As social media expands, companies need to center social CRM plans

With social CRM gaining popularity, companies need to identify their audiences are and what social media sites and technology they use, analysts say.

A few years ago Dell launched a blog with little success. The integrated technology provider decided to turn to another social media site. Armed with a new feed, Dell began to tweet, luring in consumers with a deal a day. Before long, it had attracted millions of followers through this social CRM initiative.

“The thing that the customers were going after, discounts, existed in this channel,” said Zach Hofer-Shall, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “Dell found out that Twitter is the easy answer for companies. It's no investment.”

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The secret is out -- social networking isn’t only for college students. Businesses are now also trolling through dozens of social media sites. Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr -- each offers different benefits to corporations and their customers. But it only takes a little know-how to find the right fit.

Using Twitter for social CRM

For starters, companies should always go in with the social media goals they plan to meet by launching social media sites. That may be acquiring feedback from customers, building a global brand or marketing a service or product.

“For example, if the goal is customer support, you should be reading customer complaints on Twitter,” Hofer-Shall said.

Twitter is arguably the best network for swaying a large, general population through quick hits such as promotions, as in the case of Dell. It is also one of the strongest channels for listening to and communicating directly with customers. The site allows a company to discover and monitor customer conversations and analyze customer data. 

“You can really boost sales and sell customers more premium products by just listening to what they're saying,” said Forrester senior analyst James Kobielus. “Companies can listen to conversations on Twitter to gain some indication of whether they're positively predisposed to buy whatever you happen to be marketing.”

“Certainly you can use Twitter to capture fresh or raw customer input and maybe you can channel that into, say, a service offering,” said Denis Pombriant, an analyst and founder of Beagle Research Group LLC in Stoughton, Mass.

Managing social media: Facebook vs. LinkedIn

If a company is also looking to increase overall engagement, it may want to build a Facebook presence. The network is a mainstay where companies can post contact information, product and services highlights and photos to the largest, most general online population.

“If you want to reach everyone, create a Facebook account,” Kobielus said.

However, he said that companies may find a more targeted audience on LinkedIn, which allows registered users to maintain a list of contact details of people they can use to find jobs, people and business opportunities.

“If you’re looking to create professional connections you should create a LinkedIn account, where there is a lot of peer-to-peer sharing,” Kobielus advised.

No matter what your needs, analysts recommend that companies consider a statistical breakdown of each social site’s demographics when creating a social media plan. Remember who your company’s customers are and where they live. Your end goal should always be to capture customer data, analyze and use the information to provide value back into the business.

“You can use [Facebook] and LinkedIn for communicating and, in some cases, for commerce,” Pombriant said. “But if that is all you do, then you are simply using those channels as a lower-cost approach to spam.”

Finding value in social CRM

Opening the accounts on these sites may be free, but maintaining them isn’t-- especially if you decide use software to monitor and analyze customer responses. As industry experts note, even after a company has determined its audience and goals and reviewed the best sites for its needs, keep in mind that social networking takes time and patience. Make sure before launch that each site is complete, that you can update your sites regularly and that you know what your company is getting into. 

“Stop thinking of this as a single thing you need to do in order to make money fall from heaven. It won't,” said Pombriant. “Social is a new and very different way of doing business. It leverages technology to perform activities that support lean relationships --which are relationships between people or entities who are not close socially but who have reason to interact efficiently at times.”

To establish those relationships and interact in a competitive market, a company should be in several online spaces at the same time, Pombriant said.

For example, Foursquare may be a great way to promote a brand or attract new customers in a smaller regional area. Conversely, YouTube offers a wider range of potential customers. However, it’s important to determine if investing in this kind of online CRM can really boost a company’s bottom line, he said. 

“We immediately think of using social for sales, and that's valid, but social also has a role to play in gauging customer sentiment, developing messaging, developing products and communicating with the customer,” Pombriant said. “When I say everywhere, I [mean] that we need inbound and outbound approaches.”  

 

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