The global digital research company, comScore, reports that 98% of the online audience in the U.S. are members of social media platforms. Unsurprisingly, Facebook dominates the statistics; with a user base that is hurtling toward one billion users, the platform accounts for around one in every six minutes spent online. The phenomenal growth and rapidly increasing popularity of the many social networking platforms has changed the nature of the relationship between business and consumers.
The new ‘social customers’ anticipate direct interaction with the brands they favor; an expectation that has shifted the focus of traditional customer relationship management to favor a social approach, aptly referred to as social CRM.
Social CRM can be described as business tools and processes that are used to increase the effectiveness of customer interaction across social platforms. The aim is for businesses to foster intimate relationships with their customers by gaining a better understanding of their wants and needs. It’s a methodology that is rapidly gaining traction. According to Adam Sarner, a research director for Gartner Inc., while business-to-consumer organizations have seen the highest rates of adoption to date, by 2013, business-to-business organizations relying on social CRM techniques will account for 25% of projects across the globe.
Defining the Social Customer
Writing for Mashable, Maria Ogneva, Head of Community at the popular enterprise social network Yammer, identifies six characteristics of the new breed of customer.
- The social customer gets their information from social sources. Breaking news, focused on what their particular community deems important, is consumed via the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
- The social customer looks to social channels to learn about products and services of interest to them. They place an inherent trust in their chosen network to offer honest information.
- The social customer views unsolicited advertising as spam but is open-minded toward information that is useful to them at a particular time.
- The social customer has a natural expectation that the brands they favor will be active on the social platform of their choice. They expect a response to feedback even if negative.
- The social customer expects engagement. They are not interested in having advertising pushed on them. They want a two-way dialogue in real-time.
- The social customer expects that a representative on Facebook will have the same information available as a representative on Twitter. They want seamless customer relationship management across all major platforms.
Comparing Traditional CRM to Social CRM
The leaning toward social CRM techniques has seen major changes in the way that sales, marketing, feedback and customer support functions are handled by brands.
- The Sales Function: Historically, brands have relied on huge amounts of data from which they can filter customer who fit a target demographic for a particular campaign. While consumer data will always be considered valuable, social CRM widens its net to focus on providing quality content to a much bigger potential audience. It seems that the approach is working; around 50% of Internet sales are expected to be generated via social platforms by the end of 2015. An impressive figure that translates to an estimated $30 billion in web sales.
- The Marketing Function: Traditional outbound marketing methods such as television advertising, targeted mail shots and print advertising, while not completely eradicated from the marketing landscape, have largely given way to a two-way conversation on social platforms. Companies who are willing to invest the time to build up an authentic social presence reap the rewards with lower costs per lead. According to HubSpot’s report, The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing, inbound focused organizations enjoy savings of around 61% when compared to the comparative costs of outbound lead generation.
- The Customer Support Function: Traditionally, brands would dictate the time and platforms for the availability of customer support. Social customers are in charge of communications now and expect that support be available 24/7 on the social platforms of their choice. Tired telephony scripts will instantly turn social customers off and drive them into the arms of competitors.
- The Feedback Function: With traditional CRM techniques, the onus was on the business to contact customers for feedback. This naturally leads to only the most favorable being made accessible to the wider audience base. The curated nature of social media platforms mean that social customers can and do offer their feedback, positive and negative, often without the request of the business. Over half of Twitter users have mentioned a brand in a tweet, so companies need to make a good impression or face the wrath of online customers.
The popularity of social media platforms has offered brands an enviable chance to connect directly to potential customers. The onus is on the brand to engage their audience in positive conversation.