Social CRM: Moving from Facebook followers to interactive communities

26th Sep 2012

How can brands collect customer information without infiringing on privacy? Simple, just ask, says Steve Richards.

Social media is changing CRM. Every marketer knows about it. And everyone has an opinion on it. Terms like ‘social CRM’ get bandied around at every marketing or social media conference worth its salt. Yet for something so essential to marketing activity, it’s surprising how many people get it wrong – and even struggle to understand what ‘social CRM’ really is.

What do you do when your computer shows a weird error? Or an app on your phone suddenly stops working? Over half of consumers would look for a solution online. It’s free, quick and easy. It gives power to the consumer to decide what the issue is and to diagnose it. On top of this, 15 percent of 16-24 year olds use social media as their number one communication option. 

So ‘being social’ in how you talk to customers is not an option – it’s a necessity.

And if customers are using social media to manage even their most intimate of relationships – why shouldn’t companies manage their relationships in the same way? Some 46% of customers say that they expect brands to offer customer service through social media. Are most brands doing their job and meeting these expectations?

Well, no. And that’s perhaps because many ‘social marketers’ haven’t got a good grounding in CRM, or understand what it means.

CRM is about knowing how a customer interacts with you in all their preferred channels – and using this information to make their experiences better. Mapping out customer’s engagement with a brand is a great idea. It means brands can improve themselves based on what the customer wants (after all, who doesn’t know that shining axiom ‘the customer is always right?’)

But the crux of the issue is in how social information fits into this. There are no established laws or protocols for how social data is permissioned – there is no implicit consent in a tweet or Facebook status update. Telling the world via Twitter how annoyed you are with your broadband provider doesn’t give said provider the rights to add your Twitter handle to their database, try to match it up to your account info in the CRM system or mark you down as a ‘troublemaker’.

Email has set the precedent for digital communications to be ‘opt in’. But if a customer ‘likes’ a brand on Facebook or follows them on Twitter, then that isn’t ‘opting in’. That brand has not been given permission to link datasets or email a customer about their social activity.

So how do brands collect this information without becoming an Orwellian monstrosity in the eyes of the public and maybe even a criminal in the eyes of the law?

The answer is simple. Be polite. Ask permission.

Information might be free, but it’s valuable. Customers want something in return for giving up their email, phone number or access to their views and opinions. One high street mobile phone retailer is a pioneer in this respect, releasing a Facebook app as a trade off for customer data. Users voluntarily gave account info on Facebook in exchange for the chance to play a great game. What’s the value of that trade off? £36 per clean record, according to the company.

The reality is – shock horror – most people don’t like to be stalked. They find it weird that someone would trawl through their Facebook page, write down their email and phone number and then start trying to ‘tailor’ an experience that they never asked for. Trust is central to all relationships, online or off. Social CRM should be about helping improve the relationship between a brand and a customer. Do it right, and you can reap the benefits of a great connection .

Do it wrong and you could find yourself knee-deep in privacy law.

Steve Richards is MD at Yomego, part of Communisis

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