Social media and CRM -- The marketing perspective

In his first article evaluating the marketing side of social CRM, Allen Bonde offers up some definitions and a framework for discussion.

There’s no denying that social media is a phenomenon. Forrester reports that three out of four Americans use social technology (I guess at least once!), and social networks and blogs are now the 4th most popular online activity, according to Nielsen. But as someone who has been around the Internet and CRM since the mid-1990s and spent a good part of the early 2000s defining and evangelizing self-service models, I tend to think of social models as an evolution rather than a revolution -- especially in the context of multi-channel marketing and online applications.

With this in mind, I’ve been focusing on the opportunities provided by the convergence of social media and CRM and how a community-centric model can not only drive product innovation and lower support costs (via peer support) but can also reinvigorate your brand and turn your customers into your greatest sales reps.


As you can imagine, making sense of this convergence is no small feat. So while many discussions about the future of CRM and social channels are targeting the big picture and especially the impact on CRM system architecture and customer service delivery, my firm has been looking at the marketing side and how combining online social channels and offline marketing and community-building programs may be both a practical and profitable approach. It’s a think global, act local philosophy, if you will, and it will be the theme I hope to develop across a series of columns on the topic.

So to get started, recognizing that adopting this approach requires a certain level-setting in terms of definitions and core beliefs, I thought I’d devote this article to setting the stage, with subsequent columns looking at the unique characteristics and emerging roles for the leading social channels like Facebook and Twitter, case studies for social media marketing, and how to move from social networking to a true social business (or social CRM) strategy.

Some definitions

In case you have been blissfully unaware of the hype around Web 2.0, CRM 2.0 and even Enterprise 2.0, social media are the blogs, wikis, forums, public social networking sites, microblogging (Twitter), audio or video sharing sites where a community model is in play and user-generated content and connections are the primary currency. I will also refer to both social networking sites and communication/collaboration tools as “channels” in the course of this and other articles and view these channels as the primary tools for social media marketing.

On the enterprise side, social business software (think Jive or Socialtext or OutStart) is the general class of Web 2.0 “packages” geared toward enterprise users (also called Enterprise 2.0). SBS to this point has been used mostly to power private/company communities and public or specialty forums where scale or management or monitoring is critical.

Finally, social media marketing is the business use of social media for engaging customers, building thought leadership, creating leads and/or driving product innovation. I view social media marketing as a special case of “community marketing,” which actually precedes many social sites and networks and can be applied strictly offline using traditional campaigns and programs – although, as we’ll discuss, the real power comes from combining the power of both offline and online techniques in a measurable, repeatable fashion.         

A framework for community marketing

When I was at McKinsey, I remember vividly that the big-wigs used to say: “You don’t sell, you have a discussion.” Put another way, every relationship begins with a discussion. This is a key core belief for both social media and community marketing. In today’s Facebook world, our goal as marketers (and CRM managers) is to use social media and networking to engage in discussions and then to capture feedback that allows us to improve both our products and the brand experience (ah, marketing nirvana!) and generate unusually qualified leads.

Man, this sounds great – doesn’t it? But of course there’s a catch. And that catch is that while many businesses are good at one or more of the activities that make up this type of “community marketing model,” they lack the repeatable processes and coordination among marketing, sales and support or have not yet cracked the code when it comes to being viewed as a trusted advisor or member of the community.

This is where a framework can be helpful. While certainly not completely baked, there is a working version I’ve developed. If you’d like to build your own, I’d suggest starting with two principles.              

First, it’s important to recognize that conversations and casual discussions are not the same as engagement. Social sites like Facebook or LinkedIn can be great places to start conversations, and a corporate blog or wiki can build a deeper dialog. But true engagement requires some additional discovery, identification of common interests and even profiling or segmenting into interest groups. Some of this could be done online via discussion forums or rating and reviews, or even the application of social search via a platform such as Baynote. But it’s likely that true engagement will need to include some face-to-face time at a roundtable event or perhaps a focus group – even if these are delivered virtually over the Web.

Second, engagement is wasted if you don’t steer the community to help define your product features or propose support solutions or even “nominate” peers who might benefit from also buying your services or products. This is why feedback and measures are critical, and how they bridge community marketing to product development and sales. In fact, this is where leads naturally flow out of a community marketing program and intersect with the sales cycle at the end rather than the beginning (remember, discuss, don’t sell – at least up front!).

So, what’s next? Picking the right social channels and tools, and staging them at the right place in our CMM model, is both an art and a science. In our next installment, we’ll look at one approach to characterizing the top channels and ways to integrate social models into your current marketing (and CRM) toolbox.

About the author:
Allen Bonde was recently CMO of eVergance and is a well-known analyst, entrepreneur and management consultant. He has 20 years of experience at McKinsey, Extraprise, the Yankee Group, and GTE (now Verizon); he has written for and; and he has appeared on CNBC and Fox News. Bonde is the founder and currently managing director of Evoke CRM Partners (, a consultancy focused on multi-channel customer strategies and the convergence of social media, self-service and CRM.


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