The Only Thing your Social CRM Strategy Can NOT Do Without


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There have been some interesting discussions around what elements your Social CRM efforts can or cannot do without. It started with Bob Thompson asking whether one can do Social CRM without Social Media/Networks, or CRM Systems. Another interesting thread can be found here, where Prem Kumar asks whether Apple is using Social CRM. I recommend you read both posts and the discussions in the comments.

These discussions made me think though what would be the one thing your Social CRM Strategy cannot do without. The one element which would differentiate Social CRM from any other Customer Centric or Customer Management Strategy (Like Customer Experience Management or traditional Customer Relationship Management). THE sine-qua-non of Social CRM.

In my humble opinion the sine qua non of Social CRM is:

Empowering the Customer in the process of creating value for the Customer.

This actually is also the missing element of my last post: The “S” in SCRM is not about Social Media. It is not only missing.. it’s the key element that is missing.

Implementing social tools, and doing absolutely nothing differently than before, would not make it part of a Social CRM strategy. Just like adding e-mail or chat to the channel-mix wasn’t truly game-changing. And increasing your listening capabilities by adding Social Media Monitoring, however important, is not game-changing the value creation capabilities of your Customers either.

From 18 to 2 Use Cases?

Having said this, it is also clear to me what popular “use cases” under discussion would not imply a Social CRM Strategy. This does not mean, by the way, that there’s no value in these use cases. To me, they would be part of regular CRM or CEM programs, like we have been running them for quite some years now. They are either about using or adding the Social Media channel and tools or improving upon practices that should have been part of being Customer Centric long before Social Media. Again: still lots of value to capture for you and your company by implementing these use cases.

I reviewed the 18 use cases of Social CRM as published by Altimeter early March of this year. I believe the following 2 use-cases described there, would fit as use cases for a Social CRM Strategy sincy they are about empowering the Customer in the process of creating value for the Customer (themselves or their peers, that is). They are about involving and empowering the Customer in the design and delivery of experiences:

# 11: Social Support and Service – Peer-2-Peer Unpaid Armies or Customer Support Communities – :
Where smart organizations find ways to harness the collective expertise available within their networks of Customers (and providing the platform for Customers to exchange that expertise with their peers).

# 13: Social Innovation streamlines Complex Ideation – Crowdsourced R&D – :
Where companies find ways to harness the collective expertise available within their networks of Customers for ideation, product development etc..

All other use cases are smart things to do, but mainly about doing smart things you (should) have been doing before. Social tools or channels may help you to get these jobs done better than before, but they do not significantly change the game of providing value for your Customers.

Use cases as such can be found all around by the way. They are cases that involve the Customer to customize the products before ordering or even build their own (Lego), cases that bring Customers together in communities of practice or social networks and allow them not only to share, but shape their experiences with their peers (much like Nike + is doing), and cases that allow your Customers to sell, share or distribute their own ideas and products through your platform (E-bay, Amazon, P&G Connect & Develop etc).

These use cases require a higher level of creativity and “guts” than just implementing social media or social tools to existing processes. They require you to re-invent the process and, more importantly, to change the way you perceive your own role and that of your Customer in that process.

Transferring the power

Acknowledging that Customers own the conversation is not enough. Having meaningful conversations on online social networks with your Customers is not enough either.

You need to design experiences and experience platforms that will allow the Customer to influence their experiences or that will allow your Customer to support their networks and peers in creating personalized experiences.

It is about actually transferring the power from the company to the Customer, and that is much harder to do, than implementing social tools to do a better job at the things you (should) have been doing before. And, in my humble opinion, it is the most appropriate answer to the Social Customers’ ownership of the conversation.

What do you think? Are you ready to transfer power to your Customers?


  1. Wim, this is a great post. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the recent discussions about what SCRM is about.

    For most, the “social” in Social CRM implies using social media. But just using social media as a new channel in CRM 1.0 (company-centric) activities is not what most people would describe as being social.

    Maybe we should remember that “social” actually means something in the Real World of humans.

    1. pertaining to, devoted to, or characterized by friendly companionship or relations: a social club.
    2. seeking or enjoying the companionship of others; friendly; sociable; gregarious.
    3. of, pertaining to, connected with, or suited to polite or fashionable society: a social event.
    4. living or disposed to live in companionship with others or in a community, rather than in isolation: People are social beings.

    My view is that Social CRM in its highest form should mean collaborating with customers — working together towards shared goals. In that context, I agree with you that SCRM use cases narrow down dramatically. And I’d suggest some use cases are missing that don’t involve using social media/networks.

    “Collaboration” isn’t the best term either, unfortunately. Because it’s now taken to mean using communication tools, ranging from web conferencing to Enterprise 2.0 tools.

    It seems to me that what should distinguish Social CRM from POCRM (Plain Old CRM) is that it’s “we-centric.”

    Maybe we’re finally coming around to a simple test for whether a company is “doing” Social CRM. Is the customer also doing it? If there isn’t a mutual win, then it’s not really social.

    All that said, do you think the market will pick up on this distinction?

  2. Excellent post Wim! Some good food for thought again.

    The thing I would like to add is that you should not only look to enable your customer to better collaborate, but also the other constituants in your collaborative value chain such as your suppliers, distributors, partners, etc. By helping them to collaborate and add value, you are helping them become part of the Customer network as well, offering even greater potential to reach desired outcomes.


  3. Enjoyed reading your post Wim. One additional point – the whole view on who your customers are is changing. Its evolving from very basic view on a customer as a subject you can sell your products or services to to a customer who has variety of different interests that you need to learn to understand and learn to communicate about. Major transformation here – working with number of companies that struggle with this…

  4. Wim,

    Far from rambling, this is an excellent post to advance the state of SCRM. I have two bones to pick.

    One, I like the definition that Wikipedia has for social ( –it calls it a Fuzzy Concept. Which it actually, if you think about it, defines every problem we have with SCRM: if it is a fuzzy concept, which i agree with, then we can never have the same definitions and concepts among ourselves – right? See loyalty, satisfaction, value, and so many other fuzzy concepts before. This is the crux of our issue with definitions and agreement.

    Second, if we can agree that social will mean different things to different organizations under different circumstances, then we go back to SCRM being about the customer desire to engage deeper with the organization, and the organization attempt at becoming customer centric. And then, we have to ask ourselves the question of whether this is social or common sense – right?

    I mean, if the customer has an investment, whether rational or emotional, with a brand, why wouldn’t they want to become more responsible for that brand’s well being and continued success? and if organizations finally realized that there is not continuous unabated supply of customers to replace their attrition — why wouldn’t they invest more in retention?

    So, if follow the convoluted logic, this is just another evolution of the service economy we adopted world-wide some 15-20 years ago, not a new revolutionary way to do things.

    Of course, and this is not the place to discuss this, there is the whole generational shift happening… but that is fodder for some other forum.

    Very nicely done, i like the way you broke it down to the core.

  5. Adding to the fuzziness of the concept of social & social CRM, let me bring in the concept of Social Capital. [it’s Esteban’s birthday, so why not pile it on to the party?! 😉]

    The reason I want to include it is to add more weight to what you consider as the sina qua non of Social CRM and how Mark wants you to include the other constituents of the business ecosystem.

    In my very confusing post titled ‘Why the need to add “Social” to the term “CRM”?‘ I state:

    Being social means being part of the community, embedding your value into your relationships. Make yourself indispensable to the community not by being monopolistic but being the enabler/catalyst who helps the community to increase its potential/worth/utility.

    When you consider your community to be composed of the company/firm/enterprise and the customers along with the suppliers, vendors, distributors, partners, key opinion leaders, legislators, etc. and the realization that everybody needs to be benefited not only individually but also the connections too. The increase in the net worth of the community is greater than the sum of the growth in the net worth of the individual constituents.

    A more difficult goal? Sure! But then, as a popular poster of Dennis the Menace says “aim for the stars, so that even if you fail, you will at least land on the moon“! 😉

  6. Wim – Excellent post and to all, great comments. Your are all getting to the heart of the subject – centered around the definition of Social. If we desire to use that term, then we should use it correctly, and, although, and I agree with Esteban, it is a fuzzy concept, don’t we recognize it when we see it.

    I agree with Wim and Bob above, that the majority of the 18 Use Cases can be performed by an organization without having to be customer-centric – without having to give up on CRM 1.0 behavior.

    To be social means to be a part of the conversation. Using common sense, that would imply some friendly, open, honest behavior – not an absolute necessity, but one that would be required to continue to be a part of the conversation.

    Listening is great (and an absolute necessity in learning and understanding the customer), but is wiretapping social then? No!
    It what you do with the information that’s critical, but it’s the next step of being a part of the conversation and being collaborative with your customers to add or retain the value they perceive in what you offer that is the social in “social business/social crm”.

    I do agree with Esteban and think that it is also a better approach at the same time, to think of this as evolutionary versus revolutionary. How long have the concepts of service economy, experience economy, customer-centricity, etc been around? Technology and the explosive acceptance/use of social networking has only accelerated the need.

    Prem – love the Dennis the Menace quote! Some one gave me a poster that says “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. Your version makes more sense.

  7. Wim,

    from a strategic perspective this is spot on, but so few companoes are anywhere near “there” yet ( i spose that is why you are a thought “leader”.)

    the comments only serve to make the gist of your post less actionable:: add suppliers, add non customers, include legislators, increase general social capital. i have enough of a job getting client firms to embrace the purpose of social crm so i appreciate your clearly articulated strat, but when we start discussing even fuzzier concepts like altruistic purposes i’m afraid i just cant follow the purpose

    kilian schaffer

  8. Hi Wim

    Good post. I think you do a good job in making the distinction between the Altimeter use cases that are all about the company doing things at customers and those that are about doing things with customers. There is a huge difference.

    Most of the comments add extra value to your post: Bob quite rightly points out that SocCRM should enable shared goals to be achieved (= value to be co-created). Mark points out that there are other parties in addition to just customers and companies that need to co-create value. Tatyana points out that what consititutes value for different parties may well vary over time. And moving swiftly on, Prem points out that the sum of the value co-created may exceed the sum of the value created for the individual parties (although if that is the case I am not sure who the value will accrue to!).

    But aren’t you in danger of missing out something really imoprtant? Something that helps balance out the value-co-creation picture? I am referring to resources of course. In order to co-create value with other parties each party needs to bring their own resources to the table. These resources might be tangible things like money, equipment and time, as well as intangible things like knowledge, skills and resources.

    The whole point of value co-creation is not just to take value out (that is only a very short-term strategy in any social environment) but to balance the right resources with their ability to co-create the right value. Co-creating more value often requires getting the parties to bring different resources to the table, e.g. by training customers to use self-service equipment, to enable more value to be co-created during those all important touchpoints.

    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.

  9. Killian

    I share your concern about cutting edge thinking not always turning into cutting edge doing. Many companies struggle with even the most basic of basics, such as products that do what they say on the tin, marketing that is honest and trustworthy, and customer service that is worthy of the name. The other 16 Altimeter use cases are for these inside-out, CRM1.0 companies.

    But there are many outside-in, CRM2.0 companies that are experimenting with SocCRM, with varying degrees of success. The key is to pick the right tools to do the job from a toolbox that is absolutely brimming over with user-centric innovation, design thinking, and consulting tools, techniques and methods, most of them in the public domain. The two use cases Wim identified are for these companies.

    I have spent my professional consulting career (over 20 years!) pushing my mostly blue-chip clients to innovate in a managed way, to do it through internal ventures and to achieve extraordinary returns in 100 days or less. A lot of this has been about the revolutionary thinking that Wim and others describe. Things like hybrid-network organisations (13 years ago for a major UK credit card company), customer experience management (10 years ago for a major US airline’s airport hub) and SNA for change management (8 years ago for a UK Govt department). Most of it has been done by co-opting and adapting those same public domain tools, to do things they were never intended for.

    Surely, that’s why companies hire consultants like us.

    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.

  10. Hi Bob,

    Thx for the compliment & the great comment. I fully agree, and like you (I think) I do wish that “collaboration” is a word that will not be captive to the tool-set that aims to support and enhance collaboration..

    Collaboration (with Customers, employees and partners) = doing Social CRM (with or without the tools)..

    Now with regard to your last question: I’m a person with a positive mind-set, so I would say yes. On the other hand there is still lots of ground to cover..

    To some I may seem overly persistent in the themes of my posts. Ever since I wrote my first “Social CRM” themed post (Social Media does not make a good listener), I try to express that tools are not the solution. It’s not even about what you do with them. It all starts with thinking about what you need to do first. Then you will need to find the best way to get that done.. But you know that 😉 I just happen to think that thinking (and doing) on your own is no longer the best approach. And many think alike, for sure.

    Imho the market is already picking up on it.. maybe not all of the market, but that’s what differentiation is all about.. And I think I know who’s at the finish line first 😉

    Thx again for the comment & the platform to express my thinking.

  11. Hi Mark,

    I think most people actually understand that collaboration with all parties involved is the best way to go. Most people experience this every day in their work (I never did research on this, but my guess is that lack of communication and collaboration is #1 frustration in getting the job done at work..)..

    Many companies have issues with opening up their business to employees (they’re seen as tools/resources, not part of the “collaborative value chain”), partners (seen and valued much similar to employees), and Customers..

    I agree with you that opening up to your Customer does also require you to open up to your employees and partners. Without their “resources” (see Graham Hill’s comment and my reply) it will be impossible to (co-)create value.

    Thx for taking the time to read and comment!

  12. Hi Tatyana,

    Customers and their needs change all the time, and not only over time. Customer needs can depend heavily on the context in which they are trying to meet their needs.. (or get their job done in better language).. One minute they are happy with their mobile phone when they need to make a phone call, the other minute they hate it, because they can’t send out an e-mail on it, because of some setting (they don’t understand) is not set-up correctly..

    You are right when you say that many companies struggle with transforming their thinking from producing & selling products to understanding customer (evolving) needs..

    That is why I think understanding the job a Customer is trying to do and the journey the Customer undertakes to get that job done is extremely important. Understand the context in which the job is being done, and you’re getting close.. Final step is understanding the resources (also see Graham’s comment below) all parties (need to) bring to the table to get that specific job done (in that context)..

    Understanding all that, is what one needs before one understands what needs to be communicated at what time (to and by whom) in the process of getting the job done..

    Thx for bringing up this great point!

  13. Hi Esteban,

    Right.. Social CRM is common Customer sense 😉

    I do agree that Social CRM may look like a fuzzy concept, but I think that’s just a temporary state. Like you stated before, it will take years before it’s fully crystallized and then we will have further evolved..

    I like to think I have been not fuzzy about my understanding of what Social CRM is about. I also think we (as in the market, not just you and me 😉 will likely not always agree. This doesn’t make it “fuzzy” imho. Some, or many, may disagree, to me it’s crystal clear 😉

    The generational shift you mention is important too I think.. and maybe not for here.. would love to read your views on what consequences there are from that shift..

    Thx for the read, kudos & comment & time – on your birthday.. Highly appreciated 🙂

  14. wim,

    while i do agree — i would not be so fast to discard the fuzzy concept. the idea is that fuzzy just means that each one can make it their own and use it for their purposes — and i cannot agree with that sufficiently. i think that each org will make social crm what they need it to be, same as with crm before

    just saying

  15. It’s good to have a mind stretch with some of this higher level discussion. I’d love to hear some real world stories. Graham hints but perhaps can’t be explicit: the perennial dilemma of the consultant who has juicy stories to tell but has to respect confidentiality?

    One story which is in the public domain and I believe is pertinent is from the campaign run by a government agency here in Australia. The tourism arm of the northern state of Queensland, viz. Tourism Queensland, ran the well-known “Island Caretaker”/”Best Job in the World” campaign, which netted multi millions of dollars worth of publicity for a relatively modest cash outlay.

    Social media played a key role and one story I relish from that broader story is that when contestants from around the world were competing for that one job and uploading their videos to YouTube, they helped one another. The staff of Tourism Queensland would simply not have been able to provide the support that competitors provided for one another. That to me is SCRM at work: that is the customer experience being co-created by the customers.

    Another sub story from the follow up campaign, still promoting the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, is that Tourism Queensland has identified as a gap in the communication system a lack of knowledge and expertise in social media at the on-the-ground point of contact of actual tourists and service providers (motel owners, tour operators etc) so they have produced a whole e-kit to help those operators become a more effective part of the collaboration with the “end user” – who is now a co-creator, etc etc.

    I see these stories as forming part of the picture for this discussion. Some might see them as a ramble, in which case I’d love someone to share some real life stories that illustrate the points without breaching any confidentiality requirements.

  16. in the sense you describe it here, I agree 🙂

    actually: one should take the logic, ideas, use cases and strategic framework of Social CRM at heart and then think about how to apply in their own reality and for their own purposes..

    there is no “one” answer, imho, and it all depends on the job you and your customers are trying to do.. etc..

    Thx for clarifying 🙂

  17. Hi Prem,

    I certainly agree that 1+1+1 = more than 3.. we all know the saying. In business I too think this applies.

    If you would collaborate better and, by doing so, understand better what “resources” all participants should bring to the table it is more likely that you can actually do a better job at getting your Customer’s job done.

    I think that if you help your Customers do a better job than your competitors can, you are able to ask for a better price, as can your partners etc etc..

    Thus more value will be created for all participants together, compared to a situation where only the selling company would interact with the Customer to try and sell his merchandise and in the process trying to keep his supplier(s) etc, as far away from the (knowledge about) the Customer, let alone interact and learn from the Customer, as possible..

    It all makes common Customer sense, doesn’t it? (I like it when “comments” can be tied together 😉

    Keeps me wondering why so little companies apply the logic..

    Thx for your great contribution Prem.

  18. Hi Scott,

    As always, defending the Customer.. I truly like the “social wiretapping” statement.. It is definitely a thin line we could be walking. Yes, information is widely available, but does it mean we all have to use it? does it make us better people? does it help us in creating more value for the Customer?

    Or do you do it to control PR-damage and attempting to create more valeu for yourself? to know where your Customers are and what they are saying, so you can intervene and try to sell your merchandise?

    I think it makes perfect sense to debate what one can and cannot do, or could and should not do..

    The same goes for, as you so eloquently state, “the majority of the 18 Use Cases – that – can be performed by an organization without having to be customer-centric – without having to give up on CRM 1.0 behavior”

    Love it.. nothing to add.

    Thx again!

  19. Hi Kilian,

    I understand that sometimes my (and other) statements can strike you (and others) as theoretical, academic or strategic. I sometimes get overwhelmed by some of it too..

    I then try to think of the implications of such statements in my own work, my past experiences and the reading that I do, increasingly so outside of the CRM and even the business domain. Mostly, after playing around with the thought for some time, something hits me.

    When it “hits” me, I just put it down in a post, sometimes after discussing it with some friends, colleagues etc, and I wait and see.. And what you read above is what you get..

    I do try to frame such a post in such a way that it provides an opportunity for debate. And when I’m really lucky I get response from people like you (too, I may add.. ;)… All these responses provide me with fresh food for thought..

    Having said that:

    I do agree with you that many companies seem far away from what I propose to be the cutting edge in Customer thinking. However, there are plenty of companies (and I named a few that you can easily find good stories about on the web – try e.g 😉 executing on this already. Some have been for years. They are the leaders..

    I like to see myself as a thinker and connector.. A connector of thoughts and practices maybe. And I’m confident that if you think hard enough you’ll find the connection between my thoughts here, the practices in some of the examples provided (also check Desh Walsh’s comment below), your daily practice and other “real life examples” that you will be able to recognize in a different context.. (am I still making sense?)..

    With regard to the purpose: the purpose is and remains to provide the best possible value to your Customers, by helping them to get their job done better than competition. And, likely, they have something sensible to think/say/contribute to that process too.. Allow them to, and you’ll do a better job than others, for sure..

    Thx for engaging and allowing me to ramble back.. 😉

  20. Hi Graham,

    I have little to add, but the fact that I did not forget abt the resources. I completely agree with your analysis of the comments too. And I’m just grateful that this post brought all these good points of view to the paper/pixels.

    I do think, that for most companies, it is one step at the time. Starting to open up for Customers involvement in the process of creating value. Starting to understand the resources Customers need to create value for themselves, is more than half-way, imho.

    I think it won’t be long after trying to do this, it becomes apparent that resources from other parties play an important role too.. in Dutch we say: als het eerste schaap over de dam is.. and then will follow more..

    Thx for the great additional insight and contribution. As always, highly appreciated.

  21. Thanks for sharing this story, Des.

    We need thought provoking and strategic discussions, but eventually these do need to connect to doing something in the real world.

    I think people are hungry for more examples of companies that practice “social CRM” from a more strategic perspective as Wim is advocating.

    If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then an example is surely worth at least as much!

  22. Hello Des,

    You provide some good examples of what I mean. I like the last one best btw, because the first one actually is a campaign not to create value for the Customer, but for the company (hire a good person and market their interests). The second one shows clearly how one can help all participants in an eco-system by understanding the resources needed to create more value..

    The best, publicly available, real-life examples of what I am aiming at can be found in this article:

    Co-creation of Value – toward an expanded paradigm of value creation

    Thx for thinking with me 🙂

  23. Hi the content posted by all is nice, I have one general doubt not regarding to your posts , but its a general one. I need an answer from you people.
    Normally in order to retain customer in their company only , the companies develop CRM technique , so normally they involve in collecting customer details and by using those information they can enhance CRM. But whats the problem here is customer information is changeable , then how they judge the behavior of customer,
    So most of the companies use fuzzy technique here i know,..but how it is applicable to changeable environment. how the fuzzy concept works here.Please give me some suggestion regarding that .

    Awaiting for your Reply…


  24. I think that a key element of social is the creation and outsourcing of advocacy to the customer. As you rightly pointed out, the other elements of sCRM are mainly things that CRM when done properly should already have been providing. What the social platform creates and what sCRM seeks to exploit, is an opportunity for the crucial activity of businesses such as; marketing, product and service development, and customer service. In the hands of the empowered customer/advocate they can become endorsements, collaboration, and advice, respectively. The benefits to both businesses and customers here are huge. Great article!


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