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Brent Leary: How to keep social CRM from the dark side

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16th Apr 2010
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Social CRM may be a hot topic but will failed projects lead to a backlash? CRM expert Brent Leary explains how to get social CRM right.

A long time ago, in a Galaxy far, far away… there was CRM. And it spawned a sequel – social CRM. But, as is the way with many sequels (and especially prequels, but let's not go there…), social CRM attracted controversy. So while some embraced the term, it left others in a state of confusion - or even consternation. Nonetheless, after beating off competition from the likes of ‘CRM 2.0’ and ‘social business strategy’, it has emerged as the de facto term for the use of social media to engage customers in collaborative conversation and generate mutual value.
As the instigator of the #scrm hashtag on Twitter, CRM industry analyst, speaker and blogger Brent Leary has to take a lot of credit for this. And while he humbly refers to cohort (and all-round good egg) Paul Greenberg as "the Obi Wan of CRM", the force is also certainly strong with Leary – as well as co-founding CRM Essentials LLC, he’s picked up an award for Most Influential Leader at CRM Magazine and serves on the board of the Customer Relationship Management Association.
So who better than Leary to shed some light on social CRM?
"There are a lot of definitions of CRM… but what it comes down to is finding, catching and keeping good customers," he says. "Now we’re looking at combining the traction that people have for social media and the way that it can be used to get in on the conversation, with a more traditional approach to lead generation, marketing automation, salesforce automation and those kinds of things.
"So [social CRM] really combines the best of both worlds. You use blogs and podcasts and video to get people’s attention, get into a conversation, stick with them for a few meaningful exchanges and then transition over to the more formal sales process."
The weight of expectation
Given the proliferation of social media, the clamour to tap into its potential is understandable. The ability to reach thousands of people with such little complexity or cost would have been unthinkable only a few years ago. And these qualities offer vast potential to businesses of all sizes – "The combination of social media and cloud computing and the lowering of the expenses and the complexity has made CRM and social CRM perfect for small businesses," says Leary. "I think those are the kinds of businesses that really benefit the most from where technology is taking us."
Inevitably, however, social CRM now runs the risk of being crushed under the weight of expectation. And companies expecting a tactical presence on a social platform such as Twitter or Facebook to turn into a veritable goldmine are in for a rude awakening.
"It has been a good thing in general that these tools and technologies are making it easier for us to create content and distribute it across where we think our audiences are." Leary acknowledges. "The bad thing is anybody can do it now! And that means there is a lot of content being created which means there is not enough attention for the things that we do because we are fighting everybody else.
"Because there are more people on social networks, there are more tools that are easier to use, there is more ability to push our content out, I think what is happening is that we are getting overloaded. And because people can’t really focus in on all the stuff that is coming at them, trust starts to go down in ‘people like us’ because we are seeing a lot of people use these tools, maybe a little overemphasising branding and promotion, and so with all that content coming at us we’re starting to tune out a little bit."
Social CRM backlash?
The question is whether disappointment in social media projects will translate into a full-scale backlash. CRM, of course, had its own reputation mauled during the early years of the 2000s when expensive deployments failed to deliver the desired results. So could social CRM be set for much of the same?
The issue is further complicated by the fact that businesses are still struggling to find hard metrics for social media. Recent research suggests that only half of marketers think that social media will generate quantifiable results this year, which could have major ramifications for social media initiatives as budget allocation is accelerated into those channels that are more measurable.
But Leary believes that in order to get a grasp of social media ROI and analytics, we need to get beyond the traditional methods. "It is important to look at things like how does the content help you connect with the right people? Are you seeing people leave comments? Are you seeing people follow you on social networks more and more as you push your content out?
"So we try to use social media to create an opportunity for a relationship, but then we have to stay in touch. And this is where the email marketing piece comes in. Email and social media really work hand in hand because it allows us to stay connected and hopefully build a relationship over a time. And then when the people that we’re talking to are ready to do something, hopefully we’ve spent enough time building that relationship well that they’ll turn back around to us and say "alright now we’re ready to buy, I really like what these guys are saying, so why don’t we talk to them?" and then that transitions us into the more formal sales process.
"It is important to look at how we can measure the impact of our social media efforts in terms of getting us into the right conversations with the right people, how quickly can we do it, and how quickly can we transition from [a comment on a blog], to signing up to a newsletter to sending in a contact us on the website to "OK now we’re ready to talk."
Tips for social CRM
Ultimately, however, Leary believes that if social CRM projects are to deliver on their promise, organisations are going to have to be more strategic with their approaches to get them in the right conversations with the people they want to do business with. And the key is that while social tools are great for pushing content out, they are also good for listening.
"We can use Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and all the other social networks to get a sense of what is on the minds of the people we’re trying to do business with. Yes we can push things out but it is really more effective for us to take in and listen to what they’re talking about, what the challenges are they’re facing and who they’re talking about this with. And if we do that effectively then we get a better handle on what’s important to them right now. We can take that information and then create the kind of content that will hopefully go through all the noise of everybody saying "me, me, me" and use that content to say “we understand what you’re going through, here’s some things that may be able to help”. Because if we’re able to do that, they are going to listen to that more than they are going to listen to "you should come by and follow me"."
So here are Leary’s top tips for successful social CRM:
  • Find out where the customers are – there are lots of social platforms so it can easily get confusing, and it is impossible to have a strong presence on all of them. Therefore, go to the customers you already have and ask them what networks they are on, what they talk about on them, and who they are talking to. Also find out what bloggers they listen to. This will give you a clear idea of the platforms that you can start with, as well as the bloggers in the industry that you should try to build a relationship with.
  • Learn how to listen – while everyone else is using these tools to push messages out, you should use them to listen. Figure out who to listen to and what to listen for. Also find out who the people that you are trying to build relationships with are communicating with. If you do these things you’ll get a better understanding of what is important to them and this will help you with the second tip.
  • Create content – take what you have heard and turn it into a solution or resource that people can use and think “he’s speaking about what we’re dealing with right now”. That will help you get into a relationship with them.
  • Look at it from a strategic point of view – implement a full strategy that starts with listening but then also has the processes in place to ensure you can stay in touch with them, responding to them when they start to connect quickly, effectively and with what they’re interested in so that you can transition to the full blow sales process.
"That’s a strategy!" says Leary. "And if we look at social media as a strategy as opposed to the video and all the cool things, it becomes more of a business tool rather than something that you just try and it doesn’t appear to work and then you’re done with it."
So, on a final note, if Leary has nominated Paul Greenberg as the Obi Wan Kenobi of the CRM world, who would he himself be? "Luke Skywalker. I’ll go with Luke."
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