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Social CRM: Size Matters

By Christopher J. Bucholtz
Nov 3, 2009 4:00 AM PT

There's no longer any debate about whether social media's going to have a huge impact on CRM. The questions now hew to two distinct tracks:

  • How huge will the impact be?
  • When will it be felt?

Social CRM: Size Matters

Gauging that may be difficult. Social media's a little different than the usual emerging business technology, mostly because it didn't begin as a business technology. It started with consumers -- and how they use it varies dramatically.

That places companies seeking to harness the power of social CRM in an interesting position: They have to understand how their potential customers use social media, the best social media outlets to reach them, and the best way to engage with them through those outlets. Doing this effectively requires a couple of things: one, a lot of imagination; and and two, an ability to really understand your unique customer base.

Advantage: Small Business

So, while we've seen large companies like Southwest Airlines and Popeye's Chicken make headlines with clever uses of Twitter, big business may not be in the best position to leverage social CRM. Few can put their fingers on exactly how social CRM is going to manifest itself in enterprise-level CRM solutions, and in many large organizations, social media is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity.

The advent of the era of social CRM marks a rare instance when small business -- which already has more concrete social ties to its customer base -- may have the upper hand in an emerging trend.

Big-business CRM is all about scale, but social media is not a readily scalable entity. Messages need to be tailored and targeted at smaller and smaller segments, and paying attention to customer-generated messages has to be largely automated. As useful as the tools for doing this may be, opportunities are rife for missed signals when you're dealing with thousands of contacts.

Small businesses don't have to worry about this -- they deal with numbers of customers that are much more manageable, and thus they are able to use social media platforms in much the way they were designed to be used.

Return to Intimacy

While many social media platforms can connect people who did not know each other (like Facebook's friend recommendations), the most complete and trusted relationships are the ones that started in the real world and moved into social media.

That puts small businesses in a great position. They don't have to build their relationships from scratch through social media; instead, they can fortify existing relationships, and do it in a fairly natural way.

The information small businesses collect may be smaller in volume, but it tends to be much more personal, intimate and, ultimately, actionable in quality. Customers are better known to small businesses, which also simplifies the process of outward communication.

So, while large businesses are still looking for a way to translate their messages to a distinctly personal media, small businesses have an edge -- precisely because of their scale.

How should they leverage this edge? They should engage with their customers through social media and make it clear that they are eager for their customers to engage with them. They should participate in conversations with the same eagerness that they would with customers in their stores. And they should pay attention to signs in their customers' behavior that signal an opportunity to improve their relationships.

That might mean the addition of new products, a sales offer tailored to the interest a customer has expressed, or simply a note when a customer might need a kind thought.

While large businesses all too often look at social CRM with an eye on the "M," small businesses have the opportunity to use social media to build on the "CR" part of the acronym.


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