Social Media & Social CRM

Part of my day to day activities at the moment, a large part in fact, is researching the digital marketing industry in the search of companies who might want to employ me who I’d like to work for, either now or further down the line (the list is large and growing at an alarming rate). Something that I’ve been considering for a while as an aside to this is the distinction that some are making between social media strategies and social CRM. One such company who place the emphasis on social CRM is Neoco, ‘The Social CRM Agency’, who are based in London.

I’m not going to use this post to talk about neoco, their (snazzy) website and blog are a lot better at doing that, and as such you can go check them out if you fancy a look (comes highly recommended), but I thought I’d use this instead to add my thoughts on the distinction, and see if any of you (the few that read this!) agree or disagree with me.

Social media marketing is taking off like a rocket. As the world at large becomes more ‘social’ (as if we weren’t before!) the attraction of social media marketing is ever increasing, and investment into the sector is on the up. But social media marketing has a tinge of pejorative connotation. Marketing has been considered in the past to be an aggressive process of convincing people to part with their hard earned cash for products that they don’t want or need. The addition of social media to that equation doesn’t necessarily negate that potential for no good, but it is a fresh permutation of the marketing machine, and it adds the element of conversation to the mix.

From a physiological perspective we are social beings. Humans are predisposed to communicate, to arrange themselves into social units, to coexist with each other. We are, as Marx suggested, ‘gregarious creatures’ (yes, that is wikipedia, I’m not pretending to be a well versed authority on Karl Marx’s literature). ‘Social’ and ‘Conversation’ are intrinsically linked; the person in the corner of the room chatting to his shadow is dubbed ‘antisocial’ due to their lack of involvement with others, and a ‘social life’ is something that involves plenty of conversation with other people that you enjoy seeing. ‘Social media’, therefore, is ultimately the facilitation of conversations using digital platforms, albeit without the physical element of normal human interaction. Social media marketing, therefore, could be conceived to be the use of digital conversations to market products and services. In reality there is a world of complexity which spans from this expression, but from a lexical perspective this is the (my) root meaning.

Conversations, of course, are not necessarily the use of simple text. Platforms like Foursquare and Flickr give the option of using geo-location and photography as elements in the conversation, or can be the core of the conversation text being the periphery. The combination of these different platforms can and have resulted in a world of both intricate and simple digital campaigns, some of which were incredibly effective.

Social media marketing, however, falls short of the full monty. While the emphasis is on conversation, it isn’t necessarily a lasting or quality one. The conversation can be short lived and can lack longevity. Some campaigns only use social media for the duration of the campaign, or tail off when it is over. This is where Social CRM comes in.

Just as social media marketing was a new permutation of the classical marketing model (in response to advances in technology), social CRM is the fresh paradigm of social media marketing which is borne not of technological advances (although there is still an element of this), but of advances in understanding what consumers want from the companies and products they purchase / buy into. With classical marketing there was a one way flow of information, with social media marketing there was a conversation, and with social CRM there is a relationship between the brand and the consumer.

Social CRM places the consumer at the heart of the business, and ultimately focuses on the wants and desires of the customer. Grievances, suggestions, criticisms are all seen as an opportunity to increase the quality of a product. Criticisms in particular are a unique opportunity for a brand to reach out to those unhappy customers and address their problems, listen to their criticism and give them an opportunity to have a voice on the matter. Confronting negative WOM is so incredibly important in a modern business strategy – what often starts out as a whisper can turn into a roar, so it pays dividends to give those voices something good to say.

The knowledge that a brand is listening and acting upon the opinions of its customers makes that brand more attractive. It makes it seem less like one way traffic, and more like an exchange. I’ll bet a large proportion of people would choose a brand that listened over one that didn’t. In this respect social media and subsequently social CRM has given brands an avenue in which they can prove that they care about their customers, that they are committed to improving their business, and that the users of the products can have a say on how they develop over time.

Reasons such as this are why I’m so excited by this industry, and why for me this isn’t just a fad. Social media, it could be argued, has had the makings of ‘fad’ culture, but when you get past all that superfluous nonsense, you see how social CRM is giving switched on brands an avenue for organic and sustainable business which will last far into the future. If you listen, you will be listened to.

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