Social CRM – The Future Is Now

Imagine a world where consumer activities across your various communities could be used to help identify and communicate with your brand’s most powerful influencers. Once identified, marketers could then invest in building those relationships and driving advocacy. Well, that world is here today thanks to social media, and brands are increasingly investing in the strategies, tactics, and tools necessary to bring that data to life.

While CRM is tried and true, adding social interactions into the mix is just emerging under the social CRM banner. In fact, a recent study conducted by Altimeter Group indicates investments in building a scalable social CRM system that connects the social web to your customer database is not only growing (nearly doubling from 2010 to 2011), but essential to the future success of every brand – making it an Altimeter top 2011 priority. But why?

First and foremost, social communities allow us to not only identify consumers who are actively engaging with our brand, but they also give the opportunity to empower those consumers to become advocates for our brand. And in a world where consumers are increasingly turning to others for the things they need – that’s crucial. “Engagement” is more than just the new buzzword of the moment, it’s the new yardstick. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that “engagement” ranked on top when it came to assessing which measurements were most important in evaluating the success of a program among social strategists in the same Altimeter study. However, true success is achieved by not only assessing and measuring engagement within social communities, but across various touchpoints, and using that intelligence in new and powerful ways. But before we get there, I suspect we’ll see a deeper exploration around valuing engagement and what it truly means for brands. One study on this front was conducted by analyst firm Aite Group with an industry association I founded, which looked at Gen Y’ers’ relationships with their banks. The findings concluded:

  • Highly engaged Gen Y’ers were 6.7 times more likely to use their debit card 15 times or more a month, 3.4 times more likely to use the bank’s sites and social networks to research, 2.6 times more likely to receive email from their bank, and 1.9 times more likely to pay their bill online than low engaged users.
  • Highly engaged Gen Y’ers were also 86 percent more likely to open new accounts, 73 percent more likely to recommend their bank, and 62 percent more likely to trust their bank.

While these stats are likely to vary by industry and brand, I think they are important measurements for brands to consider as they explore and invest in marketing programs and social communities that attempt to build relationships and drive engagement. Additionally, I suspect over time we will see a significant shift in the way brands allocate their marketing dollars and plan their strategies and tactics. Specifically, the emergence of new channels/communities and how we measure them will redefine the way we market and drive sales. Some of the changes we will see as marketers will include:

  • The rise and increased use of marketing allocation tools and research. Business goals (launch product/create awareness, build preference over competitor, drive purchases, increase loyalty, respond to a time-sensitive issue), target audience (age, income), product type (high, low, impulse), and targeting approach (geographic, behavioral, contextual) will be reexamined to help marketers prioritize and allocate budgets to appropriate channels. Additionally, these tools will be updated to include social networks and communities. More ambitious marketers will embark on customer research projects to customize these findings for their specific products and targets – prospects/customers.
  • New filters and attributes will drive targeting sophistication. The emergence and importance of engagement combined with the growth and increasing activity across social networks and communities will redefine how and who we target. We will see the emergence of next-generation query tools that will allow brands to select and target consumers by applying channel and engagement weightings based on the program or campaign objectives and goals. Highly engaged users and/or influencers will be increasingly leveraged to launch products and drive product adoption and sales across the social web.
  • Marketing plans and roll-out strategies will be reinvented. There is little doubt that product launch cycles continue to be impacted by the emergence of new technologies and the rise of social media. However, this will continue to evolve and become more formalized as marketers become better at identifying key influencers and highly engaged users across their respective communities and crafting more targeted messages to these audiences to encourage the desired behavior. As a result, new product launches will be supported by a more formalized and sophisticated roll-out plan. Imagine, for example, a phased roll-out to key influencers where ideas are exchanged, feedback collected, and enhancements/revisions made followed by a soft launch to loyalty or highly engaged users followed by a general or mass market supported roll-out. Communications and tactics within each of these audiences will also be customized and include various communication stages such as education, trial, and feedback, and hopefully purchasing followed by advocacy.

Big changes for sure, but the emergence of social communities is a radical sea of change that requires new thinking. Marketers who can connect the dots by implementing social CRM and surround that effort with the appropriate strategies and tactics will be well-positioned to grow brand advocacy and marketing success. Social CRM – the future is now.

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