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Social CRM – Getting Down to Reality

Guest post by Paul Greenberg, author of CRM at the Speed of Light. Follow him on Twitter, please read his blog.

First things first. Thank you, Brian. I am truly thrilled that I’m getting the honor of addressing your friends and I’m more thrilled even to be able to call you a friend.

You know, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at the CRM market, as an analyst, consultant, journalist, blogger and whatever other chameleon-like title you can give me. While it’s immensely gratifying to see that Social CRM is now part of the mainstream discussion process and is even being mentioned as something that is being sought as a knowledge level or skill set in job descriptions. But what is also apparent is that there are some things that need to be clarified about where in the pantheon of the gods of realism that Social CRM actually resides, because the hype about what it can do and the venom spit at it by the naysayers are abundant in ridiculous amounts.

In order to do that, let me throw something out to you guys, which may or may not come as a shock. If it does, uh oh.

Here goes.

Starting with the Social Customer….

First, I presume that all of you know that there is a social customer who wants to be more engaged than a traditional customer does – and in fact makes that well known out on the social web, so aptly shown in Brian’s now famous Conversation Prism. But, what you might think you know and what actually is the case may not be the same thing. Though, of course, maybe it is.

The social customers are less engaged with your brand than they are with their friends and what they and their friends think of your brand. Which means you have a real opportunity here and a bit of a problem.

IBM’s Institute for Business Value released a report last week called “From Social Media to Social CRM: What Customers Want” which had some eye-opening, or at least, level-setting numbers.

Take a look at these:

1. While between 72% (baby boomers) and 89% (Gen Y) have an account on some social site, 70% of them use them for personal reasons, while only 23% use them to interact with brands. Notably 39% of them use them for reviews – meaning peer trust when it comes to a brand or specific product or service.

2. That said, 79% of companies have a social network profile, 55% have media sharing sites, like YouTube, profiles, and 52% have microblogging, read: Twitter, profiles. Meaning there is a significant presence by business on social channels.

3. While 70% of the businesses who responded said that they believed that social media outreach would improve brand advocacy among their customers, only 38% of the customers believed that it would make a difference to them that way.

4. This one is the big disconnect. While customers think that the most important reasons they interact with companies on their social sites is because they can get discounts and make purchases, those same companies think that this is the least important reason.

What makes these numbers interesting, scary and a real opportunity, is that the social customer is not just a social customer but a socially engaged person who is communicating differently now than they ever have been. That means we are in the midst of an irrevocable revolution, but not in business, in communication. In reality, the business of customer engagement with these channels is only a little past infancy.

Now Moving to Social CRM

One thing that is clear though is that the social customer, when they choose to engage with brands, can impact that brand positively or negatively whether the brand does anything or lays back and does nothing.

Social CRM, which is an evolution of the more traditional CRM built around sales, marketing and customer service, is a response to this customer control. In fact, the short definition that I gave it (and tweaked a little too) is:

“Social CRM is the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.” (If you want a lengthy look at what SCRM is, take a look at this post, “Time to Put a Stake in the Ground on Social CRM” that I wrote in 2009).

What that means is that every company that has a substantial number of its customer conversing on the social web, whether personal or not, needs to have a presence on the social web. Even if only 23% of the customers are using the social web to interact with brands.

Know why?

First, and foremost, even though most of the social web action is personal, the revolution has been a communications revolution, first and foremost, not a business revolution. As a result of this irrevocable change in the what, where, when and how we communicate, businesses need to learn how to use these new communications channels – because that’s how their existing and potential customers are communicating. Its simple really. If you as a business want to talk to your customers e.g. interact with them then you need to do one of two things or both:

1. Find out where they are communicating such as Twitter and Facebook as well as traditional channels (phone, email) and understand how to use those channels. Outreach, in other words.

2. Find out what they need from you to communicate and provide them with the channels to do that e.g. a service community. Inputs, in other words.
By understanding this, you are giving your business a change to genuinely engage with the customers where they want to be engaged, provided you’ve asked them where that might be. Don’t presume.

If you’ve done that and accessed those channels available and didn’t limit yourself to those you’re comfortable with, the simplest thing in the world occurs. The customers begin to trust you a bit more because they see that you’re making the effort to reach out to them where they are and to provide them with the pipelines they need into you to make sure that they can get enough information and have enough access to make an intelligent decision on how they choose to interact with you. They have control of the conversation and of the kind of relationship they want with you. That’s real value to them.

The value to your business? Happy customers. The same as always. Something that never stopped and never stops giving.

The other key benefit is the data that is out there about you as a result of these new channels. Capture it, analyze and use it to make some judgments about your customers based on the insights that you’ve gained and you have the foundation to optimize the experience that your customers are having with you.

Let me bring this home with an example and you’ll see what I mean.

The Case of Vocalpoint

Back in 2006, Procter and Gamble created Vocalpoint. This is a community, a social network of moms who typically have 25-40 other moms in their personal networks. P&G’s purpose was to get product feedback, 50% P&G products and 50% other products from these active moms by distributing products to the networks and asking them to use the products in their natural environment.

The way that the moms lived was the way they distributed these products to their networks. This doesn’t mean that moms can’t participate in focus groups and surveys, but P&G more so than perhaps any consumer oriented company has understood the value of a natural environment in getting higher quality product feedback.

How successful has this social network been?

By the end of 2006, there were 600,000 members of this targeted social community.
Think about this. Theoretically, this gave P&G the ability to distribute products to a number of people ranging from 15 million to 24 million. Not only would they get feedback garnered from people using the product in their actual living situation but also brand awareness to that very same crowd without spending anything on traditional advertising.

Their thinking was simple. Steve Knox, the Vocalpoint CEO at the time said, “We know that the most powerful form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend.”
This program has been such a success that as of now it is a profit center for P&G, spun off from the parent so that the feedback could be more agnostic and the benefits monetized.

One final matter of interest.

P&G doesn’t call what they do Social CRM but…

It is.

The customer at this point is slowly but surely learning how to engage with the companies that they are interested with. In order for SCRM to be a successful strategy, it not only takes a village to engage the customer but it takes a program like P&G has with Vocalpoint.

So, once again, thanks Brian. You’re a champ. And those of you reading this, thanks too. Now let’s make this a reality everywhere.

It’s good for business – and for the customers.

39 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social CRM – Getting Down to Reality”

  1. Pontus Staunstrup says:

    Thanks Paul, for a really interesting piece. Could you elaborate a bit more on the Outreach/Input part, specifically how companies can interact with customers in their chosen social media arenas and not come across as monitoring their conversations. I believe that that would not go down well with a majority of customers.

    • Paul Greenberg says:

      Thanks, Pontus. I’d be glad to elaborate a bit more.
      You’re right. “Spying” doesn’t really work and is unethical besides. What has to be established by businesses who are approaching their customers in channels that the customers converse in but the businesses don’t own is a protocol that has sensitivity to the channel. For example, if there is a comment on a blog that needs to be addressed by a business, as long as the person is clear that they are either officially or unofficially (depending on who takes the initiative) representing the business in that conversation and they speak in a real voice without the obvious intervention of a legal and/or marketing department, no one will take offense particularly because it is a more open forum for discussion. But if you, for example are a restaurant trying to respond to a bad review on Yelp, the metaphor is one of “I was sitting at my table and overheard you saying this bad thing about me. I’ll join you at your table and tell you why you’re wrong.” BAD mistake. In other words, the protocol for handling it is different. If you do this right and are aware of the etiquette governing the channel and follow it, you can do fine.

      Is that what you’re asking? If not, sorry and tell me more and I’ll respond.

  2. Super great ideas….but I feel like the typical company isn’t even social yet, let alone ready for social CRM. How are you defining what a “company” is? I don’t see close to 79% of small companies using social profiles, unless you are counting Internet Yellow Pages as social profiles where they are by default.

    • Paul Greenberg says:

      Hi Ellen,
      We’re at the beginning for Social CRM and social business. For example, it took CRM a decade to go from an immature, often failing attempt by businesses to figure out how to handle their customers to a mature industry with strategies, programs, frameworks, applications, approaches and sets of expectations that could successfully accomplish what it set out to do. Now its a $16 billion industry that continued to grow in the recession and is seen as a necessary part of any business small or large.

      But in the social world, larger enterprises are the first to adopt because a. they feel the heat more. b. they are less directly connected to the customer and c. they have more money to spend on pilots and smaller programs that might fail. Small businesses start seeing this later on. I’ve been involved with both small businesses and the largest enterprises for two decades with CRM and related strategies, etc. and seen this happen more than once.

      These ideas aren’t abstract. There are thousands of successes in the social realm – and thousands of failures. The discussion around SCRM is mainstream though the execution is tactical and not holistic.

      It takes time for things to germinate. But these aren’t just abstractions anymore. On the largest scale, IBM has decided to transform its entire 100 year old $100 billion business into a social business and empower (with compensation incentives) all 400,000 of its employees in the process because they realize the world has dramatically changed. On the smallest side, there are dozens of technology vendors like WeCanDoBiz and Nimble among many others, focused around some aspect of social CRM who have hundreds and even thousands of customers in some cases because of an increasing recognition in the small business world that something “social” needs to be done and this would support their ability to do it.

      So the business world is changing. We’ve had an irrevocable communications revolution which has had impact on business (not a business revolution). It takes time to make it work well, but its starting to. Its up to you to do whatever you want to do about it. But its happening already one way or the other.

  3. Ken Mueller says:

    Great insights. I think the key to the disconnect is “other friends”. Companies want one thing, we as consumers want another. We don’t like being “sold to”, so to speak, and yet companies, by nature, feel they have to sell. What both sides need to tap into are those “other friends”. Some people WILL talk about your company, so you need to tap into that, presumably, good will. And our customers or potential customers are on the other side of that person, who, with the social web and mobile, has a megaphone at their disposal, which can be used for either negative or positive word of mouth.

    We see this on both the large and small scales, and yet I think it works best on the more local level because it’s more natural and organic (in the way that people talk about products and businesses on Facebook, Twitter, etc.).

    Those companies that “get” this, will be the ones who are able to flourish.

  4. Greg Kops says:

    Awesome article. I checked out Bantam Live before it was acquired by Constant Contact and my eyes were opened to the rich possibilities of merging data and information from the social web with private data from your CRM. Above and beyond listening, the combining of these two worlds of data creates so many new possibilities for being actionable within your customer database.

    Mouselink Media

  5. Greg Kops says:

    Awesome article. I checked out Bantam Live before it was acquired by Constant Contact and my eyes were opened to the rich possibilities of merging data and information from the social web with private data from your CRM. Above and beyond listening, the combining of these two worlds of data creates so many new possibilities for being actionable within your customer database.

    Mouselink Media

  6. Paul – Great post as usual. Clearly we have been reading some of the same stuff lately 🙂 There is one other stat in that report which seems to make sense here – Companies are already close to there advocates; 64% of stated that passion for a brand needs to exists prior to interacting with that brand. In other words, the real challenge to figure out a good way for people (aka the social customer) to interact with that brand before they are advocates, and then turn them into advocates (with great products being a good reason of course).


    • Barry Dalton says:

      Mitch – great point. And, to Paul’s original definition, the social customer is going to determine if and when they not only interact but become advocates, influenced not by the brand to do so, but by their trusted network. To me, this points to the fact that it is even more difficult and fraught with more risk for brands. The tolerance for brands to insert themselves into the conversation is lower than ever. How do you respond when any active response could be interpreted as pursuit rather than permission-based engagement. The permission criteria is constantly morphing as well.

  7. The social world caters to many but still a lot of people don’t get. different generation are using social media these days..and its growing like wild fire..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  8. Ric Pratte says:

    Thank you Paul & Brian as usual.
    Appreciate the dose of reality in the over hyped social media world. As more businesses jump on the band wagon to ‘engage’ with their customers they need to adjust their objectives.
    My favorite quote is from Steve Knox, “We know that the most powerful form of marketing is an advocacy message from a trusted friend.” This has important concept as brands ‘build community’. Rather than businesses create their own community, THEY need to join the community which their consumers exist, build trust and assist them is sharing and advocating on the brands behalf. This is where the true amplification effect can take place.

    Fun stuff! 🙂

  9. I find that last line interesting – that P&G don’t call it social CRM. I asked Brian Solis when he was in London last week if sCRM even really exists, and he wasn’t sure it did, outside of the mainstream socialisation of businesses. I’ll be following this up with Mitch Lieberman (who I see has commented below) and your friend Esteban Kolsky at Social CRM 2011 in London in May, and in New York in July.

    • briansolis says:

      Luke it was a pleasure to see you in London. You brought up a great question and my answer was less about whether or not sCRM exists and more along the lines of it’s potential…technology vs. methodologies. On both fronts, there’s a tremendous amount of work ahead of us. Hope to see you at one of these upcoming events and as always, it was a pleasure to spend time with you during my last trip.

    • Thanks Brian, you’re always a hit in London 😉 I guess I’m slightly hung up on the broader “socialisation” of business idea, but I can see there’s also a need for solutions and methodologies that focus on specific business requirements, such as CRM.

    • briansolis says:

      Indeed, that is a broader and far more complicated subject, which is
      why most of my time is now spent in change management. Cheers!

  10. rmsorg says:

    Paul, you nailed it on the head when you said “What that means is that every company that has a substantial number of its customer conversing on the social web, whether personal or not, needs to have a presence on the social web. Even if only 23% of the customers are using the social web to interact with brands.” Those 23% have friends that they interact with on and offline, wom goes a long way. Conversations are going on whether you choose to interact or not.. It is a “communication” revolution!

  11. Barry S Dalton says:

    So, I think you’ve called out the elephant in the room. Well, there are actually a couple of pachyderms mulling about. First, if the social customer’s relative desire to engage with brands is so low, IBM just gave the numbers guys the ammo they’ve been looking for the pull the break even harder…perhaps. Second, if, given the choice, for example with the emergence of new social platforms with greater particupant security control to challenge FB, do consumers rush there and close the door behind them in the face of brands. If that happens, then what’s the brand response. Third, the P&G platform, it could be argued, is not brand-customer engagement at all. It is on some level, as you described actual peer to peer engagement on a community platform that just happens to be hosted by P&G.

    So, then the big question is this, based on the IBM stats. Is the best brand strategy at this point a passive, voyeristic one? Marketing: Build the platforms. If the customers come, they are giving a form of implicit consent to engage. In parallel focus on being on public social platforms (twitter, FB) for the purpose of providing customer service. My concern is that brands (marketers) are morphing the intent of “response” in your definition;; because a customer is on twitter and my brand is on twitter, that constitutes permission to actively engage (pursue). Thoughts?

  12. Chamoen says:

    I think there are good examples of Social CRM in the B2C market – by far it is the most applicable. I’d like to see examples and cases for companies who are in markets like scientific instrumentation or manufacturing OEM situations. What are Social CRM advocates saying for these companies?

    • Paul Greenberg says:

      Hello Chamoen

      Right now in those spaces there aren’t a lot of SCRM advocates. Manufacturing companies – e.g. agricultural equipment etc are showing some interest in social channels and SCRM – a surprising amount of interest. I’ve heard nothing in scientific instrumentation or any market that is focused around equipment of any kind beyond the manufacturing i mention here.

  13. I think you have made some great points and the example of P&G just goes to show how important sCRM is and will be going forward. I think it is a must for all businesses large or small to be actively involved in Social Media, if your customers are using these channels and you are not using them you are missing out on an opportunity to listen and understand your customer but also to show some personality behind the brand.

  14. Great article full of insight. I really like the sCRM abstract definition the best – “Social CRM is the company’s programmatic response to the customer’s control of the conversation.” This really nails it. What organizations need to realize is that they can no longer control the conversations that are occurring about their products and services. What organization can provide is the programs, tools and the means for those conversations and hopefully trusted communities to be built. The data and commentary farmed should be as valuable to the organization as a distinct lead.

  15. It’s always great to hear Paul share, thanks for giving him your platform Brian.

    Paul, enjoyed the piece, curious tho, where are the stats from on consumer adoption of social? (I collect a lot of these stats, and would love to archive them in my library)

  16. Chuck Van Court says:

    Hello Paul:

    I agree that providing access directly from relevant social networking sites into support infrastructure is pretty much a necessity. I also believe that allowing people to log in to support infrastructure using login credentials from social networking sites has also probably become requirement.

    However, with any Web service being just one click away, when do you believe it makes sense to build support directly in the social networking site and live with their inherent deficiencies rather than providing easy access into infrastructure that has been optimized for its intended purposes?

    For companies like Rosetta Stone, Harley and Apple where the consumers become personally vested in the brand and are interested in engaging with other customers, direct integration with sites like Facebook may indeed provide an organization with an important place to embrace and facilitate that engagement, but even there I wonder if their consumers would not be better served by using online community technology that has been better optimized for getting people to engage and share information.

    I am so tired of all this marketing hype of “being where your customers are” and they “don’t want to leave their preferred channel to get the answers”.…come on, is opening a tab in the social network rather than opening a tab in a browser worth all the compromise in capabilities? I have to believe that consistent and better online deliveries from anywhere on the Web trumps any benefit of staying contained in the social network.

    In those unique cases where the support provided would benefit from access to the consumer’s social graphs, social networks either already understand, or will soon enough, that the walled garden approach cannot survive long term and will/have opened up their APIs.

    Social networks certainly provide important access points, but as a development platform and communications channel they certainly leave something to be desired.

    What are your thoughts on this topic, Paul?

    Chuck Van Court
    FuzeDigital CEO

  17. Paul Greenberg says:

    Hi Chuck,
    If it were just marketing hype, it would be true in all cases. But what you have to remember is that there are close to 600 million people on Facebook, a like amount on Skype, and 100 million on LinkedIn, meaning its not just hype. Plus, at this stage, those drawn to communities a. typically are of a like interest or practice – meaning there is a reason beyond convenience to go there and b. are DRAWN to communities, meaning for them its not the TYPICAL place that they go – which is more like Facebook or Twitter, IF THEY USE SOCIAL CHANNELS AT ALL. That is something that you have to consider in this equation The bulk of the population doesn’t find communities, internal or external natural. They don’t use them. They still use the phone and maybe email and text messaging as their primary means of communication. Thus, the way to think about Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc and even internal communities is as just another channel to communicate in.

    As far as the marketing hype. The customers don’t care about who “owns” or “controls” what. That’s something that pundits like me or vendor CEOs like you care about. They care about what they need to do something – whether its a social network or an app for the iPhone or the Droid. Or the phone. Keep in mind, we, as thought leaders, vendors, analysts, tech journalists, etc. live in a different world than most of the rest of the planet, which can skew how we think about things social or CRM. However, we do live in a world where there are hundreds of relatively affluent “social customers” who when they make purchase decisions or recommend purchase decisions have a decided business impact. Meaning that they spend money that impacts businesses bottom line or they recommend that others spend money to do the same.

    All in all, its not just marketing hype, though it does get hyped. There actually has been a change in how we communicate. No one is saying that the traditional methods of communication, traditional channels, like phone and email are going away. Whoever might be saying that is dead wrong. But the new ones and how they work are different and require different kinds of mastery than in the past and thus, are a problem for businesses used to communicating in only traditional channels. Customers are willing to “leave” the channels they are in, if there is a reason to, and stay because there is a reason to. That’s what drives all of this. Self-interest pure and simple. And that’s a good thing, not a bad one.

    Hope that at least answers things in part.


    • Chuck Van Court says:

      Greetings Paul:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I sincerely respect your opinions and appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Thanks!

      I hear what you are saying and totally agree that the method selected by consumers to communicate with organizations is driven based on what the consumer believes is best for them and nothing more. I get it and am one of those consumers. Many may even consider me demanding and high maintenance!

      I also absolutely believe that social networks are here to stay and MUST be fully addressed by the communications and support strategies of almost all businesses. This is NOT HYPE.

      However, I do believe the marketing messaging that is HYPE is the messaging that advocates that businesses must extend support natively in social networks to “be where there customers are” rather than opening a new browser tab or possibly inline window to technologies unencumbered by the inherent limitations of each social network’s platform. The focus should be on best fulfilling the NEEDS of one’s consumers using the delivery method best suited to do so, while balancing this with the realities of what makes good business sense.

      In some cases the benefits derived from providing support natively in a social networking site makes great business sense, but I believe that the vast majority should consider these sites to be access points and not channels….just like your home is not a channel when you call or email from it.

      If done correctly, the amount of effort for a consumer to LEAVE the social network is NOTHING and the only thing they should potentially lose is the ability to get much faster responses (not necessarily resolution) than alternative channels, which is something that any smart organization will control after weighing the benefits against the costs ….generally resulting in fee-based premium services where warranted.

      Don’t you find it pretty ironic that FB, Twittter and all these vendors touting that you have to “be where your customers are” are not providing this free and near immediate support directly through social network channels?. I guess just another example of do what I say, not what I do.


    • Chamoen says:

      This seems like a pitch for your company?

      Example: consumers look to facebook pages for the company information, brand allegiance, and social interaction about the brand. I “like” the harley davidson page, connect with people there, but almost rarely interact with HD outside of this channel. I don’t go to the website.

      *Perhaps* I accept that if I am interacting with HD directly with questions, support, or sales…I “open a new window” and access some tool such as yours. But needs to be seamless and make sense for the user…ie, if you make me log in again somewhere else, I’m out.

      Hub and spoke…or hub and hub…

      FYI: Thinking like this:
      “come on, is opening a tab in the social network rather than opening a tab in a browser worth all the compromise in capabilities?”

      ….is where you are stuck in your thinking and forcing behaviour onto consumers/customers/people/etc.

      Does. Not. Work.
      (“come on” is where the trolls go to feed)

    • Chuck Van Court says:

      Whomever you really are:

      My comments have absolutely nothing to do with our company.

      Harley may be an example of a brand where it makes sense to extend support (or at least the community piece) directly through the SN channel, but VERY FEW brands have that type of relationship with their customers.

      Of course Single Sign On eliminating duplicated logins would be required and a new tab or inline (modal/dialog) window would be opened instead of a new browser window. What behavior is that exactly forcing that would be considered detrimental by consumers, especially when the delivery is better than when encumbered by the development limitations particular to each social network platform?

      I also see that you did not even touch my question about extending this near-immediate support free of charge.

      In the end, it really is not that hard for companies like ours to build delivery directly through relevant SN network channels and if I believed it was supporting real consumer needs on a material level, we too would extend our offering natively into relevant SN channels, but we never have and never will let market hype drive our offering. I am more than willing to accept that I am wrong and would change our strategies accordingly, but it will take substantive arguments based on real information.

      Also, if anyone is being a troll I suggest you look in the mirror. In fact, I would not be surprised if you actually worked for one of the Social Networks or vendors hyping this native delivery. Speak your mind without anonymity and supported by substantive arguments and prove me wrong.

      Chuck Van Court
      CEO, FuzeDigital

  18. John Bottom says:


    As a fully paid-up member of the Bloggers Who Blog About Blogging Club, I love the candour of this post. As you point out, it’s all too easy for us in the online/SM marketing world to assume that social media is an inevitability for all customers, and we just got there first.

    We can’t afford to be so smug. The presence of brands on social media has to be handled with sophistication and understanding. We can’t assume that presence is enough. That’s like assuming a big logo with a friendly slogan is enough to make a successful brand. Customers do not want to engage with brands unless there is something in it for them. The oft-cited example of viral videos is relevant – they only work because they are funny or because there is an incentive to share. It is not VW, Evian or Smart Water that makes the content desirable.

    So I appreciate your succinct definition that SCRM is our response to the fact that the customer is in control. And just like any form of marketing, that simply boils down to finding out what they want and delivering it. The only difference is that the deliverable has to be digital in format…

    Great post, thank you


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