Seeing Social Meet in the Middle

I’m just back from a week in the woods, trying to get my head around social media and CRM again.

That means I’m in the middle of writing up a report on some research that uberanalyst Esteban Kolsky and I did over the last few months, and smack in the middle of CRM Idol judging. Everything’s fine, and I see some interesting parallels, and without giving the store away, here is one interesting cross tab.

From what I see in the survey data, social media in business is still a very new market — newer than you might think. Companies are still trying to figure it out, and customers are taking a deliberate approach to bringing it in-house. Unlike previous adoption waves, you don’t need to hit your typical CEO over the head with an old tire tool to convince him or her of the efficacy of social media. This might be simple wishful thinking on their parts because they think they see big cost reductions coming in areas like marketing, and they might be right.

Interestingly, the mid-level people are the ones who need convincing. They’re also the ones who have to implement and make productive use of the social wave too, so a bit of caution is probably a good thing. Also, they’re the ones who’ve likely used social the longest in their personal lives, and they may have doubts about how to make money with social. Fair enough.

The Last Mile

From the CRM Idol side, it’s a bit of a mirror image. First let me say that Idol is much bigger this year. There are more contestants and more judges, and it is therefore harder to get a true sense of the totality, so anything I write is from my little view through a microscope. The vendors we follow in Idol tend to be small — emerging companies with new ideas. There might be one or two that are trying to re-invent a CRM wheel, but for the most part, they’re all trying to look over the horizon and tell us how things will be in the near future — hopefully before their VC cash runs out.

What the emerging companies are showing is exactly what you’d expect if you think hard about the question. The niches for taking social to the customer — what I call the “last mile” — are fairly well-defined and populated at this point, so that’s not where I see emerging companies spending their time. The ones I have looked at are going upstream a step or two. Some of the more interesting congregating points in that stream are the places where social media needs converge and the differences in channels emerges.

Content Crunching

A simple example is the difference between Twitter and a blog. As you know, one of the signature points of Twitter is its 140-character limit for any message, while most other social channels have a sky’s-the-limit approach to content length. So if you are a content marketer, the issues you need to deal with are content sufficiency, generation and fit, with fit being that 140 character limit. There’s also abundance, as in the abundance of data that social apps can generate and how to deal with it.

So I am seeing multiple companies with the idea of providing an integration hub for outbound social programs. Nobody has the technology for crunching a blog post into a tweet the way you can compress a URL, but they do have really cool tools for managing the process.

Generally the vendor community is, as appropriate, a step ahead of the customers. Where the customers are trying to implement social message delivery, the vendors — the very new ones at least — are assuming their success and aiming at the next problem, namely the integration hub I mentioned. But there are also vendors aiming at providing a platform for developing and managing programs too. It’s not an all or nothing idea.

There are two sides to this equation. Another large group of vendors is working from data capture outward. These guys are dealing with big data, analyzing it and then looking for a path to the customer or assuming that what’s in place is sufficient. So we have the interesting situation of building the bridge from each end and hoping for meeting in the middle.

The insight this gave me (and I admit it may not be a big insight) is that regardless of which end of the bridge you start at you won’t be effective at crossing the river until both ends are secure. Unlike the bridge example, though, you can still get a lot done even if your end-to-end social strategy is not built out yet. So my take on the market from these perspectives is that we’re not at the beginning or the end but somewhere in the middle. I think I knew that before I went camping, but now I have data.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant's research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and website. He is the author of Hello, Ladies! Dispatches from the Social CRM Frontier and can be reached at [email protected].

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