years and see what happened!

  2. Bob,

    Thanks for the kind words and comment. I agree that people do look at things through their own lens, but that is what makes these conversations important. I tried to include some of Kerry’s work to add the the CEM perspective, and still think CEM is much bigger. In the modern view of things, I believe that CRM (Social or otherwise) is a subset.

    Esteban Kolsky also called me out on the phrase “Where CRM comes into play is when a human contacts a human – period.”:

    “We are in the midst of embracing automation in the call / contact center as much as possible – assisted by improvements in technologies like never in the past 20 years or so. Artificial intelligence, analytics, speech recognition — all these are making automation a reality in the world of customer service. Gartner predicted 40% or more of all contacts with customers will be through automated interfaces by 2015. I think that is a tad much, but 20-25% (maybe slightly more) across the board is not impossible.”

    I offered this response:


    As long as my post was, in rereading that section, I did not complete the intermediating technology part very well – at all! It was a concept borrowed from Kerry Bodine's Forrester report (credit given) but I did not complete the context of the statement properly.

    "At each touchpoint along their journey, customers interact with a company's employees and partners either directly or via some intermediating technology”

    My statement was a feeble attempt to do was extend and further differentiate the types of technologies used within customer interactions. There are some (the examples you listed) which are part of CRM. I will say that I am bigger on optimization over automation, but that is my issue.

    Technology does play large role, but caution is advised. As the automated steps increase, I simply wanted to make people aware that too often there are prescribed automated steps which are poorly used; like the broadcast messages at the beginning of a call, or the "please input your account number now” only to repeat it in a couple minutes to an agent.

    Some are truly part of the Customer Service experience, and some are part of the Customer Experience – and some are just cost savings. Your points are well taken, and I will amend my statement, only so we can agree, of course.


    Like you said, we can come back in a few years and see where we ended up!

  3. Mitch, thanks again for engaging in some useful discussion.

    Here are a few examples from a Social CRM discussion group on LinkedIn. See

    The discussion was started by this simple question: “What is a social CRM? How does one transition from being a traditional CRM to a social CRM?”

    Mark Stonham: “My view is that Social CRM is about adding Social Media channels to traditional channels within the structured, client/contact centric data organisation and process support of CRM.J”

    Jason Swenk: “My description of a Social CRM is a business strategy that integrates technologies, business rules and processes with social media in order to interact and engage with the customer in a transparent environment.”

    Francois Mercadier: “Our vision is based more on the meannings of CRM, which is a software and Social Business, not Social CRM, which is a strategy to convert non-clients, via social media.”

    Juan K MartÍnez MejÍa: “Social CRM is oriented a Viral Marketing and success cases. Principal goal in this is reach more customers using people.”

    Nishith Gupta: “I too agree that till date, there has been no perfect definition of Social CRM which has emerged. everyone defines it based on how they are position in the market.”

    “the term Social Business / Social Enterprise again is a much more generic that need not be confined to only customer touch points. So, in a nutshell, for me if any organization uses this term..I would expect it to provide a much wider range of services and solutions.

    “‘CEM’…yes is still a term which is more used by consultants than technologists..hence can be more applicable to use in defining the holistic view.”

    It’s been a few years now, but I don’t remember CRM being quite so confused in the early days as to what exactly it is. I see Paul Greenberg’s definition referenced quite a bit, yet everyone seems to have another twist. It’s like the story of the blind men describing an elephant, except instead of 6 men we have 20!


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