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The Complete Guide to Understanding Social CRM

What is Social CRM?

Social Customer Relationship Management, or social CRM, refers to the methods and deployment of customer relationship management tools over social networks. While the term "social CRM" may seem redundant -- after all, the relationships to be managed are inherently social -- the technology underlying social CRM software differs considerably from that which supports traditional CRM.

Traditional CRM involves the collection and management of static customer data -- such as names, organizations, demographic information, transaction history as well as various other online and offline identifiers. This data is sourced from email and phone interactions, company records, or data voluntarily submitted in surveys or in exchange for promotions or online content. The discrete data points employed by traditional CRM solutions occasionally change, but generally speaking, they are easier to ascertain and less prone to real-time fluctuation than information conveyed over social networks. This information is essential for modern applications deploying strategies based around textbook lead qualification and the conventional sales funnel.

Social CRM, on the other hand, interacts with huge volumes of unstructured data, which refers to data without a pre-defined data model. Unstructured data is primarily text-based but sometimes contains dates, numbers or other values whose meaning is clear to humans but difficult for conventional algorithms to understand. Much of the same information may be present, but the lack of labeling as well as linguistic subtleties -- such as colloquialism, sarcasm or contextual slang -- are better suited for human intuition than programmed cognition.

Social CRM is much more diffusive than traditional CRM -- which is transactional, operates through defined channels, segmented by department and automated through orderly processes. Social CRM is ‘omnichannel’ -- continuous, seamless engagement that picks up in one channel where it was left off in another. This aims to meet modern customer expectations that have evolved alongside advancements in technology, particularly communication and social media platforms.

For this reason, social CRM has been difficult for traditional CRM vendors to ‘get right’. Many solutions integrate social networks for a measure of social media oversight -- an inbox of social activity, like messages, tweets, trending hashtags -- but there are comparatively few solutions able to provide the level of tracking, measurement, reporting, analytical and predictive tools that are commonplace for traditional CRM data.

The goals of social CRM and traditional CRM generally overlap; it’s the features and technology that diverge. More conventional CRM solutions extend from contact management. Social CRM solutions incorporate modern CRM features with elements of social media management. Nevertheless, social CRM, like traditional CRM, remains clearly oriented within the departmental boundaries of sales, marketing and customer support.

How Does Social CRM Work?

Determining how social CRM works depends partially on how it’s defined. CRM solutions that provide basic social network account management within the app don’t require advanced algorithms so much as access to the social network’s API. This still produces useful CRM functions -- aggregating social data from one or multiple accounts into a unified inbox is one level of social CRM. Solutions that allow interaction with the social account from within the CRM go a step further. Meanwhile, social CRM solutions that trawl publicly available available social profiles to enrich contact information and compile an activity feed of contacts’ engagement with your brand are even more useful.

However, the social CRM features that will come to define the space go further than integrating social networks as an additional channel. They rely on advanced algorithms and statistical models to identify patterns within the unstructured social data. Much the way these advancements are revolutionizing traditional CRM, social CRM will come to be dependent on emergent technologies whose development will continue well into the future - and when it comes to social CRM, complement one another. These innovations include natural language processing, text mining, machine learning and sentiment analysis.

The technologies that underpin social CRM seek to enable computers to understand natural languages akin to humans’ own understanding, including subtle nuances of tone as influenced by word choice, metaphor, irony, perspective and wit. These technologies are not fully matured, and they are naturally influenced by the existing social media platforms whose data they seek to analyze, so broadly speaking, social CRM will continue its evolution as new technology and new platforms for social communication arise.

What Does Social CRM Do?

Modern communication incorporates idioms, shorthand and online mannerisms defined by particular social channels. Businesses can use these channels for additional data collection, advertisement, customer engagement and to establish a modern brand identity by deploying the right social CRM solution with talented social media professionals.

Social CRM enables companies to expand their sales, marketing and customer support capabilities into social media channels in several distinct ways.

Deploying a Social CRM Solution

As mentioned, social CRM solutions typically do not intend to supplant traditional CRM platforms. In fact, the most prevalent social CRMs on the market today integrate with a wide range of traditional CRM solutions. While these solutions are integrating social media features on their own -- a unified inbox of social PMs, 2-way communication, real-time notifications of brand mentions, social media analytics reports -- dedicated social CRMs exist for a higher focus on social media integration with CRM capability. It bridges social media management software and CRM, typically at a more cost-effective price than each.

Therefore, currently, social CRMs are most effective when used in conjunction with a traditional CRM that offers the robust sales automation features and marketing automation tools specific to your business needs. At present, the need for a social media presence that isn’t met by your current CRM isn’t reason enough to jettison the platform entirely -- an affordable social CRM can patch the capability gap without the interruption in operations that normally accompanies the switch to a new system.

Adoption of a social CRM platform will not itself guarantee improved social media engagement, though it will help. Businesses can get the most from their solution by observing three general principles:

1. Social CRM is complementary. As mentioned, social CRM solutions are not yet at the point where they can replace traditional CRM solutions. Fortunately, deployment of a social CRM is not an ‘either, or’ proposition. Find a solution that integrates into your existing system so you don’t upend your current operations.

2. Build a social media strategy. There is a tremendous amount of social media activity and you can’t respond to everything. Building internal parameters to govern responses according to social network -- when and how -- requires a social media coordinator. This individual is ultimately responsible for turning the social CRM into more than an inbox - they promote a company voice commensurate with your desired brand identity.

3. Treat every customer as an individual. On social media, everyday people can interact on a 1:1 basis with artists, athletes, politicians, organizations and so on. People are accustomed to being engaged personally. Social media conversations don’t require the degree of personalization as email marketing campaigns, but small amount of extra time it takes to craft a human reply to a direct message is worth the positive brand impression it fosters in the recipient’s mind.

Going Forward with Social CRM

Social CRM provides the ability to quickly disseminate information and receive feedback from customers and prospects in real-time. It allows companies to obtain additional insights into their customers’ brand sentiments and buying habits while proactively offering customer service to negate potentially bad PR. In this manner, social CRM provides an effective platform for companies to add personality to their public image, attend common grievances and maintain, regain or rebuild customer confidence.

Current incarnations of social CRM provide a powerful complement to traditional CRM primarily by enriching the profiles of contacts and leads with a timeline of social activity and brand interactions. Going forward, the technologies underpinning social CRM can be expected to recommend specific responses to customers based on the nature of their complaint, their emotional level, their demographic characteristics and behavior history based on probabilistic models to achieve a desired response -- retention of a customer, resolution of a complaint, a successful cross -- or upsell. Meanwhile, the underlying technologies are already being deployed as supplemental to traditional CRM - found in machine-learning sales or marketing assistants on multiple platforms.

The current combination of social CRM and traditional CRM provide an effective platform for companies to engage a rapidly changing social media environment while retaining essential CRM functions for core business processes. The specific combination of social and traditional CRM functions, whether in separate solutions or from a single vendor, depend largely on a company’s use case -- their budget, size, needs and goals. Nevertheless, in an era where most consumers are on multiple social networks, and the networks have become institutional in mainstream culture, it is incumbent on businesses to obtain social CRM capabilities of some kind, lest they cede brand presence and market opportunity to companies that have them.

Browse traditional and social CRM solutions, as well as overviews, comparisons and user reviews, accessible from our CRM Comparison Guide.

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